Tokyo — world's most livable city?

Tokyo climbed to the top of Monocle magazine’s list of most livable cities, while Vienna was named No. 2 and Berlin No. 3. The London-based journal of lifestyle and culture found Tokyo scored high overall on a wide range of metrics, such as housing, cost of living, access to the outdoors, crime rate and business climate. While the honor of being No. 1 should give Tokyoites a sense of pride, the ranking overlooks many of the problems that remain in the world’s biggest city.

For one thing, Tokyo, of course, is much larger than either Vienna (with just 1.7 million people) or Berlin (3.4 million). The population is 13.3 million in Tokyo proper, and over 20 million if the nearby areas of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama are included. Considering Tokyo’s much greater size, any generalization or conclusion must remain even more qualified than for other cities.

Tokyo didn’t even make the top 10 in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s livability survey in 2014, Mercer’s Quality of Living Ranking 2015, where Tokyo came in 44th. Perhaps Monocle’s focus on hard-to-define metrics such as freedom, independence, joy of life and a combination of “heart-stopping size and concurrent feeling of peace and quiet” is what moved Tokyo to the top. Different metrics produce a very different picture of a city and its livability.

All such surveys fail to capture one of the defining issues about Tokyo and its surrounding urban areas, which is that life has become a lot tougher for the majority of residents in recent years. A recent report by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry found that the number of households on welfare in Japan is at an all-time high. For households looking for child-care options, stable employment opportunities, affordable housing and other basics of human life, Tokyo still needs a great deal of improvement.

Monocle noted that it is tired of cities “where parents never let their children run free and capitals that seem opposed to the odd late night out.” Tokyo’s children may have once been free to play outside, but less now than ever before. Most Tokyo workers have nights out, but they are more often than not connected to work. While Tokyo’s transportation system surely is the envy of the world, prices remain high for most daily items, and the price of groceries and shortages of some items like butter have become concerns for the majority of Tokyoites on increasingly tight budgets.

It’s not clear which side of Tokyo the survey is looking at. While the ranking is greatly deserved in many respects — surely it is a marvelous city and ranking No. 1 merits a degree of pride — Tokyo’s many problems still await solutions.

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