Compared to Western cities, urban planning in Japan might seem to be more of an afterthought. There’s clearly less zoning, and some places just look chaotic. But, dig deeper, and you’ll discover ongoing efforts to improve the welfare of citizens.
When I moved to Fukuoka in 1990, the massive Momochihama development on reclaimed land had just been completed. Fukuoka was clearly making bold moves toward establishing a new standard of urban life in Japan, and that was an influential factor in my decision to settle here. Unbeknownst to me, Fukuoka already had an impressive history of city planning. This article outlines some of the most significant chapters in the past and glimpses into the future.
Publisher of Fukuoka Now
Fukuoka City now ranks regularly among the top cities where people in Japan want to live and work, and it boasts the highest population growth rate of any city in Japan (population as of August 2022: 1.63 million). The city is in the process of realizing the vision it set in 2012 to become a hub of exchange in Asia and a city where people want to live, visit and work.
Fukuoka, which is noted both at home and abroad as a city full of vitality, was incorporated as a city 166 years ago in April 1889. At the time, it was a small town with a population of just 50,847 and an area of 5.09 km2, or 1.48% of the current city area of 343.47 km2. Later, it incorporated surrounding towns and villages, and before the war, it had the largest population in Kyushu, establishing itself as the island’s main city.
Although part of central Fukuoka burned to the ground after an air raid on June 19, 1945 during the war, City Hall presented the citizens with a concrete vision of a city that intends to more than double its population along with a positive declaration that “the City expects to see a great deal of prosperity in its future.” (Source: 1947 City Census Handbook)
In 1961, Fukuoka became the first city in Japan to formulate a Master Plan. This plan aimed to turn Fukuoka into an integrated city by strengthening weak industrial sectors and developing a good balance of secondary and tertiary industries. The first revision of the Master Plan, issued five years later, declared that Fukuoka would “avoid an overemphasis on merely inducing industry to the area and focus instead on enhancing the city’s functions as the administrative center of Kyushu and on improving the infrastructure for people’s daily lives and culture. With this, Fukuoka decided to take a step back from industrialization and become more in touch with the lives and culture of its citizens.
In 1987, Fukuoka announced its vision to become “a vibrant Asian hub city,” and with the Asian-Pacific Expo, which was held in 1989 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the city’s incorporation, Fukuoka made itself known throughout Japan and around the world as a city that not only recognized its relationship with Kyushu and the rest of Japan, but with Asia as well.
Both the Port of Hakata and Fukuoka Airport, which serve as domestic and international hubs that take advantage of their proximity to Asia, continued to expand and opened direct access to Fukuoka from other parts of Japan and overseas, with the Port of Hakata opening its International Terminal in 1993, Fukuoka Airport opening its International Passenger Terminal Building in 1999 and the Chuo Wharf Cruise Center opening in 2015.
An international conference held in Fukuoka in 2010 set the tone for Fukuoka’s remarkable progress in recent years. Fukuoka was quick to recognize the trend among growing world-class cities where the locus of power to pursue initiatives was shifting from local government agencies to public-private partnerships, and in 2011, the City established the Fukuoka Directive Council, a cooperative industry-academia-government alliance. Based on its founding aim of pursuing the sustainable growth of the Fukuoka metropolitan area by strengthening international competitiveness, the Council continues to drive Fukuoka’s growth strategy through collaboration among partners in industry, universities and government agencies.
Aiming to become a domestic and international hub city where a diverse array of people live and work by promoting business and other inter-city exchanges, Fukuoka issued the Startup City Fukuoka Declaration in 2012, making it one of the first cities in Japan to focus on startups.
With the launch of the Fukuoka City Special Zone for Global Business Startups and Job Creation in 2014, Fukuoka City was the first city to earn a designation under the National Strategy Special Zone initiative, a government-led regulatory reform program that allows for bold deregulation and preferential tax treatment limited to certain regions and/or fields with the aim of creating the most business-friendly environments in the world. Currently, 10 areas throughout Japan have been designated as National Strategic Special Zones, including the metropolitan Tokyo and Kansai areas, but as the first and only such zone in Kyushu (although Kitakyushu City later earned its own designation), Fukuoka City has implemented a series of innovative regulatory reforms, including issuing startup visas, providing corporate tax breaks to startups, and approving special exceptions to the building height restrictions in the Civil Aeronautics Act, and it has launched several new programs.
In 2014, the City established its Startup Cafe inside a bookstore to serve as a one-stop shop for support covering everything from business startup consultations to securing human resources, and in 2017, it launched Fukuoka Growth Next, a startup support facility that integrates the functions of both business incubators and startup cafes. Fukuoka City recorded the highest rate of new business openings in Japan for three consecutive years, from 2013-2015 and then again from 2018.
Exterior of the Fukuoka Growth Next in Daimyo.
The Tenjin Big Bang redevelopment project, which is currently ongoing, is another measure the City has enacted to enhance Fukuoka’s roles and functions as an Asian hub city while quickly creating new spaces and new jobs. Within the project area, which is centered on Meiji-dori Avenue and covers a radius of about 500 meters from the Tenjin intersection, approximately 70 buildings are scheduled to be completed by 2026.
One of the soon-to-be completed Tenjin Big Bang buildings, next door to Nishitetsu Grand Hotel on Meiji-dori. July 2022
Fukuoka Airport, with service to several cities throughout Japan and Asia, is only five minutes away by subway from Hakata Station, which connects Fukuoka to the rest of Kyushu by Shinkansen, and only 10 minutes away from Tenjin. Fukuoka currently has the highest population growth rate of any city in Japan and has earned the top spot on a ranking of cities where people in Japan want to live and work.
* According to a 2021 survey of Fukuoka citizens on their feelings about the city, 97.7% of citizens responded that they like the city and 96.5% said it is an easy place to live (Source: Fukuoka City survey 2021).
Over the years, Fukuoka City has pursued urban development by regularly updating its vision to reflect the issues facing the city at any given time and to pay heed to the will of its citizens, and it has always presented its vision to the citizens in easy-to-understand terms.
Fukuoka City is currently working to support companies that strive to create new value by using a combination of regulatory reforms permitted under the National Strategic Special Zone initiative and City Hall’s own policy measures. The next feature will focus on the topic of wellness.
• Fukuoka City – Right Time, Right Place
• Fukuoka: City of Growth and Dynamic Vision (this page)
• Choosing to live in Fukuoka means choosing well-being
• Living for what you love
• What’s Fukuoka City Really Like?
Fukuoka City x Fukuoka Now