The Japanese urban system: Spatial organization of major enterprises

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In recent years, a three-stage mono-polar concentration of higher functions into Tokyo, regional capitals and prefectural capitals has been under way in Japan. This trend is considered to have arisen as a result of the changing spatial organization of major enterprises, exemplified by their head/branch office locations. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the national urban system of Japan by focusing on the horizontal and vertical growth of the spatial organization of major enterprises and their temporal changes during the past two decades. A total of 2,499 listed enterprises is examined here, and the data used were obtained from the Directory of Executives of Major Enterprises (kaisha shokuin roku) and Handbook of Organizations and Establishments (soshikizu jigyosho binran) published by the Diamond Inc. The findings can be summarized as follows: First, an analysis of the spatial organization of four enterprise categories based on the number of cities with branch offices reveals that the more branch offices a category has and the larger it is, the greater the concentration of head offices in Tokyo. In this situation, regional capital cities as administrative centers tend to preside over local cities. This suggests that growth of enterprise is generally accompanied by a process of concentration of head office functions into Tokyo, horizontal growth of the branch office network and vertical/hierarchical growth of administrative functions. Second, the Japanese urban system exhibits a hierarchical structure consisting of three stages: Tokyo as a strategic center, regional capital cities as administrative centers and prefectural capital cities as local business centers. However, a distinction is also observed in the case of regional capital cities; specifically, the system shows signs of differentiation between the higher rank cities of Sendai and Fukuoka and the lower rank cities of Sapporo and Hiroshima. Additionally, the growth of Omiya as a significant center in the northern portion of the Kanto region and the stagnation of Nagoya and Takamatsu are noteworthy. This movement has contributed to the collapse of a clear-cut hierarchical structure and the reorganization of the previously established urban system in the country. Third, an analysis of temporal changes in the spatial organization of the major enterprises under consideration reveals that, in the 1980s, the prefectural capital cities were chosen as the new locations of branch offices and the regional capital cities experienced an expansion of administrative functions in the form of rank elevation to unify the prefectural capitals. In the recessionary years of the 1990s, however, the closure/withdrawal of branch offices and the absorption of smaller ones into large ones generally increased, suggesting a restructuring of the spatial organization of the enterprises. In future research, we will proceed to a more detailed study of the Japanese urban system by devoting attention to differences according to industrial sector as well as studying a variety of affiliated enterprises.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-86
Number of pages16
JournalJapanese Journal of Human Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


  • Economically higher order administrative function
  • Horizontal and vertical growth of organization
  • Spatial organization of enterprises
  • Urban system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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