electronic journal of contemporary japanese
Discussion Paper 2 in 2008
First published in ejcjs on
15 February 2008
How to contribute to
Creative Clustering in Urban Japan
The Case of Fukuoka
Tai Wei LIM
e-mail the author
Through a case study of Fukuoka's clustering of creative industries, this
paper presents urban cultural strategies emerging as a policy to cope with
the decline of the old economy and urban degeneration, by fusing new
interpretations of culture (with a bias towards popular culture), and
through alliances between local businesses and politicians. This is done to
form a consensus in bolstering the cultural content of a locale in order to
complement the transition to a service economy, and is a reflection of
Fukuoka's robust finance and retail sectors. Moreover, in the branding of an
international city such as Fukuoka, its mass consumption culture and urban
renewal planning are becoming benchmarks to judge the contemporary
development of the Japanese city itself. In particular, urban renewal,
communitarian responses, and equity in distribution of resources for
cultural policies have all become proactive measures to arrest developmental
gaps between communities.
In trying to enhance the service sector, which cities like Fukuoka have
selected as their economic niche, branding also forms a linkage between the
consumer and the collective belonging, anchoring the consumer to
identification with a globally-marketed culture (Evans, 2003: 421).
According to Georg Simmel's study, the role of branding 'provided a link
between the diverging individual and collective culture and identity,
reconnecting the local with a sense of socio-cultural "belonging", whether
to a city, neighbourhood or nation' (Simmel cited in Evans, 2003: 421).
In terms of urban strategies, in order to achieve economic dividends from
creative industries, governments, including the local government of Fukuoka,
are also required to peg their policies closer to the need to respond to the
market and attract investments to the arts; a policy which is now
intertwined with the service sector due to the arts becoming a commodity for
consumption. Bassett contends that the government and its policies need to
work with and complement the 'new cultural intermediaries described as
artists, intellectuals, media professionals, and academics' who are
specialists in symbolic production. These intermediaries have therefore
become a de facto lobby group for the arts (Bassett 1993: 1777).
Evans argues that 'the economic and spatial structures of the
entertainment industry increasingly call for the specific functions provided
by cities. Thus, global cities like Fukuoka in particular are emerging as
strategic centres for both consumption and production' (Evans, 2004: 77). On
the production side, the presence of individuals that cater to the middle
classes' symbolic and lifestyle tastes are needed to successfully guide and
navigate consumers to be in tune with the dynamic trends and patterns of
consumption, especially for cities keen to remake themselves into
sophisticated centres of innovative services and product design. As places
compete for limited investment funds, their vitality and viability
increasingly depend on the 'conscious and deliberate manipulation of culture
in an effort to enhance the appeal and interest of places' (Crewe and
Beaverstock, 1998: 289). Accent is placed on consumption based on the
culturalization of everyday life emanating from middle class tastes and
middle class individuals that are trendsetters (who possess 'cultural
capital'). This hints at a bourgeoisie-fication of cultural
consumption, which has become symbolic rather than material-based.
As a result, services that are carefully cultivated as lifestyle choices
are at the forefront of consumption patterns. Evans also argues that
sections of the cities are strategically emerging as entertainment nuclei
that serve both the activities of production of heritage and the arts well
as consumption within the city for both tourists and local residents. Evans
notes that the revitalization, packaging, and renewal of these cities are
'capitalizing on their traditional assets - art and culture - to revive
their downtowns'. It is also a capitalist venture: 'they are turning to
museums, performing arts centers, theaters, opera houses, and concert halls
to spur economic growth' (Evans, 2003: 420). In this way, cultural policy,
or provision of a vibrant culture and image-making to brand a city, have
become a competitive venture where cities must continually harmonize the
necessary entertainment, businesses, as well as local communities in an
effort to secure sustained levels of investments and arrest urban decline.
Rather than an exercise in achieving a comparative advantage over others, it
has become a device to secure a city's survival needs.
Cultural tourism is also a form of infrastructure renewal: 'Developing
the cultural industries within marginalized districts on the fringe of the
city centre also offers inexpensive yet effective opportunities for the
re-use of older, redundant buildings as work studios or spaces for
rehearsals, shows and exhibitions' (Bayliss, 2004: 289). Cultural tourism is
one of the niches for the practical implementation of cultural policies for
the generation of income, tapping into the fact that tourism is one of the
world's leading growth industries. Cultural promotion strategies can also
have spin-off benefits of attracting new investments by luring skilled
technical and managerial labour through touting cultural and recreational
programs and attractions. This is a deliberate attempt to lure what Richard
Florida defines as 'the creative class', or the super-creative group of
'scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists,
artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects, as well as the
"thought leadership" of modern society: non-fiction writers, editors,
cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts, and other
opinion-makers' (Florida, 2006: unpaginated).
Clustering allows the integration of cultural attractions into urban
centres to enable tourists to enjoy them within walking distance of an urban
location and its accompaniments of hotels. Roodhouse suggests that an
event-oriented approached could develop a sense of place: 'Events, open-air
temporary festivals and other public activities can then be incorporated
into the expanded square, which includes the archway and the Boulevard'
(Roodhouse, 2006: 130). Urban infrastructure as simple as covered walkways
linking up high class shopping areas helps to attract consumers, and large
exquisitely-designed indoor greenhouses create atria to host social events
such as concerts and other public performances.
However, urban revival and gentrification are not without their problems.
Some examples of contentious issues (environment, profiteering, etc.)
affecting the community will also be discussed in this paper. The tension
between macroeconomic development and local community resistance will also
be examined with one neighbourhood as an example. Aside from short-term
issues, sustainability in the long-run based on European precedents will be
The structure of the paper begins with Fukuoka as a case study of urban
cultural strategies. First, a little background behind Fukuoka's transition
from manufacturing to a service economy is detailed, along with highlighting
other problems such as the 'brain drain' phenomenon. The attempt to arrest
these trends places focus on several sub-districts within Fukuoka that have
become centers of creative enterprises, and the paper then goes on to
examine some of these. Tenjin, Momochi, and Hawk's Town, among other places,
will be examined. Integrated into location studies, the themes of
consumerism, tourism, infrastructure renewal, identity and resistance are
woven into the analysis.
Fukuoka City as a Case Study
Fukuoka City itself is divided into many districts, but for the purpose
of this paper's focus on clustering, Tenjin, Hakata, Momochi, and Daimyo
will be highlighted. First, this section will begin with a little background
on Fukuoka City. Fukuoka City as the de facto capital of Kyushu
island (one of the four great islands that make up Japan), and one of the
ten largest cities in Japan, has always been active in the service sector,
with its banking industry and its status as the operational headquarters for
Kyushu's economy and society. However, of late, it has been facing a brain
drain as talented individuals uproot themselves to migrate to super-mega
cities like Tokyo and Osaka in Honshu for employment opportunities and the
excitement of heading for the nation's capital city (a process known as
jōkyō in Japanese).
Hakata is one of the largest downtown areas in Fukuoka City (population
about 1.3 million) and its population continues to decrease. As a result,
its sub-district of Nagare is almost on the verge of extinction (White and
Satoshi, 1995: unpaginated). Out-migration from Kyushu was substantial
between 1955 and 1970 (losses of about 1% of the population per year) and in
terms of absolute population figures, Hokkaido-Tohoku and Kyushu, where
Fukuoka is located, were losing about 150,000 people per year (Drysdale,
1998: 121). In the 1990s, according to the 1995 Survey on Employment
Trends, Northern Kyushu experienced a surplus outflow of residents while
Southern Kyushu witnessed a dwindling supply of labor (Yahata, 1997:
The decline of the manufacturing economy in Kyushu has led to an
increasing proportion of the higher value-added service economy in advanced
countries, especially in sectors such as finance, as well as other knowledge
economic sectors based on information flows. In this way, 'Such strategies
of urban redevelopment seek to cultivate a symbolic economy based upon
activities and products such as finance, investment, information and culture
(art, food, fashion, music and tourism)' (Bell and Jayne 2004: 3). Fukuoka,
which always had a near monopoly on Kyushu's service economy, is
increasingly being challenged by regional centers like Kitakyushu City,
Nagasaki and Kumamoto City. They too are trying to capture a slice of the
service sector pie to offset the decline of heavy and manufacturing
A citizens' movement supported by researchers, local civil servants,
business people, and others in the community in downtown Hakata fully grasps
its decline and has been repositioning the city to arrest the brain drain
and its loss of economic resources to Tokyo and other cities in Japan (White
and Satoshi, 1995: unpaginated). Its main strategy has been to reposition
itself as Japan's gateway to Asia to attract East Asian, particularly
Chinese, South Korean and ASEAN businesses, to invest in Fukuoka and for the
migration of skilled workers to make up for the declining numbers. In
Fukuoka City, in respect of land available for residential property, the
extent of the decline of land prices has increased (MLIT, 2002: unpaginated).
The latest strategy was to pit itself against Tokyo to be Japan's
representative in hosting the 2016 Olympics, to raise the city's profile and
also remake Fukuoka as a top contender in being a representative metropolis
of Japan (Margolis, 2007: unpaginated).
Businesses in Fukuoka have been very quick to build on the image of
Fukuoka as Japan's gateway to East Asia and, in this respect they are allied
with local authorities to make the city a more Asia-friendly place. For
example, the city has undertaken work to translate all public street signs
into both Korean and Chinese characters and public announcements over the PA
system in shopping centers have begun broadcasting in these two languages
too. The city also produces city guides in Chinese and Korean languages to
assist foreign tourists and consumers as well as professionals who are
living and working in Fukuoka. The universities in Fukuoka have also begun
attracting greater numbers of foreign students, with Kyushu University as a
flagship institution in offering advanced degree courses (LLM) taught
entirely in English, something unheard of in the past. Small businesses have
also taken up the challenge to integrate more with the neighboring
The districts that stand out as creative clusters are that of Tenjin (the
old city center with its retail and finance accompaniments). Spreading out
from the old city center is Hakata Riverain (site of high-end retail space
and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, which possesses Japan's (perhaps the
world's) largest and most outstanding specialized collection of Asian art).
Rents in these two clusters have become prohibitive so the city center has
expanded into Daimyo, an amazing array of clustered shops quartered for
young, up and coming retailers known as 'select shops' and where fashion
trends and creative production abound. Even Daimyo, which is close to a
decade or more in its age, is slowly maturing and creative clusters and
quartering are now spreading to Hirao and Takamiya. Both of these are upper
class but ageing neighbourhoods with increasing areas of land being freed up
by the demise of old landlords who are either childless or whose children
have decided to sell their inheritance due to Japan's stringent inheritance
taxes. Companies keen on capitalizing on the gentrification process are
aggressively persuading the owners of underutilized parcels of land to sell
their prime real estate. For example, one can find underutilized land
temporarily used as car parks to generate cash-flow for the owners in the
prime district of Hirao.
Thus, the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM) is an important part of the
city's arts infrastructure and which draws Asia's top artists to live, work
and exhibit in Fukuoka, creating a bustling East Asian cultural scene, while
Daimyo is a definite draw for upwardly mobile 'yuppies' keen on the latest
fashion trends and exciting nightlife (Image 1, below).
Image 1: Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (Photograph taken by
Attracting Human Capital
Besides foreign financial and service provision, the aim of drawing
foreign resources is in the form of human capital. These are also 'the
environmental and lifestyle factors attracting urban professionals to work
and reside in inner city/fringe areas through the renovation of industrial
and utility buildings into workspaces and consumption venues (e.g.
galleries, designer retail, restaurants, clubs) and loft-style apartments'
(Evans, 2004, p. 76). These are typical of huge residential megaplexes that
are intelligent buildings located near the city centre and intended for
young professionals. The epitome of these residential areas in Fukuoka is
the Momochi area which has service apartments that come with access to
helicopter pads for time-pressed business executives.
Other than these flashy service apartments, Hyatt Regency have built a
block of affordable service apartments that can serve executives (both
Japanese and foreign) for durations of stays that range from a day to a few
years. Momochi, which also hosts the Korean, American and Chinese embassies,
comes with its own American mall (Hawk's Town), international schools,
baseball stadiums and resort hotels. Land use and space has been so tight in
this area that the authorities have resorted to reclaiming land for building
hi-tech prefabricated houses specially designed to withstand earthquakes
that threaten to destroy the more vulnerable reclaimed land (Image 2).
Image 2: Lifestyle apartments in Momochi, Fukuoka
(Photograph taken by the author).
Thus, Evans opines that:
New approaches also seek to integrate cultural policy and urban
regeneration, since, according to Worpole and Greenhalgh: 'Any form of
urban planning is today, by definition, a form of cultural planning in its
broadest sense, as it cannot but take into account people's religious and
linguistic identities, their cultural institutions and lifestyles, their
modes of behaviour and aspirations, and the contribution they make to
urban tapestry (Worpole and Greenhalgh, 1999, cited in Evans, 2003: 423).
One of the most important decisions taken by the city and prefectural
governments in Fukuoka in the process of urban regeneration of the city, is
to relocate its airport to an artificial man-made island, not unlike that of
Kansai International Airport in Osaka. Japan's Ministry of Land
Infrastructure and Transport proposed the construction of the new Fukuoka
airport on reclaimed land off the Shingu Beach in its 8th Airport
Development Plan, but the environmental impact of this proposal and the
debates surrounding it have put the plan on abeyance (Centre for Asia
Pacific Aviation, 2002, unpaginated; Fukuoka Now, 2002, unpaginated, Global
Oneness, undated, unpaginated). This has been a controversial decision, with
its advocates and detractors. Advocates of the move argue that the current
airport's location in to the south-east of the city has brought along noise
pollution from low-flying planes and has stunted the growth of the city due
to the limits placed on the height of buildings in the city centre. Fukuoka
is one of the few major cities in Japan without tall buildings because of
this limitation. Moreover, critics argue that relocating the airport would
free up land for urban use. Detractors of the move are nostalgic about the
airport as it has brought them benefits. Transportation costs in Japan are
prohibitively high and the current airport's close proximity to the city
centre has given its residents the benefits of lower costs to and from the
Fukuoka's attempts to clean up ghettos and deal appropriately with its
homeless people are met with the same attitudes experienced elsewhere in
Japan – a tendency sometimes to ignore problems and pretend they do not
exist. Homeless people pack up their cardboard abodes nicely in the day and
then unroll and unfurl them in the night to sleep in the city centre. In
general, the public and law enforcement authorities ignore or pretend these
structures are not there, thus providing few incentives for the
gentrification process to reach these corners of the city. This is not an
idiosyncratic problem but one that is found all over Japan, and the symbolic
Mecca of this social problem is Ueno Park in Tokyo, with its large
settlements of homeless tents erected in the park.
Fukuoka utilizes a strategy of thinking big in order to attract Japanese
tourists from other prefectures. This includes owning the world's largest
baseball stadium with a retractable roof, which is also the home base of
Japan's top baseball team (whose Taiwanese coach has a cult celebrity status
and is a symbol of pan-Asianism himself). The stadium comes with its own
gigantic mall called 'Hawk's Town', an imitation of the Californian mall
concept with its own super-mart selling a broad selection of foreign gourmet
food, and having its nightlife entertainment fronted by the Hard Rock Café.
Located near Hawk's Town is Fukuoka Tower (Image 3), the world's
tallest seaside tower, and which boasts a fantastic view over the entire
city. Moving along to the coastline of Momochi, is Fukuoka's Marinoa City, a
Hawaiin-American shopping megaplex which also boasts of what was until
recently the world's tallest ferris wheel (Image 4, below). The megaplex is a
draw for those keen to sample bayside area shopping and a marina-like
atmosphere. It is also a haven for yacht enthusiasts.
Image 3: Fukuoka Tower (Photograph taken by the
Image 4: Marinoa City's Ferris wheel (Photograph taken
by the author).
Fukuoka is also branding itself as Japan's robot centre and has achieved
some success in promoting itself as Japan's robot research nucleus. As
robots are a mainstay of Japanese culture as well as the country's
industrial landscape, it is an attraction for foreign and local
tourists. To boost its standing as Japan's robot industry centre, a robotics
showroom displaying consumer robots has been set up in
Hakata Riverain, located in the same complex as the Fukuoka Asian Art
Museum. This clustering of visual arts culture with hi-tech displays is
intended to draw people into the city centre (Image 5).
Image 5: Hakata Riverain robotics center (Photograph
taken by the author).
Small businesses can also contribute. As Roodhouse (2006: 129)
comments, 'Diversity of primary and secondary uses; presence of an evening
economy, including cafe culture; and the strength of small firm economy,
including creative businesses are central to a successful quarter'.
Fukuoka's version of café culture is based on Chinese 'ramen' noodles.
The city prides itself as the place of origin of Japan's ramen noodle culture
and has spawned an entire industry based on this. Upon arrival at the city
airport, visitors can take the 'ramen taxi' which brings its passengers to
Fukuoka's ramen shops (Image 6). These shops have created what is
called the 'quarter dama' noodles; reduced-size noodle portions to
allow ramen taxi passengers to sample different flavours of ramen without
getting too full. Fukuoka's Canal City shopping megaplex (Image 7) even
has its own ramen stadium which contains an example of every flavour of
ramen noodles under one roof.
Image 6: A typical Fukuoka ramen shop (Photograph taken
by the author).
Image 7: Canal City Shopping Center (Photograph taken
by the author).
The pride of Fukuokans is Hakata Ramen which itself has become a national
brand for ramen noodles. Fukuoka's now famous Ippudo Ramen (Image 8)
chain has also gone up-market, coming up with its own version of the Ramen
izakaya. Ordinary izakaya, or Japanese restaurants which have
an informal atmosphere that typically host drinking parties for salarymen
after work, are becoming a Japanese pop-culture mainstay, reaching as far as
New York and competing with sushi bars as the latest representative of
Japanese food culture. Ippudo's ramen izakaya concept replaces the
drinking and the dishes that complement alcohol with ramen noodles designed
for drinking parties. It has already influenced food trends in Tokyo and is
poised for a global introduction.
Image 8: Ippudo Ramen (Photograph taken by the author).
Infrastructural and Cultural Renewal
Every weekend, young people throng the streets of Tenjin to consume the
latest fashion products and to feel the latest in consumer trends. Outside
IMS, a building incorporating large numbers of small-time retailers in the
fashion industry, events are held to attract shoppers. To cater to the young
and IT-savvy crowds, public phones in the city are made ISDN compatible for
young people to plug in their notebook computers for Internet use (e.g. an
ISDN capable public phone in Yakuin). Even small alleys in the city center
have been transformed into restaurants and drinking holes.
As for a festival-like atmosphere, Fukuoka's Dontaku festival serves as
the city's drawing point for visitors to get a taste of Southern Japanese
culture and all-night festival dancing. This annual festival draws
hundred of thousands of tourists to the city and the entire city centre is
transformed into a huge bazaar. Large sections of the city remain closed
during this period, with commuters resorting to the subway for travel. Other
large festivals that draw large feverish crowds include Yamakasa (one of the
oldest festivals in Japan).
This fits Roodhouse's (2006: 130) description of a quarter that 'would
become a unique place which is easy to walk around, sit in, eat, meet
people, and talk.' As an added feature, and voted by Asiaweek as the
most liveable city in Asia, Fukuoka also has state of the art facilities for
disabled people, including toilets specially built to accommodate dogs for
Fukuoka has also been able to successfully brand its open air hawker
stalls, making its yatai culture (street-fare and hawker stalls) the
most well-known in Japan. The yatai culture complements the nightlife
of the city, and business-people and night-workers frequent these hawker
stalls for a taste of the local delicacies (Image 9). As a result of its fame, food at
these yatai stalls is not cheap and can range between up to 15 000
yen (US$150) for a single meal. The stalls have their own specialized
niches, with some serving high-class gourmet French cuisines.
Image 9: A yatai business getting ready for the
evening (Photograph taken by the author).
Daimyo and Identification
An example of how individual inspiration and interpretation of a
locality's symbolic and ideational spaces may enhance collective creativity
is seen in the ways artists and designers create products reflecting the
character of the locality. Such creative commodities get consumed by locals
and outsiders, which in turn become associated with the location
itself, fostering the relationship between individual and collective
Daimyo promises an alternative mode of work from the normative big
company salaryman image in Japan. It consists of small-time retailers who
make use of gentrified areas within the locale for their business fronts.
Some have creatively converted existing apartments within
residential housing estates into shops, working and co-existing with other
residents in the area. Such concepts are refreshing for consumers walking
into predominantly residential areas to buy 'select shop' products (meaning
items that are not mass-manufactured). The surrounding environments of
Daimyo pose a different atmosphere to the rest of Fukuoka or even Japan,
which can come across as a sanitized country with orderly social systems and
a penchant for unforgiving perfectionism. Daimyo on the other hand
encourages unconventionality, for example with its street graffiti.
Within Daimyo, intermediary institutions - including design schools (e.g.
Omula Fashion Design College), forecasting services, and buying officers
have emerged to support the fashion cluster. There are trendy underground
fashion magazines that disseminate fashion information and latest industry
information to their constituents. The entire locale with its mutually
competing studios, galleries and boutiques acts as a cluster to pipeline
information exchanges and incubate new ideas. Shorthose's description of
Lace Market may provide an analogy here.
The networks they live and work in are best characterized as an ecology
of interdependent relationships and flows between independents, and between
them and other cultural organizations and businesses in the area. It differs
from the formal economy of official organizations and structured working
relationships (Shorthose, 2004: 150).
One example of popular consumption can be seen in the pachinko
(pinball gambling) parlours in Daimyo that have spruced themselves up to
attract customers to play their machines. Unlike the old gambling parlours,
the new-style pachinko parlours are dressed in attractive
architectural designs that discreetly disguise their identity as de facto
gambling parlors. Gambling remains illegal in Japan (except for sanctioned
pachinko, horse racing and boat races) and is still viewed as
something of a social taboo. On top of this, pachinko is viewed even
more negatively of late, given that many are perceived to be run by mobsters
and political organizations sympathetic to North Korea. Thus, companies try
to gain social tolerance and acceptance by not advertising their presence
too garishly. A billion dollar business, pachinko provides some
night-time entertainment for those in Daimyo.
Success and its Impediments
The success of branding itself may, however, produce the dampener or
impediment of its original modus operandi. The initial attraction of
firms to a cluster are factors such as low rents, proximity to creative
industries, and less developed infrastructure, giving new firms in the
creative industries the breathing space for creative production. But as the
area develops through branding, concerted urban renewal, and economic
pressures for job creation and infrastructure construction, the former
residents of these areas are crowded out by large-scale property developers
and big businesses that drive up rents and costs, making it difficult for
small creative enterprises to continue their presence.
I argue here that innovation in the locale may face the danger of
'lock-in', a phenomenon which may be perpetuated by the business strategies
of larger companies to enhance their profits by takeovers or acquisitions,
in other words, using methods other than investments in the design, research
and innovative process. This may dampen the creative dynamics of the locale
and, as a result of rising rents and also big players moving into Daimyo,
smaller retailers have moved out and re-emerged in the nearby Yakuin, Hirao
and Takamiya areas where rents are still lower. The creative energy of these
small businesses are becoming a familiar sight in these areas that used to
be exclusively residential. This is attracting established chain stores to
move into the Hirao area, for example the Chidori dessert shop (a
traditional sweet shop with over 300 years of history is one of the pioneers
to front the main street of the emerging Hirao quarter), where the process
begins anew. To beat the rent, some have created mobile shops, selling
products and food items off licensed minivans that serve lunchtime crowds.
Consumption patterns and the transition to a service economy
The fear in post-industrial cities in the West is that of creative
clusters consuming and transforming the entire urban space into one huge
process of consumption and production, and which is dominated by hegemonic
values and signifiers. I would argue that the Japanese economic system is
more accommodating of hegemonic consumption patterns, as Japan's
developmental history in the post-war period has consciously and
continuously placed an accent on encouraging domestic consumption to
stimulate economic recovery and development. An early example is the
discourse of 'My-homism' which gender-specialized consumerism, with the
female in the household being the spender and the male the income earner, to
continually drive household consumption.
Balibrea's contention has been that 'the profound spatial changes taking
place in democratic Barcelona obey the logic of a progressive
post-industrial shift towards a service economy, a process bringing with it
the imposition of a certain postmodern hegemony' (Balibrea, 2001: 200). The
worry of a hegemonic imposition of a service economy presents a bigger worry
for Japanese planners and elites in Fukuoka. Besides their discomfort with
emphasizing service industries at the cost of Japan's traditional backbone
of economic prosperity - the manufacturing sector, some residents of
Fukuoka, especially those in their middle ages and above accustomed to Japan
as Number One (a phrase popularized by Ezra Vogel), are settling
uncomfortably into a service-oriented economy.
Such resistance can be seen in social protest by old economy
neighborhoods (e.g. the upper class district of Takamiya) against the
arrival of big construction and real estate firms building intelligent
apartments to attract tenants into the so-called 'new economy'. Some old
apartments in Takamiya have been torn down to make way for new lifestyle
apartments that cater to the new economy rising classes and protest banners
are put up by long-time residents resisting their construction near the
vicinity of the city district. Social protests like these reflect the
discomfort of long-time Fukuoka residents engaged in manufacturing jobs, and
small-and medium-sized enterprises traditionally surviving on
communitarian-based work emanating from parochial relationships between
state, labor and management. Some examples of these include an old
community-based Tofu business in Takamiya founded in 1923, or the
shipbuilding industry with only one dry dock remaining in Hakata Bay.
Instead, the new arrivals, including foreign IT firms, have disturbed the
equilibrium in local neighborhoods
When neighbourhoods and local businesses are displaced by new apartment
residences and large shopping malls, there comes a redefinition of the
concept of culture. Thus, 'Culture is also redefined because those
representing the public interest - local government - now understand culture
as a key industry for the local economy, and not just as the symbolic realm
where ideology is produced or as the realm of aesthetics' (Balibrea, 2001:
195). The Fukuoka governments (both city and prefectural) see the
introduction of the service and new economies as the city's greatest hope in
arresting the decline of the manufacturing sector and are keen to avoid the
fate that befell those of its rivals within Kyushu, such as Kitakyushu City
or the coal mining industries of Buzen and Chikuho.
Failure of the Olympics Bid
In Barcelona, the selection of the city for the Olympic Games in October
1986 played a monumental role in coalescing the forces of a redefined
culture for the remake of the city. It provided a pretext for the
mobilization of public discourse on culture, 'construed as a project by all
and for all' (Balibrea, 2001: 198). Local patriotism in winning the games
generated strong local support and this was co-opted by government to
release spending for infrastructure development.
In Fukuoka, the city government's brave attempts to challenge Tokyo to
represent Japan's bid for the Olympic Games met with failure. The reason was
the local resistance amongst Fukuoka residents for the Olympic bid, whose
support for the exercise was skilfully whittled down by strong activism
amongst anti-Olympics grassroots groups and the local chapters of the Japan
Communist Party, who feared pork barrel politics would use the Games as an
excuse to dispense contracts to local businesses in cahoots with corrupt
politicians. In such a scenario, Fukuoka would not have been any different
from London or Barcelona, The difference is that local patriotism was not
sufficiently fostered by the city government to augment a strong base of
support for the games before challenging Tokyo. It did not help that
Fukuoka's rival was Tokyo, a city of immensely powerful influence and
international stature, which overshadowed the bid from Fukuoka. The
underlining desire to use the Games to unleash a wave of spending in the
city for its service economy died with the failed bid.
Thus, propaganda, image-making and information dissemination are very
important in the process of regenerating the city. Balibrea adds:
From and for the purposes of a position of power, the city must be
represented as a rational and ordered unity, one that is fully
understandable and visible. Besides their function as a control mechanism,
totalizing visions of the city provide the citizen with a single, overall
representation of it: an image claiming to embrace everything, or
everything that matters, with no shadows, no fissures, no dissidences,
these being represented as an innocuous pluralism (Balibrea, 2001: 203).
This paper presents and argues three points. First, the paper described
how urban cultural strategies have been selected by the city of Fukuoka as
an example of how a city copes with the decline of its old economy. This is
done primarily through the clustering of its creative industries to enhance
the service sector and to utilize popular cultural products generated by
these industries to stimulate and encourage mass consumption. In harnessing
the economic value of popular cultural products, an effort is made to
strengthen the identification of consumerism with a globally-marketed
culture and collective local identity. In doing so, the aim is to lure
skilled technical and managerial labor to the city who identify themselves
with this lifestyle.
Secondly, other than boosting the local economy, urban cultural
strategies are also important in trying to arrest urban decline through the
construction of lifestyle choices and utilizing new interpretations of
culture. The re-use of redundant buildings by refurbishing them into fashion
schools, upscale restaurants, trendy shops, and covered walkways lined with
pushcarts, re-castes decaying districts into areas of 'select shops', and
this has drawn in young and dynamic entrepreneurs as well as trendy
consumers to reinvigorate these areas and turn them into new urban centers.
Thirdly, both economic and cultural goals coincide with the rise of a
creative class with connections to the global trends (Florida, 2006:
unpaginated). Middle class values and lifestyles as defined by other global
cities are also implemented in Fukuoka with a coterie of intellectuals,
media professionals, artists, fashion czars and lifestyle designers guiding
and navigating consumers, becoming in effect a lobby group for creative
lifestyle popular arts. This middle class of fashion and popular trends
definers is increasing amongst young people in districts previously on the
fringe of mainstream service sectors such as Daimyo. Specific to Fukuoka's
case, the ultimate goal is to cultivate this class in the hope that it would
arrest the flow of human capital to competing urban centers in Japan.
Reliance on creative clustering in Fukuoka is not without its critics.
There are concerns that the revitalization and gentrification of old urban
centres may ignore other non-economic priorities, like the issue of the
environment (in the case of the proposed new Fukuoka International Airport),
or the commercialized redecoration of pre-war houses in Daimyo with less
regards for heritage preservation. These communitarian concerns have
mobilized some local communities to resist the gentrification process. In
the Takamiya example, resistance could be passive (the quiet existence of an
old tofu shop in an increasingly gentrified area), or proactive (putting up
protest signs and organizing mass rallies).
The uncritical encouragement of certain entertainment or consumption
activities like the pachinko parlours are beginning to incur social
backlash as they come under political scrutiny for possibly funding either
criminal and terrorist elements or enemy states. Moreover, the
sustainability of the strategy of gentrification and urban revival is called
into question since successful models and examples have experienced rising
rents, attracting big businesses and driving out the small-scale creative
enterprises that have made the area dynamic in the first place. In addition
to unknowingly supporting criminal elements, overenthusiastic support for
massive public spending programs like the Olympics bid may have encouraged
pork barrel politics amongst local officials.
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About the author
Tai Wei LIM graduated from
Cornell University with a PhD in East Asian history and is currently
Asst Prof of History at Georgian
Court University (New Jersey). He is also a Hong Kong Roundtable Fellow,
an Overseas Research Associate at Singapore Institute of International
Affairs (SIIA) and East Asian Institute (EAI) Research Fellow-designate. He
wrote this piece while based in Japan's
as a Japan Foundation Fellow.
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Tai Wei LIM
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