10 Things You May Not Know about Tokyo

111212-1927.1 - Panoramic view of Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is known all over the world and regularly appears in global news media. But do you know all of these surprising facts?

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1. The city of Tokyo does not exist

Map of Tokyo
Map by T. Kambayashi

Tokyo has been selected as the host city of the 2020 Olympic Games, but the City of Tokyo does actually not exist. Tokyo is not a city, but a so called metropolitan prefecture. It is governed by a governor. There is no such person as the mayor of Tokyo.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture consists of 23 Special Wards or Ku (each governed as an individual city, pink in the map above), 39 municipalities (green in the map), and two island chains, the Izu and Ogasawara Islands.

The City of Tokyo did exist in the past, from May 1, 1889 until it merged with Tokyo Prefecture on July 1, 1943.

2. Tokyo only became the capital of Japan in 1868

Imperial Palace, Tokyo
The Imperial Palace in Tokyo during the 1870s

The Japanese capital has been in many locations, including Nara, Osaka and Kyoto. Kyoto was Japan’s capital from 794 through 1868. After the emperor moved to Edo in 1868, the city was renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital) and became Japan’s new capital.

3. Tokyo has more Michelin Guide stars than any other city in the world


Tokyo is the gourmet city of the world. In the 2013 edition of the famed Michelin Guide, Tokyo received 323 stars, more than any other city in the world. Tokyo is the home of 14 three-star restaurants. For comparison, Paris has 10, New York 7, while London has only 2.

4. Tokyo has one of the lowest murder rates of all major cities in the world


In 2009, Tokyo’s homicide rate per 100,000 people stood at 0.4, one of the lowest in the world for a major city. In comparison, New York’s was 5.6, Amsterdam 4.4, and London 1.6. Gun crimes are extremely rare.

This doesn’t mean that Tokyo is 100% safe. Roppongi for example is a high-risk area for credit card information theft, while Kabuki-cho, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro experience physical and sexual assaults, pickpocketing and cases of drugs slipped into drinks.

But generally, Tokyo is quite safe and it is common to see women walking alone on the streets in the middle of the night. Its citizens are famous for turning in lost items. Tokyo’s lost-and-found center annually collects about 1.6 million articles. In 2002, people found and brought in a total of $23 million in cash.

One of the reasons for the city’s relative safety can be attributed to koban, tiny police stations dotted all over the city. They are within walking distance from each other, and small ones may be manned by just a single police officer who regularly patrols the streets of his neighborhood on his standard white bicycle.

5. WWII Allied bombing of Tokyo was more devastating than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima

Tokyo Air Raid

We all know about the devastation caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. But one single air raid on Tokyo in March of that year destroyed a larger area, and killed more people than were killed directly during the atomic bombings. To this day it is the most destructive bombing raid in history.

That night, over 330 U.S. B-29 bombers destroyed about a quarter of the city. More than 100,000 people were killed (the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department estimated 124,711), and a million lost their homes. Some 267,000 buildings and homes lay in ruins.

In comparison, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima directly killed an estimated 80,000 people. By the end of the year, injury and radiation brought total casualties to between 90,000 and 140,000. Some 171,000 were left homeless. About 62,000 buildings were leveled.

The infamous air raids on Dresden, Germany, killed between 22,700 and 25,000 people in four raids over three days.

6. Tokyo is home to 26 of the world’s busiest train stations in the world

Marunouchi Line

That Tokyo train stations are busy is well-known, but did you know that of the 51 busiest train stations in the world all but 6 are located in Japan? And 26, or about half of them, are in Tokyo.

Shinjuku and Shibuya Stations are the busiest with respectively 1.26 billion and 1.09 billion passengers per year. Yes, you read that right. Billion. Shinjuku Station has 36 platforms, over 200 exits, and is used by an average of 3.4 million people per day.

In comparison, the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, France, apparently the busiest station in Europe, handles around 180 million passengers per year. Shinjuku handles that in less than two months…

7. Tokyo has more inhabitants than any other metropolitan area in the world

Crowded passage way in Tokyo

The population of Tokyo’s 23 Special Wards is over 9 million people, while Tokyo’s total population exceeds 13 million. Tokyo forms part of the world’s most populous metropolitan area with over 35 million people. It features the world’s largest urban agglomeration economy. Tokyo hosts 51 of the Fortune Global 500 companies, more than any other city in the world.

8. Tokyo is vulnerable to flooding

Tokyo Flood

Tokyo is infamous for its many earthquakes. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastated Tokyo and killed 142,800 people. But floods? Actually, Tokyo has been repeatedly flooded in its history.

The photo above shows the Great Kanto Flood of August 11, 1910. The flood, caused by a storm, submerged more than 201 square kilometers and over 170,000 dwellings and buildings. There were 1,349 dead or missing. It was Tokyo’s third worst flood disaster of the 20th century. The last major flood in Tokyo took place in 1947.

If Tokyo’s Arakawa River breaks its banks, the government estimates that 97 stations stations will be crippled, 2,000 people may lose their lives and some 860,000 will be stranded. The city would come to a standstill, and it would be extremely difficult to bring in emergency supplies.

9. Tokyo’s Skytree is the tallest freestanding tower in the world

Tokyo Skytree

Tokyo Skytree, a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower in Sumida, is the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa (829.8 m/2,722 ft). Tokyo Skytree reached its full height of 634 meters (2,080 ft) in March 2011.

10. Tokyo’s Tsukiji market is the largest fish market in the world

Tsukiji Fish Market

The Tsukiji fish market is world famous, and you probably know that it is the largest fish market in the world. But how large is it?

Well, it deals in more than 400 different types of seafood and employs more than 60,000 people. Together with two other Tokyo wholesale markets, Tsukiji Market handles an incredible 675,000 tons of marine products a year.

But it has become too small and will move to new facilities, 40% larger than the current market, in 2015.

Kjeld Duits About the Author

Inspired by the stunningly creative street fashion that exploded on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka in the late 1990’s, photo-journalist Kjeld Duits launched JAPANESE STREETS in 2002. This makes JS one of the first fashion blogs on the net, and the very first to cover Japanese street fashion.

Recent articles by Kjeld Duits:

Comment (日本語もOK)

This article is awesome and useful. I love it !

I hope u can write many article to introduce different knid of Tokyo, not just fashion in Tokyo.

Oct 14, 2013 (3790 days ago)

When talking Tsukiji, it’s the largest market in the world, not just fish, everything!

Oct 14, 2013 (3790 days ago)

@yuki: Thank you, Yuki. I will see what I can do.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 14, 2013 (3790 days ago)

@Yucef: Thank you! Marché d’Intérêt National de Rungis in France is apparently considered the largest wholesale food market in the world. Although it employs only 13,000 people, it handles 1,698,000 tonnes of products annually and covers 2.3 km². The Aalsmeer Flower Auction in the Netherlands is also pretty big: 990,000 m² and it handles 20 million flowers daily.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 14, 2013 (3790 days ago)

Wow, what an insightful article! In South Africa, there was concern over transportation systems as it prepared to host the 2010 World Cup. How is Tokyo preparing to accommodate Olympic tourists as it’s train stations are already very busy?

Oct 15, 2013 (3789 days ago)

@Kjeld Duits Yup, Aalsmeer is the largest flower market and we’re proud of that too :-) (guess where I’m from, hahaha!)

Oct 15, 2013 (3789 days ago)

@Kimi: What is an extra 1 million people if you already handle so many millions. Shinjuku handles an average of 3.4 million people per day at a single station, and they are used to peaks a lot higher than that. The extra hundred thousand or so they may get during the Olympics they can easily handle. There are a few stations where there may be trouble, like Harajuku. It is already beyond its limits on week-ends now. But it has extensions that are now unused, and those could, and probably will be improved.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 15, 2013 (3789 days ago)

@Yucef: And guess where I am from. ^_-

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 15, 2013 (3789 days ago)

Nou moe :D Je gaat me toch niet vertellen dat je ook nog uit Aalsmeer zelf komt :D (I’ll save the folks reading this the google-translation) – Sheesh :D You’re not gonna tell me you’re from Aalsmeer, are you :D

Oct 15, 2013 (3789 days ago)

@Yucef: Nee, ik kom uit de Zaanstreek. Ben Japan Correspondent voor de NRC, NOS, etc, dus je hebt wellicht mijn stem ook wel eens gehoord. ^_-

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 15, 2013 (3788 days ago)

Wat leven we toch op een klein planeetje, ne? Zelf kom ik uit het Heuvelland, de buurt van Maastricht. Als ik je stem al eens gehoord heb was dat vast op het journaal met minder leuk nieuws. _
Om even bij het onderwerp te blijven, een jaar of 10-15 geleden was er op een van de Duitse (!) zenders een documentaire over Harajuku, je weet toevallig niet of die ergens op het net rondzwerft?
Groetjes uit Limburg,

Oct 15, 2013 (3788 days ago)

@Yucef: Ja, de wereld is vaak kleiner dan we denken. Dat van dat minder leuke nieuws klopt wel inderdaad. ^_- Ik ken geen Duitse documentaires over Harajuku. Ik neem aan dat je de zender niet meer weet? Anders zou je met hen contact op kunnen nemen om de naam van de documentaire te achterhalen.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 16, 2013 (3788 days ago)

Ah! Ek kan verstaan jy ‘n bietjie! Julle Duitse gepraat in, ne? Maar ek Afrikaans gepraat. LOL otherwise, thanks for the explanation. I like how you casually say, ‘what’s an extra 1 million?’ Sounds like Tokyo’s ready!

Oct 16, 2013 (3788 days ago)

@Kimi: You’re from SA! My sister lives there. In a metropolitan area with over 35 million people, 1 million is less than 3%… It will be busier than usual in the areas around the stadiums and some of the tourist attractions, but otherwise you’ll barely notice.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 16, 2013 (3788 days ago)

@Kimi Aaah die werelt het sommer nog ‘n bietjie kleiner geword, ek luister ook RSG (die een)!
Kjeld en ek het Nederlands gepraat, Kjeld se naam is net Duits, ons is egte Hollanders hoor!
@Kjeld: Zo belangrijk is het niet hoor, het is wel grappig hoe die dingen lopen; als ik indertijd niet op die docu was gezapt had ik nooit van Harajuku gehoord terwijl ik er nu niet eens meer kan verdwalen (dankzij GM street view), long live the Interwebz! :-)

Oct 16, 2013 (3787 days ago)

@Yucef Ek sien LOL! @Kjeld Awesome! Ok, got it! :D

Oct 17, 2013 (3787 days ago)

Ooh meant to tell you I’m not South African, but I lived there for seven years. I’m actually Ugandan! I’m amazed at how many languages you fluently speak. :O My family lives in Pretoria! What province is your sister in?

Oct 17, 2013 (3787 days ago)

@Kimi: Seven years and yet you speak Afrikaans. Impressive. My sister lives in Westkaap.

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 17, 2013 (3787 days ago)

Ah! Awesome. :)

Oct 18, 2013 (3786 days ago)

@Kjeld @Kimi : Ach tjies toch, en ek het my eerste Afrikaans geleer van die tekste van wynbottels met rooiwyn van die Weskaap :D mooibly!

Oct 19, 2013 (3785 days ago)

Tokyo prefecture is definitely one of the most culturally abundant “prefectures/areas” in the world. This blog has given me an insight into the positive and negative sides of Tokyo throughout history, but all this new information makes it all the more exciting for my university exchange next year…! Props to Kjeld for being a factual guru. :)

Oct 21, 2013 (3783 days ago)

@kaishiteru: Thanks. Will try to write more articles like this. ^_-

Kjeld Duits (author)
Oct 21, 2013 (3783 days ago)

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