Japan has two principal laws relevant to land development and building construction in Japan:

  • the City Planning Act - which was first passed in 1968 as the relevant legislature over the construction of urban areas (such as cities) in a planned manner; and
  • the Building Standards Act - which was first passed in 1950 and is intended to secure safety and hygiene standards of constructed buildings and to ensure that all buildings are harmonized with construction plans of urban areas.

We will go over the details of these two laws below.

City Planning Act

It is important to construct urban areas (such as cities) in a planned manner to make sure they function well for inhabitants. In principle, prefectural governments designate the following areas as city planning areas (toshi keikaku kuiki) or quasi-city planning areas (jun toshi keikaku kuiki):

  • areas which include the central part of cities, towns and villages and which need to be formed, developed and preserved in an integrated manner; and
  • areas which need to be newly developed and preserved as residential, industrial, or other cities.

In city planning areas:

  • as necessary, areas are segregated into urbanization promotion areas (shigaika kuiki) and urbanization control areas (shigaika chosei kuiki);
  • various city plans are determined and city facilities (e.g. roads, water facilities, electricity facilities) projects and urban area development projects are executed; and
  • rigid regulations are applied to land developments for the purposes of building construction.

In city planning areas land is designated as use districts (zones, yoto chi’iki). There currently are 13 use districts (eight residential districts, such as Type 1 Residential Districts and Quasi-residential Districts; two commercial districts, such as Commercial Neighborhood Districts (kinrin shogyo chi’iki); and three industrial districts, such as Exclusive Industrial Districts (kogyo senyo chi’iki)). Each of these use districts has different building regulations which dictate the types and purposes of the buildings which may be constructed, floor area ratios, and building coverage ratios.

An example of the use district map (zoning map) of the Minato Ward of Tokyo Metropolis can be accessed here.

As part of the land development regulations, land developments of a certain size require the local government’s permission before such development can be started. In areas other than city planning areas (or quasi-city planning areas), a land development of 10,000 m2 or more generally requires permission from the local government. On the other hand, in city planning areas, the threshold for needing permission is smaller (3,000 m2, 1,000 m2, 500 m2 depending on each area).

The local government is in charge of giving permission based on general (or technical) requirements and location requirements. General (or technical) requirements apply to any land developments in Japan. The requirements ensure that use purposes of a planned building conform with the use district in which to the building will be constructed. On the other hand, location requirements apply only to land developments in urbanization control areas, ensuring that certain facilities which are not appropriate for urbanization control areas such as petrol stations are not constructed in urbanization control areas.

Building standards act

The Building Standards Act sets out the minimum requirements for secure safety and environmental hygiene related to buildings. This consists of:

  • collective regulations, which are intended to secure good collective building environments (and include restrictions on use purposes of buildings, floor area ratios, and building coverage ratios and restrictions on how a building site needs to face public road(s), among other things); and;
  • lone regulations, which relate to structures, fire control, hygiene of buildings.

Building permit and inspection

Building permit

Under the Building Standards Act, in order to construct, extend, rebuild or relocate buildings of certain types (such as (i) wooden buildings with three or more stories; over 500 m2 in total floor area; or over 13 m in height or over 9 m in height (to the building’s eaves), (ii) non-wooden buildings with two stories or more; or over 200 m2 in total floor area), the building owner needs to apply for and receive a building permit (kenchiku kakunin) from a building official (kenchiku shuji) with the local government in charge of building control or a private confirmation and inspection agency (shitei kakunin kensa kikan) designated by the government. A building permit is issued if the building plan complies with the relevant technical regulations under all of the applicable laws, including, without limitation, the Building Standards Act, the Fire Service Act and the City Planning Act.

Prior consultation with the local government is usually required or recommended to ensure your permit application plans go smoothly.

Structural calculation review

If a planned building (excluding a building that is over 60 m in height or a building using advanced structural calculation methods) is any of the following:

  • a wooden building over 13 m in height or over 9 m to the eaves in height;
  • a steel-framed building with four or more stories (excluding basement stories); or
  • a steel-framed reinforced concrete or reinforced concrete building over 20 m in height;

then the building owner is required to apply to a private structural calculation review agency designated by the government for a structural calculation review (kozo keisan tekigosei hantei) in addition to applying for building confirmation.

Once the structural calculation review has been completed, the building owner will receive a certificate of the structural calculation review (tekigo hantei tsuchisho), after which the building owner will need to submit the certificate for issuance of the building confirmation. Prior consultation with the structural calculation review agency is recommended to ensure your permit application plans go smoothly.

Interim inspection

Each local government is in charge of interim inspections (chukan kensa) and establishes regulations as to, among other things; (i) the areas (zones) in which to construct a building and the types of buildings which require interim inspection(s) in the process of the construction; (ii) the construction phases after finishing which an interim inspection is required (Specific Phase) of a building in any of the areas (zones) and of any of the types mentioned in (i) above; and (iii) the construction phases which may not be conducted before the completion of such interim inspection (Post-specific Phase).

A building owner needs to apply for an interim inspection within four days upon the completion of a Specific Phase and prior to starting the Postspecific Phase.

Final inspection

Once the construction of a building has been completed, the building owner needs to submit a completion notification in order to have a final inspection conducted by a building official or, alternatively, by a confirmation and inspection agency designated by the government within four days upon the completion of the construction. The building then needs to go through a final inspection to ascertain that the building conforms to all relevant technical regulations. Once the inspection has been completed, the owner will receive a final inspection certificate.

In principle, large-sized buildings and special buildings (such as theatres, hospitals, apartment complexes, schools, stores, and warehouses; complete definitions can be found in the Building Standards Act) may not be used prior to obtaining final inspection certificates. Provisionary use (kari-shiyo) prior to obtaining a final inspection certificate is allowed if use is approved by the building official or the confirmation and inspection agency assuming that the building satisfies the following requirements:

  • the part of the building to be used for provisional use and other parts under construction are effectively zoned from a fire control perspective;
  • the routes used by construction crews and those used by users of the provisional use part do not overlap; and
  • the provisional use part is in compliance with all applicable construction laws.

Please see the flow chart below which shows the various permissions needed from the local authorities under the two principal laws.

City Planning Act (Sec. 5.1)

Building Standards Act (Sec. 6.4)

Time periods are estimates only. * The certificate of structural calculation review needs to be submitted to the authority handling the building confirmation so that the confirmation certificate will be issued.

Other laws

In addition to the City Panning Act and the Building Standards Act discussed above, a number of other laws and regulations apply to land developments and building construction depending on the area for such development and the types of the buildings to be constructed. Examples include: the Urban Renewal Act, the Landscape Act, the Environment Impact Assessment Act, the Soil Contamination Countermeasures Act, the Act on Regulations of Residential Land Development, the Act on Protection of Cultural Properties, the Natural Environment Conservation Act, the Road Act, the Fire Service Act, the Vibration Regulation Act, and the Noise Regulation Act. Close communication with professionals including lawyers and the relevant authorities is always important.