Traditional Consumption City

‘‘Traditional consumption city’’ is one of the categories introduced by Susumu Kurasawa (1968) in his typology of Japanese cities in the early 1960s. His typology emphasizes that the patterns of historical development of cities determine their distinctive social structures. The traditional consumption city refers to cities founded during the feudal era. A contras ting type is the industrial cities that developed largely during the modernization that followed the Meiji Restoration of 1868. (For simplicity, the following description has been updated, although the typology remains essentially the same as Kurasawa’s original.)

The traditional consumption cities had, and many still have, castles that served as both the residence and offices for the feudal domain lords designated by the shogunate. In the Tokugawa era (1603–1867), those cities were financially sustained by tributes that were paid by the peasants of the domain and were inhabited by merchants and craftsmen who were largely dependent on the expenditures of the lords.

After the Meiji Restoration, some of these cities became the seats of prefectural governments. Kurasawa categorized the new prefectural seats as type A, other traditional consumption cities as type B. In type A, the prefectural governments provide a financial basis for the city. Other public agencies such as the prosecutor’s office, courts, Legal Affairs Bureau, and Land Transportation Offices are concentrated in type A cities, as well as private institutions such as banks, insurance, real estate, transportation, and trading companies. Thus, the type A traditional consumption city is characterized by relatively large numbers of upper middle class white collar workers. The type B cities, in contrast, are populated primarily by self employed merchants, small factory owners, and their employees. Most of these are locals who grew up in the city and surrounding rural areas.

Of course, even in the type A cities, small entrepreneurs are the majority in numbers, but the managerial, professional, and technical workers provide distinctive characteristics to the urban social structure. These workers are employed by large bureaucratic organizations, public or private, and relocate from city to city as a result of occupational promotion, although clerical and sales workers are usually recruited and promoted locally. Sendai, Kanazawa, and Fukuoka are good examples of the type A city; Hirosaki, Okazaki, and Kurashiki are examples of type B cities. Thus, the traditional consumption types are common among Japanese cities.

Kurasawa classified the industrial cities into three subgroups. First are small, light industrial cities (type C), some of which date back to traditional textile, ceramic, and knife-making towns. Then there are the heavy industrial cities based on modern industrial technologies for shipping, steel, chemical, electronic, and auto mobile manufacturing. These are divided into two different subcategories: one company towns such as Hitachi, Toyota, and Minamata (type D); and those with petrochemical complexes as in Yokkaichi, Kawasaki, and Mizushima (type E). Small industrial towns (type C) had flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but generally declined by the late 1960s. Now these towns are typically populated by small factory owners, their employees, and small wholesale merchants. One company towns often developed in rural areas. Kamaishi city, for example, was a fishing village before the Kamaishi Iron Works was established in the late nineteenth century. Toyota city was an agricultural village before the Toyota Motors Corporation established its major plants there. The social composition of the one company town is simple, primarily consisting of the employees of the company, of course, including a handful of executives, managerial, professional, technical, and clerical employees, and a large number of blue collar workers. Typically, there are also a lot of subcontractors, merchants, and service workers. The social composition of the type E city is quite similar, but it is more complex and less visible, because there are many establishments of different large companies and the sheer size of the city is generally much larger.

Since the type D and E industrial cities have developed in the modern era, they have a purely modern industrial base, although native families may still hold estates and have some influence in the local politics. But most Japanese cities developed as traditional consumption types. Of course, they have modernized in various ways, attracting factories, universities, and tourists and developing airports, expressways, and the superexpress train lines and stations. The three largest metropolitan areas in Japan – Tokyo– Yokohama, Kyoto–Osaka–Kobe, and Nagoya – developed from this type and came to have comprehensive characteristics. In Kurasawa’s typology, they are therefore placed in a special category – type M (metropolis). All three initially established their bases in the seventeenth century. As the seat of the Tokugawa shogunate, Edo (now Tokyo) established its primary functions as the center of political control. Osaka was also formed during the Tokugawa period as the national commercial center, called ‘‘the kitchen of the world.’’ Nagoya was simply a great castle town ruled by one of the top three Tokugawa related families. After the Meiji Restoration, Tokyo inherited its political functions from Edo, and grew to be the capital of the centralized imperial state. Osaka developed as a private commercial center, and Nagoya, a typical traditional consumption city located between the two, gradually developed manufacturing industries. By 1940, Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya had grown into great metropolises with populations of 7 million, 3 million, and 1 million people, respectively. During World War II, all three metropolises and many other major cities in Japan suffered heavy bombardment from the US military. However, the three metropolises had all rebuilt their industrial bases by 1955 and began to absorb huge amounts of labor from rural areas. A large number of suburban residential and industrial cities arose in the surrounding areas in the 1960s. Since 1965, deindustrialization and the shift to a service economy have been prominent in the central cities of the metropolitan areas.

Although Susumu Kurasawa’s typology was originally published in 1960 and the descriptions presented here have been somewhat updated, globalization and the information technology revolution since the 1980s have dramatically affected the historical paths of cities and transformed urban social structures. Thus this typology might require further revision from the contemporary global perspective. The concept of the traditional consumption city nevertheless remains useful for illuminating the cumulative effect of historical heritage on urban structures.


  • Kurasawa, S. (1968) Japanese Urban Society. Fukumura Shuppan, Tokyo.

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