The Japanese City

The castle town (joka machi) was the administrative centre of a daimyo’s domain and became the characteristic form of Japanese city from the mid-sixteenth century until the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Full-fledged urban communities emerged in the sixteenth century with the forced settlement of samurai around their lord’s castle and the combination of market and castle in a single location. Initially, castle towns were small, consisting of the castle complex and surrounding dwellings. The growing authority of the daimyo was increasingly reflected in their imposing town plans.

Post-station towns (shukuba machi), religious towns (monzen machi), port towns (minato machi) and market centres (ichiba machi) are other types of towns that originated in feudal Japan.

Weiterlesen: The Japanese City

The post-station towns (shukuba machi) developed along the five radial roads, gokaido, that stretched out from Edo, the capital of the shogunate. These towns catered to travellers‘ needs along these routes. Monzen machi developed in the vicinity of popular temples or shrines. Nara is one of the most important monzen machi in Japan. The city developed under the protection of the great temples. The temples and shrines were usually located on the outskirts of the city, unlike the castle, which usually occupied a central position in the city. Temples and shrines played an important role in the economy of these cities. Trading centres that developed along seaports are known as minato machi, or port towns, and many towns such as Hakata (now part of Fukuoka), Sakai (in Osaka Prefecture), Nagasaki and Hyogo (now Kobe) flourished as minato machi. During the Tokugawa shogunate’s policy of exclusion, when overseas trade was virtually banned, domestic trade continued in the port cities of Osaka, Shimonoseki and Niigata. These were located on the major sea routes. Many of these free ports were controlled by the merchants who lived there. Another group of Japanese towns developed as ichiba machi, or market centres. These market towns served as trading centres for merchants from nearby villages and provided a link to urban life. Most arose where unusual opportunities for trading existed, such as where two or more major roads intersected. A number of towns have developed as onsen machi, or hot spring towns or spas, which have been major attractions for the Japanese people since ancient times. Many of these towns have now developed into large resort complexes, e.g. Tamayu, Matsuyama, Beppu, Atami, Noboribetsu. There are many hotels, Japanese style inns, restaurants and recreational facilities in these spa towns.

With few exceptions, all of Japan’s modern cities grew out of one of these origins. Many cities had more than one function in feudal times. Shizuoka and Nagoya, for example, were both a joka machi and a shukuba machi. Osaka was both a joka machi and an ichiba machi. In general, cities that had strong locational advantages in feudal times have retained their locational advantages in modern times. They have become the major industrial and commercial cities. Castle cities such as Osaka, Tokyo, Nagoya, and Hiroshima have not only retained their advantages of location, but have also improved their positions as centres of trade and industry. After 1868, many castle towns became prefectural or regional capitals, adding educational, cultural and service aspects. This resulted in the functional transformation of historic towns. Smaller castle towns became centres of light industries such as food processing, textiles, brewing and agricultural implements. The larger castle towns attracted heavier industries such as metals and shipbuilding and became centres of transport networks. Seaport cities such as Osaka, Niigata, Shimonoseki and Nagoya have retained their administrative-political functions and added important manufacturing and service functions. Japan’s railways follow the old feudal road network, and former stage towns such as Sendai, Kawasaki, Hamamatsu and Nagano have become railway centres with manufacturing and commercial functions. Many religious centres and resort towns have grown in importance in modern times, along with the booming economy.

Quelle: Karan, P. P. (1997): The City in Japan, pp. 12-39; in: Karan, P.P. & K. Stapleton (Eds.): The Japanese City. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, p. 15-20.

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