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Discussion Paper 2 in 2008
First published in ejcjs on 15 February 2008

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Creative Clustering in Urban Japan

The Case of Fukuoka


Tai Wei LIM

Assistant Professor
Georgian Court University

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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 discussed.

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: unpaginated).

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 industries.

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 economies.

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 the author).

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 airport.

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.

Cultural Tourism

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 author).

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 the blind.

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 creativity.

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 Kyushu University as a Japan Foundation Fellow.

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Copyright: Tai Wei LIM
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