Data Week

Kyoto: City as Data

By Minh Vu


  • What are some recent quantitative data collected in Kyoto?
  • How are the data used and by whom? What are the implications of the usage of this data for population and governance?


The government has long relied on the collection of information to inform itself of its population. Ancient governments began collecting information on population size and land areas to formulate a taxation system is the earliest example of the relationship between quantitative data and governance (Bulmer 1969). However, as the world becomes plural with more actors entering the space of public policy and providing more capability of data collection, the relationship between data and governance has evolved to accept the new actors. Even within cities, new actors are participating in the city governance in various functions such as data collectors, the population whose data is collected and the population whom the data informs. This report will focus on the new actors and their contribution to the relationship between data and governance. It will provide a brief historical overview of the relationship and then examine two examples, the Institute of Urban Strategies and the case of foreign tourists in Kyoto, to illustrate how new actors become involved in the data-policy relationship. It will conclude that as society develops, the kind and form of data collected will expand to include information not necessarily produced by the city but, nonetheless, informing governance within the city. Although Kyoto city is not the sole focus of this report, examples from Kyoto city serve to illustrate the evolving relationship between data and governance.

The relationship between information and government is born out of the government’s need to empower itself to govern. The power of a government lies in its ability to tax and mobilize its population to maintain collective goods and defend itself against external threats. Consequently, information is necessary to the government because it defines who can be taxed, who can enjoy collective goods and who should be defended from foreign threats. To inform the government for these purposes, population censuses and land surveys emerged as the earliest forms of information collection. As society develops and becomes more sophisticated, the government increasingly needs to expand the type of information it collects and the methods by which it collects it. For example, modern Japan, marked by the Meiji Restoration, upgraded its population census from a simple headcount to a household registration system called “koseki” to maximize the efficiency of collecting information over the entirety of Japan with multiple local authorities and growing population. In addition, the government of Japan introduced new surveys, such as the Agricultural and Trading Corresponding System in the 1880s and the statistics of Joint Stock Companies (“Kabushiki Kaisha Tokei”) in the mid-1890s (Matsuda 1981). These introductions reflected the new demand of the government to govern more complex segments in society that previously did not exist. As society became even more complicated and methods of data collection advanced, the government relied even more on information and collection to inform policymaking. Evidently, after World War II, Japan survived with a ruined economy and a damaged information collection system. The need to rebuild the economy motivated the government to quickly reform and rebuild its statistical system so as to inform its economic plans, contributing to the miracle economic recovery in the postwar period (Tsuru 1964, Kitada 1995, Yoshioka and Kawasaki 2016).

However, the government is not the only one that can collect information. Since the seventeenth century, social scientists have contributed a range of methods of collecting information, from the social survey to statistical method and scientific inquiry (Bulmer 1969, Alasuutari et al 2008). It is not a coincidence that the modern government with a strong bureaucracy and an industrializing economy emerged shortly after the development of social science research methodologies. Figure 1 (below) in Matsuda (1981) describes the relationship between the degree of cooperation of the people with the degree of industrialization. The figure appears to illustrate a correlation between the amount of data that can be collected and the level of development, political and economic. Before reaching saturation point, the advancement in research methods allowed for more expansive collection of information until the information sought became too expansive and intrusive, which threatened privacy violations.

However, each method of data collection is suitable to different purposes, not all of which contribute to governance or the policymaking process. Social sciences in nature focus on explaining phenomena, asking more abstract questions that may not have a practical application, whereas policymaking for the purpose of governance requires problem-solution thinking (Jennings and Callahan 1983). Consequently, think tanks emerge as a bridge between government and academics, channeling academic methodology to answer governance challenges. Think tanks are generally defined as organizations that generate policy-oriented research, analysis and advice. To be sure, the debate on the role of think tanks in this data collection and policymaking capacity is ongoing and varying with political systems and countries. Nonetheless, think tanks exist and increasingly contribute to policymaking in Japan (Shimizu 2015). The first introduction of think tanks into Japan was in the late 1960s when the government focused on economic growth, industrial development, and infrastructure. Each subsequent wave of think tanks emerged in Japan coincided with a new challenge, following the 1990s economic crisis and the late 2000s when the political balance shifted and opened new arenas for policy competition (Maslow 2018).

It is in this context that I will now consider “Japan Power City – Profiling Urban Attractiveness” (JPC), a publication by the Institute of Urban Strategies, a think tank affiliated with the Mori Building Co., Ltd., a property management firm. This publication profiles the strengths and weaknesses of cities in Japan (excluding Tokyo) to highlight potential opportunities and directions for development. It aims to generate policy advice for municipal authorities who will be under pressure to attract labor and investment as Japan is facing a demographic problem with declining birthrate and an aging society (Institute for Urban Strategies 2019). It does so by collecting qualitative and quantitative data across 83 indicators, ranging from economic indicators such as employment and wage level to cultural ones such as tourist attractions rating and number of luxury guest rooms. The importance of this publication in the data and governance discourse is two-fold. Firstly, it affirms that government is not the sole collector of information. The Institute or Urban Strategies collected a comprehensive database of various indicators, some of which is not collected by the municipal government but does inform the latter. In addition to reusing official public sources, the Institute also surveyed local residents through internet questionnaire for its specific indicators. This example reinforces the historical trend of new actors introducing more information collecting capacity and becoming involved in governance through providing data and policy suggestions. Secondly, the publication itself is a unique document that is not directly generated from within the municipal government. The JPC ranked 72 major cities in Japan, allowing the municipal government to compare itself with others using information that it may not be able to collect. In addition, the JPC evaluated the effectiveness of municipal initiatives, which in turn creates new information.

The JPC 2019 ranked Kyoto as the most attractive city in Japan (excluding Tokyo) and concluded that the municipal “Cultural Capital – Kyoto” initiative since 2017 was a contributing factor. The report cited strong results for Attractiveness to Visitors as the reason for this result, citing indicators such as Multilingual Services at Tourist Information Desks and Hospitals, and Number of Luxury Guest Rooms as high-scoring indicators. In addition, the report cited the city’s high Research and Development score, the highest among all other cities, to conclude that Kyoto is a unique city with both cultural and intellectual resources. The R&D score is based on the following indicators: Ratio of Academic and Development Research Institution Employees; Number of Leading Universities; Number of Papers Submitted; Number of Leading Firms in Global Niches. Based on these indicators, it can be suggested that part of Kyoto’s incoming tourists are academic exchanges and foreigners appealed by the city’s intellectual hub (Institute for Urban Strategies 2019). These are some of the information that the municipal government may not collect but informs the government nonetheless.

Another example in Kyoto city is the pilot project informing foreign tourists in Kyoto city of etiquette when visiting the Gion district. Kyoto has long been revered as the historical gateway of Japan and thus, attracted a large number of tourists. In 2017 alone, the city hosted 53.6 million visitors, including domestic tourists, compared to its own population of 1.5 million. The overwhelming size of the tourist population intrudes upon the residents’ lives, leading to a governance challenge of balancing the need of the local and incoming population (Sugiura 2019). The Gion district, a historical district with antique-looking traditional machiya houses, and resident geisha, became the focal point of a government data project. In August and September 2018, the municipal government issued a survey to the district’s residents and shop owners, asking them about foreign tourists’ behaviors (The Japan Times 2019). The survey confirmed the complaints about foreign tourists disrupting daily lives through behaviors such as smoking, taking pictures without permission, and entering private houses, mistaking them for tourist attractions. The government conducted another data collection in November and December 2018, collecting information about congestion in tourist areas by recording the number of smartphones accessing Wi-Fi nearby (Sawaki 2019). Following these surveys, in late 2019, the government began a campaign to inform tourists of proper etiquette when frequenting the Gion district by handing out leaflets, putting up signs, and sending push notifications to tourists’ mobile devices (Nishikawa 2019). While there has not been follow-up to the project, which ended in December 2019, because the COVID-19 pandemic limited tourism, the example offers a new angle into the relationship between data and governance. Compared to the ancient population census which defines who is a local resident, statistics on tourism highlight the incorporation of external actors by the city, recognizing foreign segments of the population that interact with the residents and generate new information independently from the city. In addition, the advancement of technology, previously in statistical methods and now in digital communication technology, creates both new methods of collecting information and new kinds of information.

Primary Sources

Institute for Urban Strategies, The Mori Memorial Foundation. “Japan Power Cities 2019 Summary”. (Accessed 04/22/2020).

“Kyoto gives foreign tourists a polite push on manners”. The Japan Times. 09/30/2019. (Accessed 04/22/2020).

Nishikawa Mitsuko. “Photos banned in private streets of Kyoto’s Gion”. NHK World-Japan. 11/10/2019. (Accessed 04/22/2020).

Sawaki, Masateru. “Kyoto residents reminding foreign tourists to mind their manners”. The Mainichi. 06/02/2019. (Accessed 04/22/2020).

Sugiura, Eri. “Japan gets more than it bargained for with tourist boom”. Nikkei Asian Review. 04/17/2019. (Accessed 04/22/2020).

Secondary Sources

Alasuutari, Pertti, Julia Brannen and Leonard Bickman. The SAGE Handbook of Social Research Methods. 2008.

Bulmer, Martin, Kevin Bales and Kathryn Kish Sklar. “The social survey in historical perspective”, The Social Survey in Historical Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 1969.

Jennings, Bruce and Daniel Callahan. “Social Science and the Policy-Making Process”, The Hastings Center Report, Vol. 13 no. 1 (February 1983): 3-8.

Kitada, Hiroyuki. “Postwar Reconstruction of Statistical System in Japan”, Forty-Year History of the Statistics Council. Statistical Standards Department, Statistic Bureau, Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications, Japan, 1995.

Maslow, Sebastian. “Knowledge Regimes in Post-Development States: Assessing the Role of Think Tanks in Japans’ Policymaking Process”, Pacific Affairs Vol. 91 issue 1 (March 2018): 95-117.

Matsuda, Yoshiro. “Formation of Census System in Japan: 1871-1945 – Development of the Statistical System in Japan Proper and Her Colonies”, Hitotsubashi Journal of Economics Vol. 21 no. 2 (February 1981), 44-68.

Shimizu, Mika. “FOURTEEN: Think tanks and policy analysis: meeting challenges of think tanks in Japan”. Policy Analysis in Japan, Yukio Adachi, Sukehiro Hosono, Jun Iio, eds. Bristol University Press, 2015. 215-234.

Tsuru, Shigeto. “Survey of Economic Research in Postwar Japan”, The American Economic Review Vol. 54, no. 4, part 2 (June 1964): 79-101.

Yoshioka, Shinji and Hirofumi Kawasaki. “Japan’s High-growth Postwar Period: The Role of Economic Plans”, ESRI Research Note No. 2. Cabinet Office, Tokyo, Japan, 2016.

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