Tokyo is known all over the world and regularly appears in global news media. But do you know all of these surprising facts?
1. The city of Tokyo does not exist
Tokyo has been selected as the host city of the 2020 Olympic Games, but the City of Tokyo does actually not exist. Tokyo is not a city, but a so called metropolitan prefecture. It is governed by a governor. There is no such person as the mayor of Tokyo.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture consists of 23 Special Wards or Ku (each governed as an individual city, pink in the map above), 39 municipalities (green in the map), and two island chains, the Izu and Ogasawara Islands.
The City of Tokyo did exist in the past, from May 1, 1889 until it merged with Tokyo Prefecture on July 1, 1943.
2. Tokyo only became the capital of Japan in 1868
The Japanese capital has been in many locations, including Nara, Osaka and Kyoto. Kyoto was Japan’s capital from 794 through 1868. After the emperor moved to Edo in 1868, the city was renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital) and became Japan’s new capital.
3. Tokyo has more Michelin Guide stars than any other city in the world
Tokyo is the gourmet city of the world. In the 2013 edition of the famed Michelin Guide, Tokyo received 323 stars, more than any other city in the world. Tokyo is the home of 14 three-star restaurants. For comparison, Paris has 10, New York 7, while London has only 2.
4. Tokyo has one of the lowest murder rates of all major cities in the world
In 2009, Tokyo’s homicide rate per 100,000 people stood at 0.4, one of the lowest in the world for a major city. In comparison, New York’s was 5.6, Amsterdam 4.4, and London 1.6. Gun crimes are extremely rare.
This doesn’t mean that Tokyo is 100% safe. Roppongi for example is a high-risk area for credit card information theft, while Kabuki-cho, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro experience physical and sexual assaults, pickpocketing and cases of drugs slipped into drinks.
But generally, Tokyo is quite safe and it is common to see women walking alone on the streets in the middle of the night. Its citizens are famous for turning in lost items. Tokyo’s lost-and-found center annually collects about 1.6 million articles. In 2002, people found and brought in a total of $23 million in cash.
One of the reasons for the city’s relative safety can be attributed to koban, tiny police stations dotted all over the city. They are within walking distance from each other, and small ones may be manned by just a single police officer who regularly patrols the streets of his neighborhood on his standard white bicycle.
5. WWII Allied bombing of Tokyo was more devastating than the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima
We all know about the devastation caused by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. But one single air raid on Tokyo in March of that year destroyed a larger area, and killed more people than were killed directly during the atomic bombings. To this day it is the most destructive bombing raid in history.
That night, over 330 U.S. B-29 bombers destroyed about a quarter of the city. More than 100,000 people were killed (the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department estimated 124,711), and a million lost their homes. Some 267,000 buildings and homes lay in ruins.
In comparison, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima directly killed an estimated 80,000 people. By the end of the year, injury and radiation brought total casualties to between 90,000 and 140,000. Some 171,000 were left homeless. About 62,000 buildings were leveled.
The infamous air raids on Dresden, Germany, killed between 22,700 and 25,000 people in four raids over three days.
6. Tokyo is home to 26 of the world’s busiest train stations in the world
That Tokyo train stations are busy is well-known, but did you know that of the 51 busiest train stations in the world all but 6 are located in Japan? And 26, or about half of them, are in Tokyo.
Shinjuku and Shibuya Stations are the busiest with respectively 1.26 billion and 1.09 billion passengers per year. Yes, you read that right. Billion. Shinjuku Station has 36 platforms, over 200 exits, and is used by an average of 3.4 million people per day.
In comparison, the Gare du Nord railway station in Paris, France, apparently the busiest station in Europe, handles around 180 million passengers per year. Shinjuku handles that in less than two months…
7. Tokyo has more inhabitants than any other metropolitan area in the world
The population of Tokyo’s 23 Special Wards is over 9 million people, while Tokyo’s total population exceeds 13 million. Tokyo forms part of the world’s most populous metropolitan area with over 35 million people. It features the world’s largest urban agglomeration economy. Tokyo hosts 51 of the Fortune Global 500 companies, more than any other city in the world.
8. Tokyo is vulnerable to flooding
Tokyo is infamous for its many earthquakes. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastated Tokyo and killed 142,800 people. But floods? Actually, Tokyo has been repeatedly flooded in its history.
The photo above shows the Great Kanto Flood of August 11, 1910. The flood, caused by a storm, submerged more than 201 square kilometers and over 170,000 dwellings and buildings. There were 1,349 dead or missing. It was Tokyo’s third worst flood disaster of the 20th century. The last major flood in Tokyo took place in 1947.
If Tokyo’s Arakawa River breaks its banks, the government estimates that 97 stations stations will be crippled, 2,000 people may lose their lives and some 860,000 will be stranded. The city would come to a standstill, and it would be extremely difficult to bring in emergency supplies.
9. Tokyo’s Skytree is the tallest freestanding tower in the world
Tokyo Skytree, a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower in Sumida, is the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa (829.8 m/2,722 ft). Tokyo Skytree reached its full height of 634 meters (2,080 ft) in March 2011.
10. Tokyo’s Tsukiji market is the largest fish market in the world
The Tsukiji fish market is world famous, and you probably know that it is the largest fish market in the world. But how large is it?
Well, it deals in more than 400 different types of seafood and employs more than 60,000 people. Together with two other Tokyo wholesale markets, Tsukiji Market handles an incredible 675,000 tons of marine products a year.
But it has become too small and will move to new facilities, 40% larger than the current market, in 2015.
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