(Aug. 18, 2020) On June 3, 2020, the Act to Amend the National Strategic Special Zone Act, nicknamed the “Super City Act,” was published in Japan’s official gazette. (Act No. 34 of 2020, Kanpou Extra No. 109 of 2020.)
The National Strategic Special Zones Act was enacted in 2013. It created a system to establish the National Strategic Special Zones, where regulatory reforms and other measures such as tax incentives are comprehensively promoted for projects carried out jointly by the central government, local governments, and the private sector with the aim of enhancing economic growth. The amendment enabled the government to create another National Strategic Special Zone that has been referred to as a “super city.”
The Japanese government’s Internet TV website states that super cities will change “our way of life and society itself by utilizing AI and big data,” and that in super cities “we can enjoy various cutting-edge services, such as autonomous cars, cashless payment, remote medical care, and distance education.”
“Super city” is not a legal term and has no clear definition. The Japanese government uses the word “super” because it intends to make super cities more advanced than “smart” cities. Though “smart city” does not have a universal definition either, it generally means “a city that uses technology to provide services and solve city problems.”
The coronavirus pandemic has forced many normally analog fields to go digital. For example, the Ministry of Health lifted a ban last month on doctors seeing first-time patients online, while a broad shutdown of schools has fueled demand for remote education. The pandemic serves as a tail wind for the use of the advanced technologies that the super city aims to incorporate.
Provisions of the Amended Law
To establish a super city, broad regulatory changes are required. To ease challenges of dealing with multiple government agencies, the revision introduces a top-down approach. If a municipality wins approval for super city plans from its residents and applies to the central government, the prime minister can direct agencies to make exceptions to the relevant regulations as needed. (New art. 28-4.)
In super cities, data-linking platforms collect and organize various kinds of data from administrative organizations. (New art. 2, para. 2, item 3; new arts. 28-2 & 28-3.) The national government will entrust a private company with development of a data-linking platform.
A municipality that wishes to become a super city must launch forums with the central government and private companies to discuss the super city development plans, draw up the plans, and make applications to the National Strategic Special Zone Committee after winning approval from local residents. The government will begin taking applications for super cities from municipalities in September.
The city and prefecture of Osaka are considering applying for super city approval in order to employ flying cars and drones around the site of the 2025 World Expo.
Despite the many benefits that are expected from the development of super cities, strong concerns about privacy protection and data leaks have reportedly been expressed because such cities will require the gathering and use of people’s personal information. In addition, some suspect that the government will use this personal information to strengthen general surveillance over people.