Smart Energy for the World: The Rise of a Technonationalist Discourse in Japan in the Late 2000s
In recent years, “smart city” has become a buzzword in discussions about urbanisation. While in Europe and North America the initial utopian optimism has now receded, due to booming implementation costs and surveillance concerns, the smart city model has taken root in rapidly urbanising Asia in particular, thanks to the activism of China and Japan. For the latter, smart city technologies and technical know-how represent the new frontier of export goods. In April 2018, the Government of Japan and that of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam announced the construction of a new smart city on the outskirts of the Vietnamese capital Hanoi that is set to become Japan’s largest ODA project to date. Despite changes in the global hegemonic narratives on smart cities, the new project bears the features of an urban settlement that revolves around technological data collection for the sake of perfect efficiency, rather than for its prospective inhabitants. Against this backdrop, how did the Government of Japan succeed in constructing a convincing narrative for made-in-Japan smart cities? Since 2011, thanks to specific initiatives by Japan’s government and investments by Japanese tech companies in the sector, a Japanese discourse on smart cities has emerged. Through an examination of earlier critiques of the smart city model and a close analysis of official policies and books by energy policy intellectuals, this paper will identify the main features of the Japanese discourse on smart cities and place it in the context of an evolving broader global narrative. The study demonstrates how the Japanese discourse on smart cities largely reflects a corporate managerial vision of the city and, at the same time, a “technonationalist” approach that informs the country’s foreign policy.
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