Spatial Patterns of the Distribution System in Japan and Their Recent Changes

Noboru Hayashi, Masateru Hino

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


The spatial pattern of the Japanese wholesale system had for a long time been characterized by a bipolar structure with Tokyo and Osaka as major wholesale centers. Since the 1960s, however, with the changes in industrial structure and the agglomeration of head offices of large enterprises, wholesale traders have become concentrated in Tokyo. As a result, the spatial pattern of wholesaling has been transformed into a single polar system. At the same time, regional centers such as Sapporo, Sendai, Hiroshima, and Fukuoka have become important wholesale centers in the regions to which they belong. Generally, there has been a remarkable increase in freight volume and transportation systems have undergone considerable development in the course of post-World War II economic growth. Distribution facilities such as warehouses and wholesale fresh food markets have moved from inner cities to metropolitan suburbs in parallel with the development of truck transportation. The location of truck terminals and wholesale estates in the suburbs of main cities promoted the relocation of wholesale establishments from CBDs to surrounding areas. The most striking change in Japan's retail system has been brought about by the rapid development of supermarket chains on national and regional scales since the early 1960s. These stores are characterized by self-service and chain store systems which are diffused throughout the urban hierarchical system. With the development of retail activities in suburban areas, patterns of competition such as suburb vs. downtown area emerged within metropolises. Motorization is another element which has brought about a restructuring of shopping areas at every level of the urban hierarchy. While newly developed commercial areas attract consumers arriving by car, existing and small-sized shopping areas are declining in the face of severe competition from the former. Spatial patterns of shopping centers which once corresponded to the hierarchical central place system have gradually lost their hierarchical features.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-140
Number of pages21
JournalGeographical review of Japan, Series B.
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1988

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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