During WWII, Japanese politicians and planners were active in preparing their cities for anticipated bombings, creating fire breaks and forcefully evacuating populations from dense and highly flammable wooden architectures. After witnessing the destructive force of the atomic bomb, these efforts were recognized as tragically insufficient. Preparedness for natural disasters continued to be important in urban planning, but the threat of nuclear annihilation was not going to be reduced through the creation of resilient infrastructures or architecture. Instead, it unfolded in the ways in which urban space was positioned as a global phenomenon.

This chapter investigates planning documents and urban design proposals, primarily from the 1950s and 1960s, to shed light on the changing notion of urban space in post-war Japan, focusing on Tokyo as a primary case study. A connection is drawn between the wartime devastation of Japanese cities, and the ways in which they were increasingly planned and envisioned as universal phenomena. The tendency toward the development of megastructures in Japan—from large underground train stations built after the war, to the large-scale proposals of the Metabolist architects of the 1960s—is here seen as actively catalyzing processes of urbanization that were seen as a globally shared phenomenon.

From being a beacon of national identity and representation of individual state power during the war, the postwar city came to be seen as a common denominator in the future of human civilization. This transformation of urban space into universal space was particularly pronounced in Japan, and it is here historicized in its relationship with the heightened anxiety that had been created by the destruction of WWII in general, and the use of atomic bombs on Japan in particular.