Tokyo is one of the preeminent global cities in the world with a vital economic foundation and continued focus on modernity and maintaining their position as one of the most modern industrial and financial centers. It is a model for cities worldwide who are striving to gain a position at the forefront of foreign investment and opportunity, especially considering all of the challenges it has faced in the last one hundred years. Despite its symbolic significance as one such a model city, it is nonetheless plagued with problems that have an effect on how it is viewed in an international context. Population and related infrastructural issues are influencing not only the current rapidly-growing population, but could have a greater influence on foreign investment in the future. Although it does offer a number of opportunities, mostly in terms of international business, it must correct the hindrances that keep it from being one of the best modern cities in the world. Internal socio-economic issues are having an effect and must be corrected before Tokyo is no longer seen as symbol of modernity in the global context.
After the devastating earthquake of 1923, which destroyed many of the new advances instituted by the Emperor Meiji in 1888 and the extensive damage from bombings during World War II, Tokyo was able to rebuild itself from the ground up and now stands as a marvel in terms of development and organization. With the highest population of any major world city and a booming international economy that includes large financial, communications, and industrial sectors, it is a model of redevelopment and modernity. Tokyo is the seat of Japan’s political and for the most part, cultural infrastructure and as a result, it home to many civil service, governmental, and general clerical jobs. Many of these aspects were in place after reconstruction efforts in the post-World War II era and developed and grew, mostly because of Tokyo’s place in the global economy. In 1991 the Nikkei dropped and a new period of devastating economic recession began. Until this point, the Japanese economy had been thriving but the result of the collapse was almost unbearable, especially in Tokyo, the political and financial capital. In response to this crisis, however, new measures were instituted as the government recognized even more how important it was to actively take part in the global economy. To encourage its position in world markets, the government “lowered interest rates, decreased public spending, lowered and then raised taxes, liberalized financial flows, eased labor standards, revised corporate law, life the bam on holding companies, and privatized several public corporations” (Vogel 19). These post-recession reformations, in particular those which made it even easier for Tokyo to remain at the height of international business and investment, have been the key to its success in recent years. Despite its rise from the ashes in the past twentieth century, there are still a number of crucial problems that, if left uncorrected, will have a significant impact on Tokyo’s future in all senses.Overpopulation as it exists throughout Asia is also one of the most glaring issues and this has caused a great number of problems both internally and in terms of Tokyo’s appearance to the rest of the world. Growing poverty and class stratification are eclipsing Tokyo’s advances in loose and liberal trade policies that encourage newcomers to the market and if not addressed, these issues could eventually force a collapse from within. Although Tokyo is a leader among world cities in terms of certain infrastructural features such as transportation, the lack of affordable housing and the rise in the number of homeless and unemployed citizens remains a threat to its security.
Tokyo has been the capital of Japan for over two centuries, even when it was not home to the Imperial palace. The reforms instituted by Emperor Meiji in 1888 were designed to modernize Tokyo on the verge of the new century. These measures sought to improve and reform not only the appearance of the city, which had hitherto lacked the look of more modern European modern and industrial cities, but to improve and create modern infrastructure, much of which remains in place to this day. Generally speaking, these reforms called for “the expansion of the city, selective resettlement of segments of the population of urban poor, and taxation to fund construction and urban improvements” (Phillips 93). After these major improvements, continued emphasis on development and modernization went on through throughout the next century and the fruits of Tokyo’s labor were exhibited at the 1964 Summer Olympics. It was at this point that Tokyo made its true debut onto the world’s stage, both as a symbol of modernity and prosperity. Since that time Tokyo has continued to grow and is, in terms of population, the largest city in the world. Although its size and complexity makes it one of the most diverse places for both individuals and international businesses, the population issue has been at the forefront of regional and international debates. Overcrowding throughout all of its wards has resulted in less than pleasant living conditions and the price of real estate has continued to skyrocket since the 1980s. In order to retain its place as a global city that is both inviting and conducive to international business and trade, “Tokyo must resolve the functional paralysis caused by over-concentration, and make its living conditions more attractive…. Tokyo is facing many new problems such as the rising price of land in central areas. Greater supply of space, urban restructuring, and better urban infrastructures and living conditions are among the tasks to be carried out” (Machimura 183). The problems related to infrastructure could have significant impacts on how the city is viewed by outside entities and could become a hindrance for international business and Tokyo’s place in the world market. Because of such problems, it faces the risk of collapse from within, especially if it gets to the point where the vast population cannot be sustained and the possibility of integrating new facets of the world markets no longer exists.
The issue of population causes several problems for Tokyo, both on a localized and global level. With an existing population of around 12 million people coupled with the high costs of living, it is difficult for the average worker (as well as international businesses) to maintain an existence in the city. Interestingly, Tokyo has among the lowest birth rates in the world, yet still, “The population of Tokyo grew for the tenth straight year in 2005, owing to an influx of immigrants from elsewhere in Japan and overseas. Nearly 73,000 people came to Tokyo…. Almost two-thirds of immigrants hailed from China or South Korea”(Vogel 29). Despite a series of reforms to general infrastructure (expanded railway systems and new public housing works) the increase in population will only serve to exacerbate the problem, thus it is fair to state that population is one of the most significant hurdles Tokyo faces in the new century. As a global city, these issues must be faced as it is increasingly difficult for international businesses to adapt to such a widespread problem. The immigration issue adds to these troubles as well as it may have an effect on immigration policy in the near future which would certainly impact the ability of international business and businesspeople to conduct operations.
Structurally speaking, Tokyo has several policies in place aimed at making it easy for international business to develop a presence in the city. In past years there have been new and less restrictive trade policies instituted and this, coupled with the increased presence of remote business strategies, has made Tokyo’s economy continue to thrive. As a world city and financial capital of the East, Tokyo recognizes that its vitality depends on more or less liberal international trade policy but the problems inherent within the city proper are not be addressed and could threaten Tokyo’s place in world markets. It has already been mentioned that Tokyo is threatened from within, rather than from outside influences as a result of its outward rather than inward focus. There are a number of significant problems with the socio-economic system in the city that need to be addressed, some of which stem from the population problem and others that are more rooted in the political and cultural system. For instance, there is a growing problem of inequities between the rich and poor in the city. This is more narrowly defined as “a growing polarization along class, gender, and race lines in the world city labor markets, as well as in the division of labor between highly paid and educated male professionals and a low-wage female unskilled clerical workforce… Many have also referred to the increasing visibility of ‘third worldliness’ in the core cities with a growing number of homeless” (Fujita 269). While Tokyo was at one time one of the most attractive cities in the world, these issues pose a problem and without correcting them, foreign investment and new opportunities will begin to dwindle. Other large world cities such as New York, London, and Los Angeles still suffer from of the same problems but, after seeing how important they are to the overall vitality of the city, have attempted to correct them. Tokyo, however, with its outward focus risks losing its position as an inviting city to outsiders and in the context of other “megacities” its reputation will decline.
Although it was useful to detail some of the problems underlying Tokyo’s position in a globalization context, it should be stated that all is not dire for the city. In fact, there are many opportunities that exist for both international interests as well as the citizens. Despite some of its problems, Tokyo is a center of not just financial and world trade markets, but an educational hub. Education is of primary importance in Tokyo and throughout Japan and the existence of a large number of colleges allows the city’s economy to grow and diversity to flourish. Well over half of the young people in Tokyo attend college or higher educational training and the city attracts a number of international students and teachers as well. As a result, it is the center of research and academia in the East and furthermore, it has a more diverse population. It a large number of important universities and research institutions, the most respected of which, The University of Tokyo, is in the heart of the city. Because of Tokyo’s status as a center of globalization, many of the universities and even earlier preparatory schools offer extensive instruction in English, which is viewed as the language of international business. Because of its nature as city reliant on international business and a large exporting economy, the educational sector encourages English-speaking schools to “promote more effective, efficient, productive ways to export and import interests through practical uses of Business English” (Nakasako 101). Tokyo combines its outward focus and market globalization with its rigorous educational system as a result is training young people to be even more fluent in the international languages of commerce. This has been a tradition since the 1930s (Nakasasko 103) and has allowed the educated in Tokyo to have an upper hand in global business and other ventures. In other words, the very culture in which young people are introduced to through the educational system (even in primary school levels) is geared toward international relations. This culture is emphasized by a growing number of outside influences in the arts, music, and films that are of an international nature. Aside from the outward focus (and perhaps also because of it) Tokyo’s cultural scene is blend of Western and Eastern influences and as a result, the young citizens of Tokyo are exposed to globalization even in the context of their popular entertainment.
Another opportunity that exists in Tokyo is the tourism. Like other major global cities, it offers a host of both regional, national, and international attractions such as world-class art museums and concert halls, large sports stadiums, and a vital National Park system which provides a green respite from the overdeveloped city. There are many reasons why international travels come to Tokyo apart from business and the economy and society is benefited from visits from outside influences. One cannot ignore the earlier discussions about class stratification and the increasing problems related to overdevelopment, homelessness and poverty. While Tokyo may be rich in multicultural tourist venues, these glaring issues, if allowed to persist, will make Tokyo an unpleasant place to visit as well as live. It is only through an increased effort in redeveloping the landscape in all senses that it will be able to hold on to the economic benefit of tourism but at the rate things are going, this does seem to an improvement that is on the horizon.
In many ways, the forces of globalization have allowed Tokyo to become the world center that has in the past several decades. It is one of the few major Eastern international cities that are extraordinarily conducive to international trade and foreign investment and with that realization; it instituted a broad range of measures aimed at enhancing that position. The culture of the city is very global in nature and the fact that young people are being educated to adapt to the linguistic and other international demands speaks volumes about Tokyo’s insistence on maintaining its position. Before it can gain any more eminence among world cities, however, it must face the internal problems such as overpopulation, imbalances in the class structure, and the availability of good housing and better overall living conditions. In order to accomplish this, city and national leaders may have to be content with the outward measures meant to help international business and turn the focus inward. If this does not occur, the city faces great problems in the future, especially as the population problems make it so that it is no longer a viable option for international business and other global activities. Despite these problems, it must be remembered that Tokyo has proved to be a persistent city in the past and once it commits to reform, it generally follows through. It has overcome a great many odds in the past, especially considering it was nearly leveled twice in the twentieth century alone and with the right amount of planning and institution of better infrastructure, will overcome some of the odds that stand against it in the future.
Other essays and articles in the Main Archives related to this topic include : A Few Insights on Birth Control and Contraception Use in China • Wetlands : The Ecological Effect of Loss • North Korea’s Nuclear Path: A Historical Look at U.S. Involvement • The Battle of Iwo Jima
Fujita, Kuniko. “A World City and Flexible Specialization: Restructuring of the Tokyo Metropolis.”International Journal of Urban & Regional Research 15.2 (1991): 269.
Machimura, Takashi. “Symbolic Use of Globalization in Urban Politics in Tokyo.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 22.2 (1998): 183.
Nakasako, Shun-itsu. “Japan.” Business Communication Quarterly 61.3 (1998): 101.
Phillips, David P. “Building Meiji Tokyo: Urban Growth in the Popular Imagination.” Journal of Popular Culture 31.2 (1997): 93.
Vogel, Steven. Japan Remodeled: How Government and Industry are Reforming Japanese Capitalism. Cornell University Press, 2006.