According to Navigant Research, a smart city is characterized by the integration of technology into a strategic approach to sustainability, citizen well-being, and economic development. While there may be various definitions of a smart city, in many cases, smart cities are desired in order to cope with the growing urban population, achieve sustainability goals, and maintain economic competitiveness through innovation and technology development. In addition, city resilience—the ability to recover from catastrophic events—has become increasingly important in the context of climate change.
In Japan, smart city projects are being led by the central government and local governments, as well as by the private sector. However, due to the centralized political model and events requiring national response, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, large-scale smart city projects are usually initiated by the central government through the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). After the 2011 earthquake and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, Japan had a distinct motive to promote smart cities as means to reconstruct affected urban areas.
There have been two waves of smart city projects subsidized by the METI under its Science, Technology and Innovation budget. The first wave of projects is the Test Projects for Next-Generation Energy and Social System. In 2010, METI solicited local governments for smart city project applications. In April 2010, four cities were selected—Yokohama, Toyota City, Keihanna, and Kitakyushu—to receive METI subsidies that amount to ¥126.5 million. Initially, the pilot cities focused on improving the quality of life and showcasing innovative technologies. However, after the 2011 earthquake, there was a paradigm shift to work toward reducing energy consumption and improving energy efficiency.
These four cities have become the first successful operational pilots in Japan. Some areas of success include demand response programs, which reduced consumption during peak period by 20% in Kitakyushu; home energy management (HEM) programs in which 1,500 homes in Yokohama had HEM systems installed in 2013; vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology; and smart metering. Details on these projects and updates can be found on the Japan Smart City Portal.
In 2012, METI pursued a second wave of subsidized smart city projects to reconstruct cities affected by the earthquake to become more resilient. In 2012, 10 cities were selected for the Projects for Promoting Introduction of Smart Communities program with a budget of ¥8.06 billion. Also, because of the widespread shutdown of the nation’s nuclear power plants post-Fukushima, Japan has been decidedly promoting renewable energy resources to meet its demand. In 2012, the country introduced a feed-in tariff system, as well. While the second wave of smart city projects is still in the planning stage, thanks to the earlier success in the four pilot cities, Japan is getting closer to realizing its aspiration to create the Japanese model of smart cities to export.