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Japan Part 1 of 3: Tokyo

This is a month in the making and perhaps even tardier than that. As your disorientated guide, uninformed teacher and uninspiring leader, I apologize. Let’s figure out Japan.

NBC has done a lot of things right in this, the premiere season of what I hope to be a show of divergent course in the nascence of online-only media. What they didn’t do was give you viewers nearly enough information about our countries of travel. But, then, I suppose that is just what I am supposed to do, and so I am here to do it now.

So here it is: my first in a three part series that might just be my bid for an Encyclopedia Asiananica. I hope all of this will give you a better understanding of one of the world’s more interesting and powerful nation-states. Today, we’re going to very briefly and generally discuss Tokyo in every way I could think you might want to break it down. I will follow with two posts on Japan, a domestic breakdown and then try to place the country in a global concept. If you’re actually still reading, you’re probably alone, so keep going, if only out of pride.

Tokyo, as it is known, consists of the Tokyo metropolitan area, the end of which I can’t find, and the actual city of Tokyo. Tokyo sits in the Kanto region of the central Japanese island of Honshu. Yes, Japan is a nation made of several islands, making it an archipelago, and I am willing to admit that previous to my living here I wasn’t terribly aware of that.

Now, follow me here. Under Japanese law, Tokyo is a “metropolis,” not a city. Rather, Tokyo is made up of dozens of cities, towns, neighborhoods, 23 wards and some coastal islands. All of these have their own local governments, with the wards led by mayors.

Indeed, with a governor the political leader of Tokyo – currently Shintaro Ishihara – we Americans might see this city more like one of our states than anything else. Rightly so, the metropolitan size of the city is about 1,400 square miles. That is just smaller than Delaware’s 1,900 and nearly 400 square miles larger than Rhode Island. The 309 square miles of New York City’s five boroughs comprise little more than one fifth of Tokyo’s, while Philadelphia County is just 135 square miles. There are 12.5 million people calling Tokyo home, 8.1 in New York City and just 1.5 Philadelphians.

Despite Tokyo failing to fit in an American concept of city, it is the capital city of Japan nonetheless, as it houses the Japanese government and emperor, along with the embassies of the countries with whom Japan holds formal diplomatic ties.

With a city of that size there should be no surprise that Tokyo’s economy is the among the world’s largest. Indeed, there are limitless ways to order this world’s great cities, from population to size to wealth to mass transit to number of suits per capita. They all give you different lists, but take one bicycle ride through a particularly busy ward or one rotating ogle at the city’s continuous concrete kingdom and you will see, Tokyo is the largest, tallest, widest, densest, busiest, bicycle-crowd-iest city in the world.

The city, which has latitudinal likeness to North Carolina and Virginia, wears a comfortably temperate spring season from March to May. The season is known for peach, plum and cherry blossoms that flower and color the streets. From June to August, Tokyo regularly boasts temperatures exceeding 90 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity, too, just for laughs. In August and September temperatures occasionally flirt with the mid-80s, offset by the height of typhoon season that affects the Kanto region.

While the Pacific typhoon season is effectively endless, May to November brings forth more to northeast Asia, and September is home to the brunt of Tokyo-destined storms and winds. This accounts for the daily rainstorms, stolen umbrellas, and, as an interesting note so soon after the release of my third JYA episode, why climbing 13,000 foot Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest point, proves particularly perilous – often yielding no view from its summit.

Tokyo can bring in 4.5 feet of rainfall in a year, while North Carolina nets about 4.1 feet and old Philadelphia claims just 3.5 annually. December to February is Japan’s winter season. But, compared with northern Honshu, the main Japanese island, and Hokkaido, another island in the archipelago, Tokyo has relatively mild winter temperatures.

Shorthand form: Tokyo: it’s wet, hot, big and busy.

Click here to read “Japan Part 2 of 3: Domestic”.


I relied heavily on the CIA World Factbook, one of the spy agency’s most admirable annual endeavors, and supported it with my own anecdotal and conversational discoveries, one of the more nonacademic and equally untrustworthy methods for cultural understanding, but my primary tool, nonetheless.

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