As Japans capital welcomes immigrants and prepares to host the Olympics, 2019 could be the year the worlds largest megalopolis goes truly global
On a warm May evening in the narrow alleys of Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) next to the Kabukicho district of Tokyo, tourists perched on stools study English-language menus offering skewers of grilled meat and vegetables. Others crowd into the garish, glowing Robot Restaurant, a cavernous hall of flashing neon and dancing animatronic figures, or snap selfies in front of the giant replica head of the citys sci-fi nemesis, Godzilla. In neighbouring Shibuya they drive convoys of go-karts through the streets wearing costumes bearing a suspicious resemblance to Mario, Luigi and the other Mario Kart characters. (Last week Nintendo successfully sued the MariCar company for copyright infringement for the second time.)
After many decades as a famously impenetrable city to visitors, Japans capital is finally beginning to face outward. Tourism, particularly from China but also western countries, rose to record levels last year, and next summer the city will slide open its doors for the Olympics and Paralympics. The country has relaxed its restrictive immigration rules, a move that promises to transform Tokyo. The capital is already dotted with co-working spaces, artisanal coffee shops, international brand boutiques and the other accoutrements of a global city.
By many sensible measures, it met that criteria long ago. It is the worlds largest megalopolis, by far, with 13 million people in the central wards and a greater metropolitan area home to 37 million (Delhi is second with 27 million). It boasts the worlds largest metro economy, with a GDP bigger than that of New York and London, and is home to more global company HQs than any other city. Its public transport network, cleanliness, low crime rate and cuisine are unrivalled.