Environmental Future city Kitakyushu
Kitakyushu is the city of leading Global Environment
Kitakyushu-city has the long history of Environmental improvement since the pollution problem
experienced in 1960′. Now Kitakyushu-city is leading World environment as the Environmental
Future City selected by Japanese Government and also designated as the first ‘ Model City for
Green Growth ‘ in Asia by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) in 2011.
The history of Environmental improvement
The History has commenced in 1901. The city once experienced the worst air pollution in Japan
and saw Dokai Bay turned into a “sea of death.” But it regained blue skies after overcoming its
pollution problem by the efforts of city, companies as well as the women’s association. Kitakyushu
City, once known as a “town of pollution,” now plays the role of the driving force in creating a
recycling-oriented society in Japan making use of the experience and know-how it accumulated
in the process of overcoming its pollution in order to provide international cooperation.
The city grew as an industrial city after the establishment of Yawata Steel Works in 1901.
It led Japan during the period of modernization and high economic growth with a focus
placed on heavy industry.
Back then, plumes of smoke coming out of the steelworks were referred to as “seven-colored
smoke” which was sung as part of the lyrics of the song of former Yahata City as it was regarded
as a symbol of prosperity. However, the prosperity of industries brought about severe pollution
and quite naturally the “seven-colored smoke” polluted the air and caused dust deposition.
In the 1960s, air pollution in the Kitakyushu area was the worst in Japan and Dokai Bay was turned
into a “sea of death” due to effluent from factories. It was citizens who first noticed this problem of
pollution. The city started to hear the voices of its residents saying such things as, “my house is
becoming sandy” and “the laundry gets dirty” from around 1950.
The Women’s Association in Tobata area stood up, investigated the problem themselves and asked
the council, administration and companies to take measures against pollution. ‘I Want Blue Sky’, a
documentary film produced by the Tobata Women’s Association in 1965 was what symbolized the
citizens’ campaign calling for measures against pollution.
Pushed by the voices of its citizens, the Kitakyushu administration started to take action to grasp
the actual situation by measuring the level of air pollution. It then gave instructions and conducted
on-site inspections at these companies urging them to take measures to improve the situation.
Finally, the city concluded a pact on pollution prevention with each plant and established the Council
on Air Pollution Prevention made up of the city, Fukuoka Prefecture, then Regional Bureaus of
International Trade and Industry and about 30 companies in the city.
These companies responded by putting pollution control facilities in place as well as improving the
process of production.
In the meantime, the Air Pollution Control Act and Noise Regulation Act came into force in 1968 and
the following year, in 1969, a smog alert was issued for the first time in Japan. Fourteen pollution
control related bills passed the so-called ‘Pollution Diet’ in 1970. Thus, public concern towards
pollution problems grew high throughout Japan while in Kitakyushu, the city and companies worked
hand in hand to tackle the pollution problem which resulted in rapid improvement in the environment.
As a result, by around 1980, the blue sky came back to the town once covered with ‘ seven-colored
smoke.’ Furthermore, over 100 species of fish live in Dokai Bay which was once nicknamed the ‘sea
of death’ where not even bacteria could live. In 1985, the Organization for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD) introduced Kitakyushu in its White Paper on the environment as a city
that transformed itself from a ‘Gray Town’ into a ‘Green Town.’ Also the city was selected as one of
the ‘Starry Towns’ with a favorable atmospheric environment in the ‘Starry Town Contest’
held by the Environment Agency in 1987.
These initiatives by Kitakyushu City are highly recognized by the global society. In 1990, the city
received the ‘Global 500 Award’, which is given by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) to
individuals and organizations that combat environmental issues, and was the first local government
to win the Award in Japan. At the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, Kitakyushu
City was honored with the ‘Local Government Honors Award. The city is the only local government
to win the Award in Japan.
In addition, the initiative towards a better environment was enhanced and it started the sorted
collection of cans and bottles in 1993. In 1998, a system in which residents are obliged to use
designated plastic bags for municipal waste started. In 2001, ‘Kitakyushu Expo-Festival 2001’
with the environment as a theme was held at Higashida area, an idle land owned by Nippon
Steel Corporation, where infrastructure improvement work was going on based on the concept
of ‘Kitakyushu Renaissance. Then, the concept of a ‘Green Village’ in Yahata Higashida began
in 2003. Thus, efforts towards a better environment advanced further.
As mentioned above, Kitakyushu was recognized as the ‘Environmental Model City’ together with
12 other local governments in 2008. The ‘Kitakyushu Asian Center for Low Carbon Society’ was
opened in 2010, and in 2011 the city was selected as a ‘Environmental Future City’ and also as
the first ‘Model City for Green Growth’ in Asia by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
A new challenge as the driving force towards realizing a global low carbon society has started
in Kitakyushu City where Japanese industry started.