Tokyo, literally meaning ‘Eastern Capital’ in Japanese, is one of the world’s leading cities, located on the southeast side of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. Over the past century, Tokyo has developed into a glamorous and bustling modern metropolis. In addition to serving as the center for Japanese government, culture, and finance, Tokyo has also become an international hub for commerce, industry, and transportation. Tokyo is known as one of the three so-called “command centers” for the world economy in addition to London and New York, and possesses the largest metropolitan area in the entire world.
History & Culture
Tokyo’s roots lie in a small fishing village named Edo, which in 1603 became the base of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the military government which ruled feudal Japan with the blessing of the Japanese emperor. Edo became the capital of the Tokugawa Shogunate and through this also the de-facto capital of all Japan. During the Tokugawa period, Edo grew and developed to become one of the largest cities in all of Japan with its population exceeding one million people by the 18th century. Over 200 years later in 1867 the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown, replaced by a period known as the Meiji Restoration, which restored imperial rule in Japan and led to the country’s rapid modernization. At this time the emperor moved his residence to Edo, and the city formally changed its name to Tokyo, becoming the official Imperial capital.
After the end of World War II, during which the city of Tokyo was devastated by Allied bombings, the city was completely rebuilt, resulting in a modern infrastructure, multiple subway and rail lines, and a large highway system. Tokyo’s existing airports were modernized and satellite broadcasting was enabled, all of which helped to showcase the great leap forward the city had made when it hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 1964. Tokyo continued to develop at a rapid pace throughout the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, and today functions as one of the greatest cities in the developed world.
Today Tokyo exists as a bustling international metropolis, as well as a center for Japanese culture, the arts, sports, and shopping. Despite its large degree of urban development, Tokyo is also home to many parks and green spaces, located primarily in Tokyo’s northern and eastern sections. These parks are popular for many Japanese recreational and seasonal activities such as cherry blossom (Sakura) viewing, boating, and visiting temples. Tokyo is also home to a lively performing arts scene; in addition to performances from international stars, there are also frequent performances of traditional Japanese arts such as traditional Japanese court music, Japanese operas (Kabuki), and puppet shows known as Bunraku. Popular sports in the Tokyo areas include the traditional Japanese sport of Sumo as well as the traditionally American pastime, baseball, which has been played in Japan since the late 1880s. Tokyo is known as a very safe city to live and travel in, with a very low crime rate. Police booths are stationed at many corners and intersections, both to advise the public and give directions, as well as to prevent crime.
Economics & Politics
As an international financial center, Tokyo houses the headquarters of many multinational insurance firms and investment banks, with over 50 of the Global 500 companies based in Tokyo as of 2009. Tokyo also serves as a hub for many of Japan’s key industries including transportation and broadcasting. Tokyo is also home to the Tokyo Stock Exchange, one of the largest in the world. The price of Tokyo real estate as well as other costs of living are ranked as some of the highest in the world with the Economist Intelligence Unit ranking Tokyo as the most expensive city in the world from 1992 – 2006.
The city of Tokyo is designated as a metropolis by Japanese law, and is divided into 23 special wards, as well as separate cities and towns. The 23 special wards originally constituted the city of Tokyo before the creation of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area in 1943, and each special ward is governed by a local government composed of a council and a leader. The entire Tokyo metropolitan area is governed by an elected governor and the metropolitan assembly. The governor of Tokyo is elected every four years, and is said to be one of the most powerful people in all of Japan, second only to the Japanese prime minister.
Places to Visit & Cuisine
Tokyo has many interesting places to visit, including both those that showcase its imperial and traditional past as well as those that display its dynamic present modernity. For visitors who are interested in exploring Tokyo’s past, parts of the Imperial palace, the current residence of the Imperial family, are open to the public. The Asakusa district is also a popular area, where an older and more traditional atmosphere survives to this day. For those looking to immerse themselves in more modern pursuits, the Tokyo Skytree is the tallest building in Japan and is also located conveniently next to a modern shopping center and aquarium. The Shibuya district, most notably the area next to the Shibuya Station is well known as a shopping and entertainment district and a center for youth fashion and culture. Lastly, for those with a love for seafood, the Tsukiji Fish Market is located in central Tokyo and is far and away the largest fish and seafood market in the world.
As an international hub Tokyo naturally features food and cuisine from all over the world, though many of the joys of visiting Tokyo can also be found in its very local and traditional food culture. In addition to the more widely known Sushi, one can also enjoy other traditional foods such local seafood, Soba (noodles made from buckwheat flour), Tempura (batter fried vegetables), and Kabayaki (steamed freshwater eel).