Technology and Urban Society

Publication List of this Subject

The place where technology, services, and information are centered and accumulated and where progress is made towards industrialization is the city, and modernization accelerates urbanization. In this process various urban problems are brought about, and these should be dealt with by using a variety of hard and soft technologies.
Tokyo, for example, was confronted with a number of urban problems when it was made the capital of Japan following the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The most serious problem was the inflow of an enormous number of migrants from rural areas. Most of them were poor people and they swelled the number of slum tenements in various parts of downtown Tokyo.

Moreover, Tokyo was deficient in modern urban infrastructure such as water-supply and drainage systems and electricity. Housing was also in a poor state. Owing to these adverse conditions Tokyo suffered repeatedly from fire and water-borne diseases.

From the beginning of the 20th century, however, progress in industrialization began to exert some favorable effects. Factories that had been newly set up on the periphery of the city started to employ workers from among the poor residents of the slums and this enabled people to move out of the slums and into residential areas for factory workers. Meanwhile the provision of utilities improved to some extent thanks to the government’s establishment of a water-supply system and as a result of the development of electricity and domestic gas supplies by private companies. However, the city planning carried out by the government was far from thorough and housing in particular has remained problematic even in the postwar years.

A distinguishing feature of Japanese urban society was the establishment of neighborhood associations among city dwellers. These are autonomous organizations intended for mutual assistance and friendship and their origin goes back to the early 20th century when contagious diseases were rampant and the disastrous consequences of the great earthquake of 1923 were still keenly felt. During the war these associations were used by the government as a basic unit for the economic and militaristic control of the population, a development that was much criticized by liberal intellectuals after the Second World War.

The process of urbanization in provincial cities has differed from that in the capital region. Many provincial centers were characterized by low population growth and their industries were mainly of a traditional type. A case study of the 1918 rice riot in the provincial city of Kanazawa shows that the rioters were mostly artisans and they are assumed to have acted in concert with their town or community, a grouping within which there were strong feelings of solidarity and mutual assistance.