The Tokyo model

I am going to speak at this year’s Association for Asian Studies (virtual) conference, presenting on a panel about Tokyo. This post is meant to reactivate and synthesize some of the thinking from my thesis that so far has not been published and can contribute something new to the debate.

Convenience store locations

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The Tokyo moment

One concept I developed for my PhD was the “Tokyo moment”, basically a very large city growing rapidly. I did this to show how much of a trailblazer Tokyo, the world’s first Asian megacity was, and what this might mean for other cities in developing countries. I also used this “moment” to argue why I chose my period of observation as that covering the postwar period until roughly 1970.

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Demand-side aspects of labor-intensive industrialization

My paper in SSJJ explored the supply side of labor-intensive industrialization in an urban setting. It argued that it’s useful to conceive of urban space as a factor of production, like land once was before the neoclassical revolution. The following post shows how it is also useful to consider the urban dimension on the demand side.

Building near Takadanobaba, Tokyo

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Bye bye Tokyo (2)

When skimming the back archives of this blog, I came across a farewell bid to Tokyo back in 2013. My wife and I had just spent six months there – her working and me taking a sabbatical that was to spark a passion for the city. We went back to Tokyo again in 2015, and left quite a long time ago in 2019. This reprise is thus long overdue, especially given the recent dearth of personal posts.

View towards center from a rooftop in Meguro-ku   Continue reading

PhD thesis

I have been amiss not to post a link to my PhD dissertation, which has been published on the website of my former university, the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, about a year ago. The title is “Urban Space in Economic History: Tokyo as Asia’s First Megacity 1945-1970”. Find the summary after the break.

View from GRIPS, Roppongi

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Urban Space as a Factor of Production

The first of hopefully 3-4 articles drawn from my PhD finally got published with Social Science Journal Japan, a journal run by the University of Tokyo and distributed by OUP. It’s taken a little (!) longer than expected due to my day job as well as general COVID-induced turmoil in all our lives. Anyway, I will put up a proper post celebrating this moment. For now, you can read the abstract below and find the full article here.

Urban Space as a Factor of Production: Accounting for the Success of Small Factories in Postwar Tokyo

This paper demonstrates that small manufacturing firms in postwar Tokyo were exceptionally successful. Not only were they more productive than their national peers, they were also remarkably competitive vis-à-vis large factories in Tokyo. The existing explanations for this double outperformance do not take full account of the urban setting in which this process took place. Small factories compensated for higher labor costs by being more efficient users of urban space. They thrived thanks to Tokyo’s particular urban form, which included a preference for mixed use and often blurred the boundaries between living and workplace. Small factories also benefited from being embedded in the relatively egalitarian structure of postwar Tokyo, as the city avoided spatial stratification despite megacity growth. Although Tokyo’s small factories remain important, their competitive edge has eroded from the 1970s onward.

Manuscript ideas

Economic history has a long shelf-life when it comes to the data, but needs to be read in a changing context. Besides taking stock of my research, I want to interrogate myself what impact COVID-19 may have on a future monologue.

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The future of retail

The famous Tokyo Tower view

I was remiss not to post a link to a Morgan Stanleys Ideas podcast that I featured on. Head to the website to listen to the episode “Shopping for the Future”, in which the authors try to understand what modern retail can learn from Japan. I start to speak at around 7:00.

Urban governance

One of the chapters of my PhD deals with urban governance in postwar Tokyo. I argue that the intermediate layer of government, Tokyo Metropolitan Government, was an effective arbiter of the “developmental city”. A Guardian article from 2015 caught my eye.

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