Japan and the EU share many common challenges in the field of sustainable urban development and in a wider involvement of local actors in urban development strategies.
DG REGIO and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan together with EU and Japanese cities started in 2012 to exchange experience and good practices through the EU-Japan programme exchange on urban development.
Following the successful outcome of the seminar "Putting urban development into an international context: exchanging best practice between Europe, Japan and Latin America" organised on 11 October 2012 in Brussels, a seminar on urban development was co-organised on 15 May 2012 in Tokyo by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) of Japan and the DG REGIO with the participation of more than 50 experts, including senior representatives from the authorities in the cities of Leipzig, Stockholm and Torino on EU side and Kanazawa, Kitakyushu and Kumamoto on Japanese side.
The seminar focused on the topics of particular interest both to Japan and to each of the European cities represented: urban regeneration and urban transport (Leipzig), low-carbon cities (Stockholm) and support to cultural and creative industries as drivers for urban development (Torino). Following the plenary event, each of the European cities undertook a 2-day study visit to a Japanese city: Kanazawa (in the case of Torino), Kitakyushu (Stockholm) and Kumamoto (Leipzig). Both sides intend that these contact meetings, sponsored by MLIT and by the European Union, will initiate a decentralized process of exchange of experience and best practice over the coming years between the cities concerned on urban development themes. To this end, the Japanese cities visited their European partner cities in October 2013 which ended with a well-attended seminar in Brussels during the Open Days on 10 October. The same day, REGIO Director General, Walter Deffaa, signed a Letter of Intent on an urban policy dialogue with Japan in the presence of Tetsu Kabashima, Deputy Director General of the City Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT).
At the 21st EU-Japan Summit (Tokyo, 19 November 2013), Summit leaders welcomed the newly established dialogue on urban development policy and underlined the importance of strengthening cooperation on sustainable and integrated urban practices and policies between Japan and EU.
In 2014-2016, in the framework of the World Cities project, EU and Japanese cities were paired to discuss and collaborate on actions related to topics of mutual interest. The core thematic areas were Compact City Development and Low Carbon Development, both thematic areas were discussed in the light of an ageing and declining population. The European cities in the dialogue brought forward innovative examples being implemented in a European context such facilities to enable ageing population to use public transportation, increasing the access to trams, implementing innovative district heating systems etc. Some of the cities, such as Kitakyushu-Riga and Kumamoto-Leipzig, have also linked their universities and local businesses in the exchange enabling a true triple-helix structure in the entire dialogue. In three of the four city pairs in Japan urban mobility was an evident challenge for all the cities. The Japanese cities were especially interested in the seamless integration of mobility services both in terms of infrastructure and the fares. While the European cities were extremely interested in learning more about the technology involved in mobility systems. Some cities were also inspired by the Japanese transit-oriented development concepts, where urban development is concentrated along public transport corridors leading to a reduced automobile use. Both Japanese and European cities faced common challenges in terms of public participation in municipal initiatives and certain EU cities were impressed by the Japanese city efforts to save energy through energy efficient buildings and human nature interaction. In the area of ageing and declining population all the Japanese cities had the common issue of ageing and declining populations. In some of the EU project cities this was a project at one point and the policies and programs implemented by the cities have reversed the trend.