Digital Asia

Smart Cities and Data Privacy Concerns in Japan

Muneo Kaigo & Natalie Pang

This report aims to deepen insights on Japanese smart cities to address the possibilities and problems of data security, privacy and innovation, with the help of case study of Woven City, which highlights the opportunities of a futuristic Japanese smart city being planned by Toyota Motor Corporation.


1. Digital transformation (DX) in Society 5.0 is the current vision for Japan’s IT policy strategy. Society 5.0 branches into multiple ministries and agencies. One major frontier is the building of smart cities.

2. Toyota Motor Corporation has initiated construction for the Woven City, an experimental smart city near Mt. Fuji in Japan, in cooperation with business partners and public administrators.

3. The Woven City aims to infuse technology and data innovations into everyday life, satisfy social needs, and drive business and economic growth.

4. Its development in Japan is driven by policymakers, corporations, technocrats and engineers, which has, however, led to the sidelining of ethical and citizen concerns, most notably over the collection, use and protection of personal data.

5. Citizen distrust in the government and digitalization of personal data has undermined the potential for data innovations. In particular, digital surveillance technology adopted to cope with COVID-19 among other Asian nations, together with highly risks of public breaches of data privacy, have led to increased concern among Japanese citizens over data security issues.

6. While laws and ordinances are in place to protect personal information, they are disaggregated across national and local levels of government.

7. To overcome these challenges, expert interviews recommended an “Ethical Principles for Smart Cities” framework to protect civil liberties and articulate consensual ethical principles that would inform smart city development as well as improve consensus-building among government, businesses, and the citizenry.

8. In the post-coronavirus era, ethical and legal deliberations are needed as to what extent citizen data privacy should be given up in exchange for certain public (and private) benefits, and how governments can better articulate their own values in adopting data innovations.

9. The success of a smart city depends as much on its ability to exploit data and technology effectively, as its acceptance, trust and high regard by the people for whom it is intended.



Ming Yin Ho


Programme Manager for Digital Transformation +65 66036167