Tokyo’s round-the-clock kinetic mobility, innovation and efficiency mesmerize global visitors. But it’s only when the motivation for this legendary engineering and grand design is considered that another characteristic emerges: resilience—in the face of nuclear radiation, earthquakes, tsunamis and, in the past seven years, all three simultaneously.
Tokyo bounces back because, well, it always has. For centuries. Before it became “Tokyo” 150 years ago, it was Edo—a feudal center that by the early 1800s was one of the largest cities on the planet.
That degree of density over so many centuries means few places have refined the urban experience better than Tokyo.
The two centuries of Edo’s strict customs and regulations to promote stability and dominate regionally still anchor the quiet, efficient velocity of this city of nearly 9.5 million. In fact, first-time visitors are often confused by the passivity, deference and general politeness of the citizenry.
The ticket to solving this city unlike any other is a visit to the Aoyama neighborhood, home of the Nezu Museum that was recently rehoused in a striking new building by legendary Japanese architect Kengo Kuma (who’s designing the new National Stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games). Walking around the Nezu’s six galleries of ancient Japanese creative expression and chronology—and through its garden, around the ponds and maples along its stone-paved walkways—visitors prepare in a manageable way to understand the megalopolis just outside the museum’s doors.
Indeed, shiny new luxury boutiques—from Prada to Miu Miu—are steps away.
Tokyo ranks first in the world in our Place category—#1 in Neighborhoods & Landmarks and #3 in Parks & Outdoor Activities. Parks are a bona fide attraction in Tokyo, and for vertical-living citizens, they’re therapy. Shinjuku Gyoen is a half-day destination, with its French formal gardens, English landscaping and, of course, a teahouse in its Japanese garden. Rinshi-no-mori Park is a more elemental escape—a converted forestry research station with towering local poplars and imported species as well.
The three-kilometer revitalization of the Shibuya River that flows into Tokyo Bay will also fortify the city’s green space ranking. Called Shibuya Stream, the development will give pedestrians an urban river promenade anchored by markets and flanked by two public squares—and much-needed respite from vertical density. The project is also resonant as a reminder of ancient Edo’s history as a city of canals.
Tokyo is also safe: it ranked #29 globally in the category in our ranking with less than 50 homicides in 2017 among almost 10 million people. No wonder locals give you a strange look if you don’t let your kid walk to school alone.
Tokyo’s safety and empathy were recently poetically described by architect Kuma while discussing the catastrophic 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. “What is important is the strength of the communities, not the hardware,” he said. “So architects should build a community, rather than just a house.”
Today, there’s a lot of building on the onramp to the 2020 Summer Games.
There’s also an unprecedented commitment to sustainable development—and the goal to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from 2000 levels. Citizen-focused infrastructure like two much-needed subway stations on the Yamanote and Kibiya lines will add even more efficiency to moving around Tokyo’s urban clusters. A new Toranomon Station is spearheading a massive transit-based redevelopment of its surrounding area (including a new bus terminal that will link the city center with the bay area) in time for the 2020 Games.
Community and livability are also sustained over great meals, and Tokyo, recently joined by London, rules any culinary metric—including the ability to experience a life-affirming meal around the clock, powered by safe streets and ubiquitous 24-hour transit. The city’s #2 ranking in our Culinary subcategory is fortified by the most restaurants with at least one Michelin star on the planet. There are 166 with at least one, 56 with two and a dozen with three, including Usukifugu Yamadaya, purveyors of Fugu which, if not prepared correctly, will kill you.
Tokyo’s urban perfection is drawing tourists in record numbers, with more than 28 million arriving in 2017—four million more than in 2017 according to the national tourism office—and the ever-ambitious city leaders looking to hit 40 million by 2020, the year of the Games.