lifestyle

Tokyo in 2050: Futuristic super-hub or graying has-been?

33 Comments
By Alex Vega

Paris, Jan 30, 2009. It’s Couture Week, and the City of Light is inundated with thousands of the world’s best-dressed power brokers, all heading to Porte de Versailles for the massive ready-to-wear trade show, Prêt a Porter Paris. The Paris Expo center is packed with buyers, designers and journalists. Unlike haute couture, ready-to-wear is about mass consumption — high-volume, off-the-peg “fast fashion” — so being “on trend” is imperative.

Amid all the measuring and haggling, the fashionistas’ ears are pricked by the incongruous sound of a railway train, a short musical tune and then a soft female voice: "Shibuyaaa, Shibuya desu." It’s the unmistakable sound of Tokyo.

“Tokyo has never managed to place itself at the heart of the global fashion calendar, but as a source of inspiration, it’s unique,” says Nicole Fall, trend director of Five by Fifty, a Tokyo-based consumer research and trend-forecasting company. (The name refers to the projection that there will be 5 billion consumers in Asia by the year 2050.)

Late last year, Fall received a request to be Tokyo Ambassador to a “trend zone” at the heart of the Prêt a Porter show, alongside representatives from Stockholm, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles and, of course, Paris — selected as the world’s “New Generation Cities.”

“The new nomadic generation is stealthy, informed and connected,” says Alexandra Senes, the French creative director in charge of the trend space, whose theme changes each season. “At this time of global crisis, it’s appropriate to be looking for ideas and solutions from new places.”

Among the other ambassadors, Los Angeles is represented by GOOD, a magazine that describes itself as “for people who give a damn” (Al Gore’s son is a publisher); Rio by stylist Renata Abranchs, who recreated the city’s beach in her space; and Stockholm by the New Blood Agency of photographers.

For the Tokyo space, Fall worked with a slate of artists to create a sensory exhibit that lets visitors see, hear, touch, taste and even smell Tokyo. Among the highlights are original fragrances by scent designer Kaori Oishi that represent different parts of the city, a film by visual artist Stuart Ward, and a soundtrack by musicians Yasuharu Ohkouchi and Jeff Wichmann. In the middle of the space are five conceptual “bento boxes” filled with products from convenience stores: PET bottles of tea and other curious drinks, only-in-Japan snacks, and girly-pink cigarette boxes.

“One reason Tokyo leaves a unique impression on visitors is because it’s such a sensory experience,” says Fall. “Unfamiliar smells, a strange way of writing, the constant invasion of your head by noise — these are all reasons that so many people leave Tokyo feeling inspired.”

Tokyo is undeniably inspiring to many, but does this graying concrete metropolis really have what it takes to become a “New Generation City” — a global hub for the Asian Century?

Fast-forward to 2050

Tokyo, January 30, 2050. Life is good for Taro Tanaka. The 41-year-old works for Fukuden Ltd, a Japanese nanotech company founded in 2015 that has grown into the world’s largest manufacturer of clothes that capture energy generated by human movement. After returning from his morning run (since the fabric was commercialized in the early ’40s, Japan has become fitness obsessed!), Tanaka drops his self-cleaning nanotech tracksuit into the home battery box. The device transfers energy from the fabric into power to charge his zero-emission, crash-proof vehicle. The introduction of the 30-hour human workweek has allowed the Tanaka family to spend more time together. They take virtual cookery classes from chefs in China and France — thank goodness their Tetsu Dai 3-series domestic helper robot speaks ten languages!

Crystal-ball gazing aside, Japan’s technological prowess should give the nation a head start in the New Generation City stakes. Automakers like Honda have already moved ahead of most foreign rivals by being first to introduce hybrid vehicles. Japanese companies like Sanyo are also world leaders in making powerful batteries and electric motors that will become more commonly used as the era of the green economy nears.

But what else will a city need to be a world leader in 2050?

“Cities that support bio and cultural diversity, urban and biological ecology, provide sustainable public transport, as well as maintaining their cultural heritage — these are the cities that will be successful in the future,” says Kristina Dryza, a designer, strategist and writer who spent most of last year in Tokyo. Dryza’s own list of cities to watch includes Singapore, Mexico City, Istanbul, Pune (India) and San Francisco.

“In 2050, Tokyo will be more integrated to the greater Asia Pacific region and highly robotized,” she says.

The emergence of China and India and their economic capitals, Shanghai and Mumbai, is an obvious challenge to Tokyo’s role in the region. But their dominance is not inevitable, and Tokyo has a card that they’re unlikely to be able to trump: livability.

Tokyo 3rd on list of most livable cities

Last year, Monocle magazine, an arbiter of both sense and taste, placed Tokyo third on its list of most livable cities, behind Copenhagen and Munich. But speaking about those two metropolises in the same breath as Tokyo is like comparing a couple of shiny apples with one huge, over-polished, genetically modified orange.

“Tokyo is three times the size of most comparable cities, but has an infinitely better infrastructure than any of its rivals — Paris, London or New York,” says Monocle’s Asia editor, Fiona Wilson. “Better public transport, better-behaved citizens, less litter, less crime; it’s full of people but manages to be quieter somehow. The aggression that characterizes even small encounters in many large cities is just not an issue here. It’s not perfect — no city of this size could be — but it’s hard to imagine any other city functioning as well with so many people.”

Indeed, Tokyo prides itself on livability. What the Bhutanese termed Gross National Happiness, Tokyoites might call Gross National Convenience. But convenience is not enough if the city wants to be more than a New-Generation Disneyland.

“Japan can make the greenest cars, the fastest trains, and have the cleanest streets, but ultimately what does it matter if there isn’t anyone here to run the place?” asks Fall, whose company has recently completed a research project into the world’s most innovative cities.

Japan will soon be losing a million people a year and the population will shrink from about 128 million today to less than 100 million by 2050, according to Cabinet Office projections. And forty million of those people will be over age 65.

“If you’re trying to build a dynamic economy, you can’t have more than half your team on the bench,” adds Fall.

Some politicians and pundits don’t see a problem. Labor shortages will be less of an issue as robots take the roles of nurses, receptionists and cleaners. Yet others realize that they are missing a vital ingredient to maintaining its status as a world leader, one that can be summed up in a two words: creative fission.

The view from London

London, January 15, 2009, 11 a.m.: It’s the middle of the worst economic calamity in 60 years and commuters look glum as they arrive for work in the City of London, ex-financial capital of the world. Thousands pass through the vaulted Victorian concourse of Liverpool Street station every hour. For most, it’s the start of what looks like a horrible business year.

Suddenly, a voice sings out over the speakers: “You know you make me wanna shout!”

As the Little Richard '60s classic booms across the station, a few people start to dance in unison. Each time the music changes — to The Contours, Yazz and the Plastic Population, and even The Pussycat Dolls — more and more passersby drop their briefcases and start to groove.

“Don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me!”

Suits are grinding and grannies are laughing, while hidden cameras record every jive and smile. After 120 seconds, as fast as it started, the music cuts, the dancers pick up their belongings and normalcy returns.

“The train now at platform 12 is the 11:07 stopping service to Norwich.”

What just occurred was a “flash mob” advertisement by Saatchi & Saatchi for the mobile phone company T-Mobile, screened on prime time TV the following evening. The agency planted 350 dancers in the station to turn it into an impromptu disco.

This is the sort of creative freedom that Tokyo lacks — and exactly what it needs if it wants to maintain its edge.

Although the Japanese are good at innovating within existing fields to make technology-driven enhancements — smaller microchips, faster trains and greener cars — “when it comes to game-changers, they fall flat,” says Fall. “Innovation is a creative and disruptive thing that forces you to broaden your horizons and change direction. Society here works against that. Change disrupts harmony, and harmony is what makes the trains run on time,” she adds.

It’s not that smart people in Tokyo aren’t creative; rather, that the idea of starting a spontaneous dance party in Shinjuku station would be squashed a hundred times over by the impulsive heels of bureaucratic conformity. The police say no; JR says no; your boss says, “Don’t bother asking.”

By contrast, Londoners these days will accept their daily routines being disrupted by disco-dancing weirdos because diversity is part of their daily lives. According to one recent survey, more than 300 languages are spoken daily in London.

Japan, on the other hand, has struggled with the question of how wide to open its door for centuries. Dryza says Tokyo could learn a lot from cultural melting pots like Melbourne, Australia, that have successfully integrated different ethnicities while retaining their high standards of living.

She also recommends “integrating science, the arts and technology to increase creativity and innovation—for industry, as well as government and education.”

Meanwhile, in Sweden

Stockholm, February 4, 2009. Four days after its launch, Prêt a Porter Paris is over and Tekla Knaust of the New Blood Agency has disassembled her photography exhibition, boarded a plane at Charles de Gaulle International Airport, and landed home in Stockholm.

Along with other northern European cities like Copenhagen, Helsinki, Munich and Zurich, the Swedish capital often tops league tables in terms of, variously, standard of living, creativity, innovation and design.

But for Knaust, Sweden isn’t cool; it’s downright freezing.

“It’s just so cold in Sweden,” she complains, “and it’s so far from everywhere that everyone longs to leave. The conversation in Sweden among young people always starts with, ‘When I leave for Tokyo or New York...’”

Knaust’s view is a reminder that every city has its problems: Stockholm is too cold, Paris is too stuffy, Rio is too dangerous, Los Angeles is too polluted and Tokyo is too… [insert your own adjective here]. “Sweden is a very closed cold culture, a bit like the Japanese, I guess,” Knaust says. “I want people to be more open and less snobbish and less stiff, more like the Brazilians.”

Five by Fifty’s Fall has a different suggestion: take a pinch of style from Paris, some creativity from Stockholm, the joie de vivre of Rio, money from Los Angeles and efficiency from Tokyo. “It’s the recipe for the perfectly formed city of the future.”

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

33 Comments
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Graying has-been -- no doubt about it. That's while I'll be gone by 2015.

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If Tokyo keeps trying to be good at things that other cities are already good at, graying has-been. If Tokyo continues to enjoy its own identity, super-hub.

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i agree with telecasterplayer... i don't want japan to follow US or any European country, sure Japan has adopted ideas from them but the Japanese are amazingly brilliant at making things their own. So i'd say Super-Hub!

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i don't want japan to follow US or any European country, sure Japan has adopted ideas from them but the Japanese are amazingly brilliant at making things their own.

This is why Japan is behind in many fields. My in-law seeing video from my trip around Europe said that Japan is ぐちゃぐちゃ...lack of architectural planning. You know what I mean?

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interesting, but the only conclusion is that no city is perfect. hmm, tokyo needs little more diversity, but without the crime and violence that can come with it.

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How on earth could Tokyo be ranked 3 of most livable cities ?? That is completely unbelievable...yes infrastructure is efficient,but expensive,but actual quality of life is horrible for most people,housing is bordering on disgraceful/embarrassing for such a wealthy country.

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Tokyo might have a "graying" problem, but compared to the problems that other Western countries and towns face, that will rather be a blessing 40 years from now.

I say super-hub, while places like London and Paris will have turned into largely islamiciced, crime-ridden hellholes.

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How on earth could Tokyo be ranked 3 of most livable cities ?

By paying the right people.

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Tokyo will likely become bigger as people in the outlying towns and countryside are sucked in to chase the few remaining jobs.

That said, the provision of products and services for the elderly is set to boom, but will taste-conscious foreign visitors really want to visit Tokyo to see a 100 million old people sitting in rocking chairs around the Yamanote Line?

I say, no.

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Liveable? Yes in terms of convenience. I love Tokyo!

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Looking from far, very far, actually from the other side of the world, Tokyo is a wonderful thing. But come live here for a few weeks and all the illusion surely will evaporate. It´s actually somehow a well built city, but it lacks the human passion other cities mentioned above do have.

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LostinNagoya - "but it lacks the human passion other cities mentioned above do have."

Damn good point. I think it is partly because Tokyo is so big/has so many people.

That said, there are parts of the city, for example, Kichijo-ji out west that are great.....very comfortable and you are not boxed in by concrete.

I think most of us are from smaller cities than Tokyo, hence do not quite feel like we fit in.

Me, I'm from city that is loaded with beaches, mountains and parks, so living here does take a bit of getting used to.

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Smoking pile of rubble id say. Sooner or later a quake will bring it all down and its doubtful japan can afford to rebuild all that quickly. If a quake doesnt get it terrorism will. Much easier to whack tokeyo and indirectly fubar the us the it is to fabar the us attacking any us city.

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Tokyo in 2050: Futuristic super-hub or graying has-been?

2050? I'm gonna go out on a limb and predict that Tokyo will indeed be futuristic in the future.

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How on earth could Tokyo be ranked 3 of most livable cities ?

Note that it's ranked as such by Monocle magazine, hence it's 3rd most livable for readers of Monocle, which seems to be quite a different demographic than most JT posters or readers of Metropolis.

Whenever one of these surveys comes out ranking Tokyo or Vancouver as the greatest city people seem to forget that these rankings are intended for readers of those magazines and they are generally aimed at relocation on expat packages, esp. the EIU and Mercer ones. Again, not aimed at the typical JT or Metropolis type.

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My take on Tokyo is that it's not as bad as most JT posters make it out to be because many of them are in the Tokyo area while working for a certain "profession" which places them fairly low on the socioeconomic sale (esp. salary) and makes them think that a majority of the pop lives in 1K shoeboxes like they do.

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UnagiDon, I concur. I might also speculate that the typical JT type (not all, but many) does not do a good job of integrating themselves into Japanese society in general. I think Gregory Clark uses the term "gaijin ghettos"(although this is the only time I agree with him). There are uncountable local festivals held all year round that welcome people from all over.

In Tokyo, there are many Japanese from other parts of the country, so while it may not be multi-ethnic, it sure is multi-cultural.

Also, these faddish flash-mob things are staged nonsense. Their symbolism should be taken with a grain of salt.

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UnagiDon -- Wrong, on many counts. First, speaking only for myself, I don't work in that "profession" you seem to dislike so much, and, second, as a result, are no where near the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Third, I definitely don't live in a shoebox, unless shoeboxes rent for roughly 400,000 yen a month. Fourth, the majority of Japanese people living in the immediate Tokyo vicinity do live in relatively small quarters. (Why don't you leave the amatuer psychology to someone else?) At any rate, none of the above impacts why I vote for Tokyo to be a graying has-been in 40 years or so. That is based on the economic, social,and political trends that they continue to ignore. The country: is deeply in debt, yet has a shrinking population to generate revenue; needs foreign workers, but continues to be highly xenophobic; and, has a completely dis-functional political system, but does nothing about it. The great cities of the future will be ones that embrace globalization and the ideas that outsiders can bring. Not one that becomes increasingly insular by the day.

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The country: is deeply in debt, yet has a shrinking population to generate revenue; needs foreign workers, but continues to be highly xenophobic; and, has a completely dis-functional political system, but does nothing about it. The great cities of the future will be ones that embrace globalization and the ideas that outsiders can bring. Not one that becomes increasingly insular by the day.

Aren't we straying off a little bit. We're talking about Tokyo here.

And Tokyo is the least debted of any of the prefectures with only 3.9% of the total. Furthermore, they haven't received any funds(地方交付税) from Govt. Japan. In fact, over 80% of the Tokyo Metro general accounts comes from tax revenues.

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sydenham;

I might also speculate that the typical JT type (not all, but many) does not do a good job of integrating themselves into Japanese society in general.

But but but - only a JAPANOPHILE would do such a thing! Heh.

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herefornow;

UnagiDon -- Wrong, on many counts.

In the rest of your post, I count zero instances of me being "wrong", as opposed to the apparent sin of having a different opinion from you.

First, speaking only for myself, I don't work in that "profession" you seem to dislike so much, and, second, as a result, are no where near the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. Third, I definitely don't live in a shoebox, unless shoeboxes rent for roughly 400,000 yen a month. Fourth, the majority of Japanese people living in the immediate Tokyo vicinity do live in relatively small quarters. (Why don't you leave the amatuer psychology to someone else?)

Indeed - an amateur psychologist might have something to say about how you ignored the "most" in my original post and then spent half of your post attempting to wow us with your rent. Speaking for myself, most of the Tokyo residents I know (Japanese and other) live in smaller homes or condos than the typical North American digs, but hardly unlivable shoeboxes. They are also far too civil to feel the need to burden me with their rent/mortgage payments.

That is based on the economic, social,and political trends that they continue to ignore.

Ah, the good old "they" who are oblivious to all that's so obvious to a high rent payer such as yourself. Japan is indeed moving through some big changes, but the future is hardly as bleak as you seem to believe. Tokyo will be both grayer and futuristic.

Not one that becomes increasingly insular by the day.

Hyperbole.

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I cannot abide Tokyo.It is impersonal,often filthy and expensive.There are few places you can relax or even sit down without having to pay entry into a cafe or the like.While I admit I had some fun nights partying there,one year was more than enough.On the positive side,the trains are much cheaper than Osaka.

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How on earth could Tokyo be ranked 3 of most livable cities ?

I'm wondering the same. In comparison to London, where the people are friendly, there's nice ample parks, good bars and restaurants, Tokyo is pretty boring. Sure it has good transport, but it is a pretty boring place to live and the only thing to do here is go shopping. If you don't like this you struggle to find much entertainment or enjoyment.

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And it is incredibly dreary.

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“One reason Tokyo leaves a unique impression on visitors is because it’s such a sensory experience,” says Fall. “Unfamiliar smells, a strange way of writing, the constant invasion of your head by noise — these are all reasons that so many people leave Tokyo feeling inspired.”

The key part is come & then LEAVE, yeah Tokyo is fantastic in that scenario, but if you stay it slowly but surely saps the life out of most of its inhabitants.

After 10+ yrs doing that, slowly but surely moving furhter outwards into bigger living quarters helped but the commute was killing me, then I looked the other way moved out into north Chiba & now go into Tokyo sometimes, like today in fact will do some work, meet friends for drinks & grub, crash in a hotel then I an gone Tue morning.

The future imo doesnt look good for most of the planet, food & water are going to be issues that are going to cause a lot of havac before 2050

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Tokyo is already there actually. It has its own flavour. C'mon how many cities are there this big in the world. GROW UP!

But the curious thing about this article, is Im wondering which end of themselves the writer pulled it out of? I just heard the Tokyo mayor/leader saying that Tokyo has drawn too much to globalization and needs to focus more on it's locals.

Perhaps this writing is a ploy to push for more globalization from the foreigners there that are quickly loosing a lot of profits that they have managed to meddle out of the Japanese and their charity until now, HUH????

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I love so many sections of Tokyo. The energy, noise and color are wonderful. Great place to shoot pictures, cheap to eat, and lots of beautiful women.

40% over the age of 65? Why do they force retire people here at age 60? That would easily solve the problem of the work force.

I do find the people though inflexible with things. Especially on making food. Break the freekin rules sometimes and you would be amazed at how great something can be. For example, I boiled up some green tea soba, and topped it with a zukini Italian red sauce. It was fabulous. Japanese friends loved it, but will they make it? Nope!

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UnagiDon, If, by Japanophile, you mean someone who is generally interested in and enjoys living in Japan while, without resorting to mindless stereotyping, maintaining the ability to look critically at the country, and despite no desire to "become" Japanese has integrated fairly well, I would concur with your pronouncement, sir.

Anyway, Tokyo is a blast. Number 3 in livablility? Sure, I've traveled enough to say that's a fairly accurate assessment.

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More like "irrelevant backwater ghost town".

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There IS creativity in Tokyo and some liveliness, but it needs so many permits to exist (and yet, is considered more meiwaku than anything else) that it gets smothered out like a candle flame under a glass bell. "The nail that stands out needs to be hammered down," that classic Japanese saying is as true as it has always been; there is creativity in Japan but you have to get into labyrinths to see it. In Tokyo, there are regular art exhibits and some progressive art shows, but somehow the bureaucracy that mandates all life in Tokyo stiffens the atmosphere, making everything "formal" and robotized, to a considerable point. This is one of the reasons why people in Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan marvel at the inherent spontaneity of the foreigner (real or stereotyped); the outward thinking, expression, colors and shapes (artistically speaking). Some people look at the foreigner at a social, semi-official gathering (which enables them to assume the foreigner is safe, has had all its shots and has higher education) and expect some kind of magic to happen. That villager attitude does not announce the living cells of a futuristic hub. In Tokyo, you need to struggle and fight for the right to be creative; there is not only the cultural obstacles in which being different in any way translates into social friction, but also the "we don't do things this way," "in Japan we (insert random uniqueness here)," sucking air through teeth in mild disapproval, and bureaucracy (the most important obstacle). Japanese innovation resides with the highly educated technicians working in laboratories. Sure there are fresh ideas among Tokyo art community, but where do they go after a year or two?

As a city, Tokyo is a visual disaster. Due to fire regulations, the building facades and urban surfaces got way too standarized, and the common architecture (mansions, apartment buildings, small office buildings) is frankly hideous. The streets are too small, littered, too many cables and too little color. No sidewalks. The areas of tourist interest and cultural representativeness (mainly, cultural property buildings such as Tokyo Station, Ueno Park and its museums and historic buildings, Imperial Palace, modern architecture such as Tadao Ando buildings; these are isolated examples rather than nodes of a whole. Public transport is superb, but the panorama from the vehicles' windows is not inspiring. Tokyo is gray and depressing. A few places like Ameyoko, Nippori and Yoyogi Park offer rare windows to another kind of Tokyoite human landscape, and I think the global economic downturn will benefit those areas as people shift their standard of living in order to survive. Perhaps that will wake up and bring out as well the dormant Japanese creativity.

Maybe sometime after the post-war generation, people in Tokyo became too complacent and self-congratulating. Japanese people love regulations and strict, dignified behavior; spontaneity is stomped out quickly. I think those tendencies went overboard in Tokyo and homogenized not only the urban landscape, but the very behavior and will of the people. Too many DAME DA, MURI DA, too many rules and fear of meiwaku. That hasn't bode well. Which is worse, the graying heads outnumbering the young people gives stiffening forces strength in numbers. Tokyo in 2050 could look just the same as today, maybe with ghettos for guest foreign workers (nicely designed or not) and spontaneously segregated facilities. However I think the global economic squeeze could be beneficial for Tokyo, if its economy sinks deep enough. A Spanish saying goes, "Necessity is the mother of Invention" and true enough, it was the Japanese who survived WW2 who made Japan a powerhouse. Something good may come out of hardship. Only time will tell, though.

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Tokyo 2009 is already a "graying has been" by 2050 something like 97.24% of the population will mindless salarymen and salarywomen sheep... oh wait I mean now

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Never underestimate Mother Nature. Tokyo may be gone in the next 40 years. Swallowed up. Who knows. One or two like the Great Kanto quake in the next couple of decades and no one will want to live there.

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All cities burn its just a matter of when.

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