Why Japan is Building Smart Cities from Scratch

Purpose-built sustainable communities can boost energy efficiency and support an ageing population.

Smart cities can improve quality of life for older people while also increasing energy efficiency and climate resiliency. Japan has a long history of creating towns from nothing. Evidence of the reclamation of coastal areas — to increase the amount of flat land in what is a mountainous country — dates back to at least the nineteenth century in Tokyo Bay.

Some of the companies that powered Japan’s remarkable economic growth in the twentieth century are at the forefront of the smart-city movement. Panasonic, for example, the industrial conglomerate founded in Osaka in 1918 to manufacture light-bulb sockets, now creates ‘sustainable smart towns’ (SSTs) in existing cities.

In April, the company opened its latest SST in Suita, a city in central Japan. Home to some 500 people, Suita SST is designed to address Japan’s demographic shift by creating a community where people from all age groups mix. It has housing complexes, a nursing home, a nursery school and a ‘cram school’ that prepares students for examinations, plus a shopping centre and park, all managed by Panasonic and partner companies. What makes it visibly ‘smart’ are features such as monitoring cameras that can detect falls at the nursing home, outdoor digital signage and high-voltage electricity-distribution equipment that allows for redundant power lines, making the community less vulnerable to outages.

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