Ethnic Clusters and the Urban Planning System: The Japanese Experience
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As cities compete to attract investments in a global economy, diversity and multiculturalism are often played upon in the city’s image building. Diversity is seen as one of the crucial indicators of a city’s quality of life. Tokyo is regarded as one of the three alpha global cities. Despite its undisputed global city status, however, its population still remains over ninety-six per cent ethnically Japanese, making it one of the least ethnically diverse global cities in the world. Indeed many Japanese consider their country’s racial homogeneity as its best trait. On the other hand, pockets of minorities do reside within the Tokyo region. The two main minority groups, the Chinese and the Koreans, have both established “ethnic towns”. For local governments these ethnic clusters present an opportunity to tout their city’s global credentials and diversity. Within the minority groups that form the clusters, however, there seem to be two factions: those who seek to promote the tourist appeal of the cluster for increased trade; and those who value the cluster as a place of cultural sanctuary in a sometimes culturally in- sensitive ‘foreign’ city. Their motivation and interests in shaping these clusters are not necessarily aligned. From theoretical viewpoints ranging from Henri Lefebvre’s production of social space to Antonio Gramsci’s concept of counter-hegemony to Manuel Castells’ views on proliferation of social spaces on internet, this paper sets out to explore how, and to what effect, the urban planning system and processes are used or avoided by the local government and ethnic minorities in the production of urban space. The paper focuses on observations from the Kanto (Greater Tokyo) Region to describe how diversity is handled in a major Asian global city.
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