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Is Tokyo really top dog in global rankings?

35 Comments
By Henry Hilton

Lists matter and rankings count for a great deal. You can love them or hate them but it would be crazy to ignore the flood of current global surveys.

Lots of folk have to take the numerical rankings of cities very seriously indeed. It can well determine what salary you may get or where your children receive their education and the international reputations of entire nation-states.

The very latest report on comparisons of urban office space cites Tokyo as having regained the No. I spot. No, I didn't believe it either, but CB Richard Ellis, whose business is to know these things, assures us that Tokyo has just overtaken London to win the gold medal. Office space in Tokyo apparently costs $184 a square foot in premier locations.This is a wee bit more than rentals presently being coughed up in London, Moscow and Hong Kong -- in that order, since you asked.

Two quibbles though come to mind. First, given the extraordinary secrecy of the Japanese real estate market, it would be interesting to learn how the figures were acquired in a city where landlords are wary of providing too much information. Secondly, I wonder if urban geographers can even agree on what constitutes the central business market for our capital. Where exactly is the CBD in a city that must have half a dozens centers? Hardly the Ginza presumably, though for years during the bubble era, we were told time and time again that space on its main drag no bigger than an average doormat cost at least a fortune and a half.

Hard on the heels of the prime real estate stats comes the Financial Times' verdict on the world's "most liveable cities." Calculating this list is the result of a much more complicated cocktail. The originator of the charts explains in the FT that "in addition to looking at obvious cut-and-dried statistics such as average salaries, school performance and health care costs," he wanted to incorporate "softer issues -- physical and technological connectivity, tolerance, the strength of local media and culture, and, of course, late-night eating and entertainment options." Talk about ambitious and surely more than difficult if outsiders were involved in marking their cards over such tricky items as non-Michelin restaurants and private clubs.

But how did it all work out? The surprise result, according to Tyler Brule's extensive research, was that Tokyo came out as top city in Asia and -- wait for it -- No. 3 in the world. Applause indeed and a decent bit of good news both for the Japanese government and a host of tourist agencies, real estate offices, eateries and international schools.

And to add to the celebrations, the FT also announced that Fukuoka comes in at 16th (up one place), while Kyoto is ranked 22nd. Germany, by the way, is the only other nation to be able to boast of having three cities in the top 25 with Munich (No. 4), Berlin (10th) and Hamburg (23rd).

Of course, the whole exercise tends to examines issues that impinge on the lifestyles of business elites. The hard-pressed salaryman on the Chuo line at eight in the morning during the rainy season is unlikely to care too much about the views of expat readers of the FT. Yet the fact that Tokyo remains relatively clean, crime-free and civilized impinges on each and everyone in our metropolis. The city can surely pat itself on the back and enjoy basking in a spot of international admiration.

© Japan Today

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The livable "survey" was produced by small independent Monocle Magazine, not the mighty Financial Times. Hardly in the same league.

Henry Hilton needs to do his research. Mind you, based on his previous columns, this blunder is characteristic.

Monocle's founder is a hard-core Japanophile, whose trendy/artsy magazine has an odd obsession with the shinkansen, the city of Fukuoka and other Japan-geek subjects. His livable "surveys" always seem to reflect his own Japano- Euro-centric preferences. Hmmm.

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What about access to green areas? Tokyo has far less m2 of green areas per citizen than recommended by the WHO. Smaller cities in Japan are far more livable than Tokyo's endless expanse of grey upon grey.

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Japan's landlords are notorious, and I don't know much about office space, but from everything I hear, London's apartment rental fees should be more than those of Tokyo. It may have to do with the yen's recent strength against both the pound and the dollar since the end of last year.

As for livablility, I love Tokyo. I've stayed in New York and London and Paris, and definitely prefer Tokyo, but it's all subjective. Anyway, I'm not a true ex-pat, and so don't fall under the conditions set out in these kinds of surveys.

Number one in Asia? sure. Number 3 in the world? not so sure.

Just my 2 cents.

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sydenham: Tokyo is quite comfortable, especially if you think of it's size - the largest metropol in the world. It is safe, clean, offers a lot in terms of freetime activities, shopping, entertainment, good public transportation system. I lived 6 months in the Kansai area, which is better in some terms (not so crowded, easier access to nature, friendlier people).

I am not a true expat either, so don't know their criteria.

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Tyler Brule is indeed a well-known Japanophile, though he only parachutes in for a few well-paid days, and gets lots of corporate invitations to say nice things about the market, which generally help those same corporations. Would also doubt that he has ever been on the Chuo-Line or rubbed shoulders with anyone who lives here, outside of his small circle...

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it's a very easy place to live, some of the best eating in the world. I prefer the suburbs though to be honest.

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What about access to green areas? Tokyo has far less m2 of green areas per citizen than recommended by the WHO. Smaller cities in Japan are far more livable than Tokyo's endless expanse of grey upon grey.

Green tea is counted as green areas thats why Jpn ranks so high on these silly surveys ha ha

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I'm not following how using office rent statistics and pretending the conditions are the same in every city around the world is even possible given what would be local tendencies ie: the preference for Japanese only tenants. Surely other cities have various local quirks such as publishing rental rates.

Also the count of homeless people is a forbidden topic and given the recession that would have gone up not down.

Japanese cities are wonderful though, the walking areas are especially deep and I've never felt bored walking around. Mostly people take trains, but the walker is also rewarded. There are a lot of little parks and shrines hidden around that are not noticed but you can find them. When you do it adds character to a place.

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I should add the promenades without cars make all the difference. take the car away and the shopping street is wonderful.

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Both the criteria of cost and liveability, are driven by population size.

Tokyo has the largest developed metropolitan population (demand), and therefore the most expensive land space, and in a way more liveability based amenities like restaurants and electric trains (supply), especially to those at the top of the food chain such as expats.

However with the turn of this recession, we are yet to see what happens to such a large, condensed population over the next few years, especially if there is no hoped for bottoming out and sustainable rebound.

Probably less expats, and more socialism, if unemployment continues as is.

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Another example of the "Japan is No 1" mindless crap ideology sickness that afflicts this country. "Nambaa Wan!" We hear this nonsense constantly. The fact is, Tokyo may have great offices space and rentals compared to other places, but as a city to live in, it is ugly and overcrowded, and most of the residents are without manners, something that I experience daily on its transportation system. 80% of Tokyo Landlords hate foreigners, and will not rent to us, viewing us as something akin to vermin. There is more to being "Nambaa Wan" than the quality of of office space. It might be nice to have a good office, but what use is that when you live in hell?

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Tokyo wa ichiban desu.

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NO and no and no.Use common sense.

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realist:

There is more to being "Nambaa Wan" than the quality of of office space. It might be nice to have a good office, but what use is that when you live in hell?

I sad to see that your in-depth knowledge of Japan meant that you did not consider it necessary to read the article fully. The article states that office space in Japan is the world's most expensive. At no point does it comment on the quality of office space. It does go on to discuss the quality of life, placing it at no.3, which like you, I would dispute.

These comparative costs of office or rental space are usually very silly, often having more to do with exchange rates and the American view of the world.

In the last year, pound sterling has weakened against the USD and the JPY has strengthened. Lo and behold, London is off top spot and Tokyo takes it!

The other "most expensive place to live" surveys are also silly, viewing the world from the point of view of an American. The question should be "what is the world's most expensive city to live the lifestyle of a middle class American executive." Tokyo, with its lack of spacious apartments, is always going to be considered expensive if one is included in the index of goods.

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Japan is #1 in Hostess Bar Ranking and has the Most Hanjob Places Per Square Foot.

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Japan is #1 in Hostess Bar Ranking and has the Most Hanjob Places Per Square Foot.

Absolutely! Everyone knows that Tokyo has the best soaplands, brothels and hostess bars for salarymen...of course it is number 1! London is just an amareur: They probably have less than half the prostitutes Tokyo has. Losers! TOKYO RULES, OK!

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Another example of the "Japan is No 1" mindless crap ideology sickness that afflicts this country. "Nambaa Wan!" We hear this nonsense constantly.

realist,

This what you call mindless crap ideology sickness is what a British magazine has afflicted on Japan. Though I'm not sure if you say the same sickness can also be diagnosed to Zurich (ranking first) and Copenhagen (second), it's usually outsiders who file this type of evaluation and someone like you rather than Japanese who make a fuss over it. Livable or hell, the evaluation doesn't seem so real to us either way.

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As always, the knee-jerk monkeys here on JT overlook the fact that these livability studies are for the wealthy expat types living on nice salaries and benefits packages, i.e. not you. You may continue to slag Tokyo based on your own as #1 based on your own miserability index, which is probably more a reflection of yourself than the environment around you.

Personally I found Tokyo a great place to live, however much we dispute whether it's #3 or #23.

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UnagiDon - Interesting interpretation of my comment. I pointed out a technical error with the research in the JT commentary and provided some background and context to the survey. And you see that as "kneejerk" and based on my own "miserability index." LOL!

Methinks you're the one with the chipped shoulder, judging by your own dour and highly judgmental post.

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JeffLee;

Interesting interpretation of my comment.

I wasn't interpreting it, nor did I even refer to your comment, so don't know how you got that impression.

provided some background and context

You mean like "Monocle's founder is a hard-core Japanophile, whose trendy/artsy magazine has an odd obsession with the shinkansen, the city of Fukuoka and other Japan-geek subjects. His livable "surveys" always seem to reflect his own Japano- Euro-centric preferences. Hmmm."? I'd hardly call that context, but rather an ad hominem and strange considering the few Japanese cities in the ranking..

Methinks you're the one with the chipped shoulder

I merely have a strong and visceral reaction to stupidity, hypocrisy, and people who feel the need to comment on something when they haven't even read it, so I probably should spend less time reading JT comments.

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It is hard to imagine that Tokyo is #3 in quality of life. Ok... so there are late places to go, jobs that pay, good transport etc... but who in Tokyo has time to enjoy any of that?

I lived for years in Seattle when it was rated #1. Nature, all of the above listed Tokyo benefits (except decent transport)etc... The main difference was that everyone I knew worked about 40hrs a week on average with the rare 50-60hr week during big projects or peak times.

Those cafes, shops and late places were filled with relaxed people who had dropped in after work to meet friends or gone home, changed and come back out for a relaxing night.

By contrast nearly everyone I know in Tokyo works at least 50hrs a week and many routinely work 60hrs a week. We often take a month of cross checking schedules before we can manage to meet up for dinner and impromptu nights out are rare because everyone is working.

In my opinion a city should not be number one if it does not include a rating for how people live. And I don't mean the salary they make or the housing. I mean the soft idea of how much free time do people have? How much time to spend with family? The access and time to have hobbies or to be involved in community service.

We should be rewarding cities that create a balance between work, home and personal lives through rational work lives, great civic resources and a culture that encourages a healthy life.

Tokyo, with people dropping in front of trains on a daily basis, the masses of stressed out overworked salary men and women and stark lack of daily down time should be ranked pretty low.

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As others have mentioned, Tyler Brule has a huge hard-on for Japan and can't seem to help talking up Japanese service, design or fashion at least once in his weekly FT column.

Since his visits usually entail flying in for a few days, staying at the best hotels and hanging out at hipster spots, I can imagine he usually has a pretty good time.

Maybe next time he could try staying for a couple of months during the rainy season, commuting from a 2DK in Saitama.

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They should add suicidal-, drug use- and drunk/drive-rates as minus to this ranking. Where will Tokyo be then?...

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Yes, Japan has its bad points but its good points outweigh the bad in my opinion. Tokyo is a great place to live! I've been to many of the major cities of the world and Tokyo is tops in my book!

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Maybe next time he could try staying for a couple of months during the rainy season, commuting from a 2DK in Saitama.

Why? The lifestyles of English teachers are of no interest to FT readers.

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I've lived in L.A. and Tokyo certainly beats it.

Never heard before of this Tyler Brule, but checked on the web. He is some handsome guy, so he must have good time with the local ladies here. Good for him!

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'the Financial Times’ verdict on the world’s “most liveable cities.”

'average salaries'

Average monthly salary stateside comes in at $45K a year to Japan's $35k.

'school performance'

School performance ? Well, J unis are hardly magnets for world elite students like say MIT or Stanford, so they must be refering to primary and secondary education. And, the last time I checked Japanese students were still frequenting cram schools at record paces just in order to maintain their education levels. Always begged the question, why can't Japanese young people learn in the same amount of time as the rest of the planet ? Why must they study an extra 2-3 hours a night ?

'health care costs'

Yes, lets not forget healthcare. Japan must be the only country on the planet that demands a couple of hundred bucks a month for health insurance, and then send you away or refuse to admit you to the hospital when an emergency arises. We all know by now about the hundreds, if not thousands, of people denied healthcare in times of emergency.

No for the 'softer issues'

'physical and technological connectivity'

What kind of mumbo jumbo is that ? Is this really measurable ?

'tolerance'

As exemplified by Japans official stance on discrimination (no laws), refugee acceptance (virtually none), or government leadership (Ishihara for examlpe) ?

'strength of local media and culture'

Why are these combined ? The only connection I see is with NHK, Japans overtly government controled television station.

'late-night eating and entertainment options.

Read.... McDonalds !

I hate to sound pretentious but if this is how Japan has garnished a numero uno ranking... well, they can have it. Enjoy !

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why can't Japanese young people learn in the same amount of time as the rest of the planet ? Why must they study an extra 2-3 hours a night ?

because the ministry of education refuses to update curriculum and teaching methods to reflect the fact that it is now the 21st century

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This is complete utter BS. If the quality of life is so good in Japan. Then why does Japan have among the highest suicide rates in the developed world. Unemployment is at record highs somewhere around 3.5 million which is probably conservative. Government spending is skewed toward pensions and health care for older voters rather than programs that might train young workers or help them support their families. This is just another attempt to sugarcoat the problem in an attempt to boast confidence without any real solution. Kinda like the US and how polls always seems to reflect wall street rather then main street.

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In Tokyo, most of these people live in 100 to 400 square feet rooms or small rabbit huts condos and call it a top dog in the world? Japanese currency exchange rates make it look like they are making a lot of money but in reality, they have less buying power. Everything in Japan is 25 to 50 percent more expensive. If you reside in San Francisco Bay Area, the quality of life is three times better than Tokyo.

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I think there should be rankings on the worst places to live, that way people will have a perspective of this world, and realize where the people they ass kiss are leading them.

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sfjp330;

In Tokyo, most of these people live in 100 to 400 square feet rooms or small rabbit huts condos and call it a top dog in the world

Nonsense - that may be the average dwelling size for an English teacher, but in the Tokyo metropolitan area it's 80 sq m per home, which translates into 850 sq ft.

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ReikiZen;

This is just another attempt to sugarcoat the problem in an attempt to boast confidence without any real solution.

Yes! Curse the Financial Times with their shameless attempt to sugarcoat the problem (which problem?) by brazenly stating that one of their Top 10 cities is in Japan.

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Re: UnagiDon 4:21 pm, 4th July Quote: Nonsense - that may be the average dwelling size for an English teacher, but in the Tokyo metropolitan area, it's 80 sq m per home, which translates into 850 sq ft.

How many young professionals own a home in Tokyo? The price is beyond reach for most young buyers. If they could buy a 80sq meter home at affordable prices in suburb Tokyo, it may be one to two hours away from work on a train. In U.S., for a young English teacher with a stable position, you can buy 1500-2500 sq. ft homes in most areas. If you keep your nose clean and work hard, there is no comparison between U.S. and Japan regarding quality of life and investment opportunities.

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This article doesn't really make any sense at all because you are just adding factors together that are not necessarily connected.

It just seems to be vague rambling along the lines of "Rankings are important ... blah .. blah ... blah ... no, don't worry about the details ... so, Ganbare Nippon !"

Is this just a bad translation from a right-leaning Japanese article, or did he delete a couple of paragraphs by mistake ?

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