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Will smart cities save Japan?

By John Amari for The Journal (ACCJ)

Urban populations around the world continue to rise. By 2050, the number of people living in large cities is projected to reach 66 percent of the total global population according to the 2014 revision of the United Nations’ World Urbanization Prospects. The current ratio is 54 percent.

With such rapid expansion of cities comes a number of challenges, including overcrowding, environmental pollution, congestion, damage to infrastructure, and increased demand for energy.

For Japan—and many other countries—smart cities are seen as a panacea for these ailments. These future cities promote a new industrial era brought about by the internet, and take steps toward improving the efficiency of the workforce and energy sector.

A notable feature of smart cities is that they are built around information and communications technology (ICT) — from Wi-Fi to the Internet of Things (IoT) to big data to artificial intelligence (AI) to cloud computing.

Given the strategic importance of smart cities, one would think the concept had a solid foundation. However, even the very definition of a smart city can vary greatly, differing from country to country and even institution to institution.

According to IHS Technology, a global business intelligence service provider, “smart cities encompass a broad range of different aspects to describe cities that have deployed — or are currently piloting —[ICT] solutions across three or more different functional areas of a city.”

A similar definition is adopted by the Japan Smart Community Alliance, an industry facilitator supported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI).

According to this definition, there are currently 88 smart cities around the world (up from 21 in 2013), according to IHS. What is more, investment in such projects reached over $1 billion globally in 2013. IHS projects the figure will surpass $12 billion by 2025. Other projections — which may rely on a different definition of a smart city — put the figure in the trillions of dollars.

In Japan, smart cities are largely funded via subsidies from METI. The smart cities market here, which stood at around ¥1.12 trillion in 2011, is expected to grow to ¥3.8 trillion by 2020. METI also invests in Japanese business involvement in smart city projects globally.

Speaking to The Journal, a spokesperson from Fujitsu said, “We think of smart cities as areas in which ICT can be used to make social infrastructure, such as energy infrastructure, smarter.

It involves being able to solve regional issues and come up with revitalization methods together with regions themselves, and is about pursuing a better standard of living for the citizens of a region by creating sustainable social value.”

To achieve these aims, the government seeks to use smart cities as a vehicle to create — and to experiment with — cutting-edge technologies, products, and services. Moreover, development projects will boost industrial competitiveness by ensuring cross-sector innovation and creating new value for consumers as well as jobs for local populations—quite apart from creating vibrant communities.

Yokohama has been selected as a “Future City” by the Government of Japan and is a case study in the 2015 book Ageing in Cities, by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Speaking to The Journal, Masato Nobutoki, former executive director of future city promotion at Yokohama’s Climate Change Policy Headquarters explained, “By leveraging new industries in close cooperation with the private sector, Yokohama shed light on the many difficulties Japan faces today—problems that must be handled in unison.”

Nobutoki, who will be speaking on the topic of smart cities at the upcoming MIPIM Japan international property conference in Osaka in September, also talked about environmental impact. “The Yokohama Walking Point project, which has seen more than 150,000 participants,” he said, “is an example of positive influences on commercial activities to reduce CO2 emissions.”

Intended to encourage an aging society to be more active, the project also helped the city study the environmental impact of factors such as population density, distance to the nearest station, and the average elevation of neighborhoods by counting steps.

Ultimately, Japan sees projects to develop smart cities — of which there are 11 so far around the country — as leading the way in finding solutions that will not only meet domestic challenges, but international ones as well. The hope of the government is that it will be able to share the fruits of its labors with the rest of the world.


One sector of the economy in which smart cities are set to play a key role is energy. For instance, the Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City, a 273 hectare-wide area in Chiba Prefecture’s Kashiwa City, seeks to lead innovation in this space.

Selected by the government in 2011 as a Comprehensive Special Zone for Regional Revitalization and an Environmental Future City, the new development currently has 21 action programs underway.

“Within the energy management of Kashiwa-no-ha, we want to build a track record for the best possible model in energy optimization methods,” a spokesperson from Mitsui Fudosan, developers of the city, told The Journal.

Apart from Kashiwa-no-ha, the company is developing smart city model communities in the Nihonbashi and Hibiya areas of Tokyo. Plans for overseas projects are also in the works, the spokesperson added.

In addition to promoting health awareness and supporting startups, Kashiwa-no-ha plans to be ecologically friendly as an Environmental-Symbiotic City. This in part means managing electric energy from power production, batteries, and power consumption at the local level.

To this end, the city has implemented energy saving and optimization measures via three main platforms: an energy management system (EMS); a CO2 reduction roadmap; and a sustainable design and renewable energy policy.

An EMS is a computerized platform used by electricity companies to monitor, control, and optimize generation and transmission of electric loads. Via advances in IoT and AI (which has led to real-time communication between devices), customers have greater monitoring and control over the energy loads running to and from a home or office.

A home energy management system (HEMS), for instance, utilizes a “smart reader” within a home to display “energy consumption so residents can become more aware of their contributions to power conservation, thereby fostering environmentally friendly lifestyles.” They also permit various devices within the home—such as a television, refrigerator, oven, hairdryer, and lighting—to communicate with each other and provide data in real time.

Such information can be viewed via tablets, computers, smartphones, and other devices. The customer can also control the lighting or setting of a device—such as an air conditioner—even when away from home.

Another use for a HEMS is to enhance disaster management through demand response functions, which ask for residents’ help in reducing demand during emergencies. This functionality would be of use in a situation such as Japan faced following the loss of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, which led to calls for a 15 percent cut in energy consumption. The subsequent shutdown of the country’s nuclear operations resulted in a 30 percent drop in power generation nationally.

A building energy management system (BEMS), meanwhile, provides similar functions for an entire building, such as an office or a factory. An area energy management system (AEMS) allows utility companies to have citywide control over, and management of, supply and demand. Such EMSs are being developed in Kashiwa-no-ha.


Automation of the energy demand and supply cycle is a key component of Japan’s overall efforts to improve efficiency in the sector. On the demand side, the country is to see the installation of smart meters — which monitor household energy consumption in real time — in all homes by the end of 2024; HEMS, meanwhile, are scheduled for installation nationally by 2030. However, most industry analysts believe the hurdles to meeting this goal are too high.

On the supply side of the equation, the goal is to separate power generation from transmission via smart grids between 2018 and 2020. This is on top of liberalization of the energy retail market, which took effect in April 2016, allowing customers to choose their energy provider, for example.

Changing providers, however, comes with the requirement to install a smart meter — if one is not already scheduled to be installed by the existing provider — said Ken Haig in an interview with The Journal. Haig is vice-chair of the energy committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ). He and the ACCJ welcome the liberalization of the market.

It is hoped that cost savings and efficiencies from such measures can also feed into the rest of the economy, which has not recovered fully from the triple disaster of 2011.

As noted by METI in its Strategic Energy Plan (2014): “[Cessation] of nuclear power plants [after 2011] has caused the expansion of Japan’s trade deficit by the increase of imports of fossil fuels and so on compared to the pre-earthquake period.

“Such a rise of fossil-fuel dependency leads to an increase in energy costs … which puts a burden on economic activities and the household economy, and even affects employment and people’s disposable income.”

To ameliorate the problems, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which is the country’s largest electricity provider and owner of the ill-fated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, plans to deploy 27 million smart meters across the country as part of its energy optimization strategy.

Overall, Japan hopes to have some 70 million such devices in homes and businesses by 2024 (the original target date was 2020), Haig says.

Kashiwa-no-ha is utilizing large-scale storage batteries “to stabilize and use unstable power such as solar.” The goal is to improve the self-sufficiency ratio of energy from multiple-source stream, including solar and gas generators.

The city is also experimenting with a variety of new intelligent transportation systems — including park-and-ride systems, on-demand bus services, light rail transit services, and two-wheeled, battery-powered vehicles — to optimize and reduce energy consumption.


“In a world where more devices are connected to IoT, who will be ensuring its security?” a spokesperson from JIPDEC (the Japan Information Processing Development Center) asked The Journal. JIPDEC is a general incorporated foundation. Part of its goal is to develop mechanisms and structures to ensure safety and security in ICT-related industries.

For Minoru Etoh, part of the answer lies in ensuring accountability. Etoh said, “What we need is to create a role for someone who will be responsible and answerable to the community, such as a chief information officer or a chief digital officer.”

Etoh is a senior executive at NTT Docomo and CEO of NTT Docomo Ventures, Inc. Via the latter company, he oversees investment in startups within smart cities.

Venture capitalist and government adviser William Saito, meanwhile, said a greater concern, and one that government policies alone cannot solve, lies in the ultimate goal of smart cities.

“The problem is that the very definition of ‘smart’ will change over time at the pace of Moore’s Law,” he explained — Moore’s Law being the observation that, in technology, processing power doubles every 18 months. “So you might do things that are smart one year, but obsolete the next. The question should be: How to achieve our goals on the assumption that Moore’s Law will hold true.”

But why have a discussion about the use of electric vehicles, Saito asks, when, in a few years, the shared economy and automation in transportation will make the use of cars — and carparks for that matter — largely obsolete?

Further, Saito said, “You can call yourself a smart city, but if no one necessarily comes to the city, then have you attained your goal? If you look at clusters of successful ventures or Silicon Valley-type places, it is that mix of smart cities and their ability to attract and keep businesses and smart people that nurtures and maintains their success in a sustainable way.”

For Saito, the “smart” in smart cities ought to place a premium on people rather than policies or technologies.


Tomorrow’s cities could take many forms, like Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates’ Next Tokyo 2045 (above). But must technology be the exclusive driving force in a city that better serves residents and the environment? The Journal asked two science fiction authors to share their vision of a smart city.

Dr. Una McCormack

The city has always been about barriers between rich and poor. There are always too many people and not enough space. Cultural capital becomes attached to certain areas, because of their age, or proximity to resources and attractions, or fashion. Some people gain entrance. Others are shifted further and further away.

What could a city look like that did not have barriers like this? Dispersed, I think, like the garden cities of early 20th-century Britain, or bigger experiments like Canberra, Brasilia — or Milton Keynes. But planned cities have never quite sparked to life. Something about the city is spontaneous and unplanned — that’s part of the attraction.

The city of the future will look much like our cities now, I think. Rich and poor, cheek and jowl. Green thirsty spaces. Fossilized layers of the past, built up over millennia, walked upon briefly by the living.

Dr. McCormack holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Surrey (UK), teaches creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University in England, and previously taught in the Cambridge University Engineering Department. She is a New York Times bestselling author of TV tie-in novels.

Dr. Athena Andreadis

Cities are de facto fragile open ecosystems, heavily dependent on environs for functioning (just witness the desertification and collapsing water tables around Los Angeles). The current concepts of smart cities are completely centered on networked expert systems. These, despite their obvious potential, can increase the intrinsic brittleness and rigidity of the structures they’re intended to optimize. They also carry the danger of magnifying dysfunctional tendencies (inflexible implementation, lack of human-level accountability, excessive surveillance, selective policing, ghettoizing).

My own vision of a smart city is one that’s as self-sufficient as possible, organic (rather than created by top-down planning), responsive to the needs of all its inhabitants (not just the human ones) and reliant on robust, low-impact, non-intrusive technology. We already know we need well-coordinated traffic lights, subways and bike lanes; hospitals with reliable back-up generators; small parks, grocery shops, and schools that are down the block from our house. We will also need heavy-duty recycling, composting, and efficient heating/cooling systems; mixed-use zoning, which results in much better safety and maintenance of shared spaces than CCTV cameras; as many street trees as street lights and as many solar panels as gas-driven boilers; community and roof gardens (growing vegetables, not just flowers); and even a rational admixture of wildlife — not just pigeons and rats, but also peregrine falcons and coyotes.

Smart cities will not result exclusively from advances in IT; they will also come about from breakthroughs in material science and from the revitalizing of civic will and local hubs of work. Cities will never be optimized or efficient (in fact, it’s counterproductive to try for these attributes); at best, they will be livable and vibrant while leaving a smaller footprint.

Dr. Andreadis is a molecular biologist and former associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. She is also author of "To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek," has written for The Harvard Review and other publications, and distributes science fiction through Starship Reckless and her publishing company Candlemark & Gleam.

Custom Media publishes The Journal for the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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By 2050

Japan'd population will be 2/3rds less, there will be loads of space.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

When are the World's people going to admit there are too many of us and we are destroying this Wonderful Place?

9 ( +9 / -0 )

I'm not advocating an apocalyptic war or plague or anything, but can we please start having a gradual, orderly decline of the global population? Humans consume far too much of the Earth's resources, and are ruining vast swathes of it.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

When are the World's people going to admit there are too many of us and we are destroying this Wonderful Place?

The World's People will never admit this. But Mother Nature will. And when she does, it's game over.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

This is badly in need of editing. There are some actual details between the vague pronouncements and constant references. Cut about two thirds of the words, and we could have a readable article about an interesting subject.

“smart cities encompass a broad range of different aspects to describe cities that have deployed — or are currently piloting —[ICT] solutions across three or more different functional areas of a city.”

Definitions are supposed to clarify, not confuse.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

Japan'd population will be 2/3rds less, there will be loads of space.

Not necessarily, at least in terms of where people live. The continuing collapse of rural communities and smaller towns/cities will probably continue in the near future, meaning that people will continue to migrate to the big cities as services, etc get cut off in smaller ones due to a lack of population/tax base to support them. You already see this in a lot of areas where once the population density falls below a level necessary to support things like train lines, hospitals and schools, the community enters a fatal spiral and all the young people are left with little choice but moving to bigger cities, which gives those big cities enough incoming people to offset any population loss due to the low birthrate.

So even if the total population of Japan drops by 1/3 (which it almost certainly will) the population of the big cities is likely to remain the same or even possibly grow while the de-population almost exclusively falls on places that are already sparsely populated.

Cities will be just as crowded, while the areas in between them will be mostly empty.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Cut about two thirds of the words, and we could have a readable article about an interesting subject.

No kidding, I was starting to read the article because it sounded interesting, but then noticed a whole log of fluff and saw how long the article was, so I skimmed the rest.

While smart cities are nice, people and businesses should be encouraged to move to smaller cities and countrysides. With the advancement of home deliveries, this should become a realistic option (if only my company would allow remote working...)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The article is mostly obfuscation and gibberish but I like this quote - "the “smart” in smart cities ought to place a premium on people rather than policies or technologies."

1 ( +1 / -0 )

For a country prone to natural disasters, the smart thing is to design a society with resilience.

Having huge numbers of people in the same earthquake-prone place as a large part of the government, all depending on piping from the same aquifers and just-in-time deliveries of food, fuel etc, is not smart or resilient. Especially in a country with excellent transport infrastructure that would allow things to be spread out and plenty of empty communities within two hours of Tokyo.

Having half the country on a different frequency of electricity to the other is not very smart either.

Spread everything out, use communication, and back up all landlines with satellite communication. That would be my approach.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Other commenters have noticed this, and I should chime in. The first three paragraphs apply to MOST of the world, but saying that Japan faces the same problems as most of the world is, well, sloppy thinking at best. Let's call it ignorance.

What do you think everybody? Japan, more than anything right now, needs MORE INVESTMENT IN INFRASTRUCTURE!

I don't think so. And the article really tries hard to convince us, but it does not work. Japan needs some work on efficiency and some work on energy, but let's face it, if it turns the nuclear power plants back on and phases them out while developing more wind and solar, the problems will pretty well solve themselves.

The main trend in Japan is for old people in rural areas to die out, and younger people moving to cities to get better jobs and services. But cities are not going to grow THAT much, and the service levels there now are sufficient to attract people, so... the problems will solve themselves.

To be truthful, I did not read the whole article. I might come back and read it later. There is just no imperative. More pie in the sky that someone else will have to pay for. Things are cheaper that way, right?

Hey. I have a better idea. Let's keep taxes low and service levels about where they are and let people decide how they want to live. That might SAVE JAPAN better than getting all antsy about pie in the sky schemes.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

With such rapid expansion of cities comes a number of challenges, including overcrowding, environmental pollution, congestion, damage to infrastructure, and increased demand for energy

Clean Food and Water sources should not be the premium but the norm in any city including a smart city.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I'm not advocating an apocalyptic war or plague or anything, but can we please start having a gradual, orderly decline of the global population?

Are we not already heading that way? The world population growth rate has been falling since the 1960s. So while the population is still increasing, it's doing so less quickly and it's thought it will reach a peak over the next 30 years or so at between 9 and 10 billion.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think large cities like Tokyo/Yokohama/Osaka would benefit by smart technologies already available, but not being used currently due to tradition/inertia. Namely, how many workers packing the trains on a daily basis could do the exact same work from home with access to internet and the latest communications technology? Quite a few I would wager.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I have already invested in a couple of Internet of Things (IOT) companies, which, all things going as they should will facilitate an early and comfortable retirement. Smart cities are a very exciting prospect indeed.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

canadianbentoJUL. 08, 2016 - 10:07AM JST When are the World's people going to admit there are too many of us and we are destroying this Wonderful Place?

They will accept the claim when people claiming it can produce an objectively-determined maximum human population limit supported by evidence, along with evidence that no technological innovation can ever raise that limit. So in other words, never.

As for the article, I am very much a fan of using IT to eliminate waste in our lives, though the more I learn about IoT, the more I see very few even have the most basic security steps to prevent intrusion. Japan is not exactly well known for its robust cyber-security, so I remain skeptical.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There's already loads of space in Japan, certainly outside central Tokyo. Vast areas of untouched forest, and plenty of flat land across the plains, outside Tokyo, the land use is hardly that dense at all. Once all the factory space is reclaimed when 3D printing and other technologies take over, there will be plenty of space left. It's not even like Japan's population is growing or even staying the same.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Smart cities in Japan, no way. Those ugly electricity poles and wires all over Japan will never make it happen.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is one of the worst "articles" I've ever seen on JT. This is a doozy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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