Tokyo’s surprising lack of density

Wendell Cox has received his fair share of criticism from this blog, but his post last week about Tokyo’s surprising lack of density is very interesting. Sure, Tokyo’s suburbs are dense enough to be connected by job centers by rail, but the core is almost completely low- and lower-mid-rise, and thus not very dense:

Tokyo does not have intensely dense central areas. The ku area [historic core] has a density of 37,300 per square mile (14,400 per square kilometer). This is well below the densities of Manhattan (69,000 & 27,000) and the ville de Paris (51,000 & 21,000). Only one of the ku (Toshima) exceeds the density of Paris.

And then the suburbs themselves aren’t as compact as they could be:

Further, according to the Japan House and Land Survey of 2008, Tokyo has a large stock of detached houses, by definition lower density. Nearly 45 percent of the Tokyo region’s housing is detached. One-third of the dwellings within 30 kilometers (18 miles) of the core are detached. This figure rises to more than 60 percent outside 30 kilometers from the core and 85 percent between 60 and 70 kilometers (37-43 kilometers) from the core (Figure 2).

Some might see this as a validation of New Urbanism (which is sort of a bastardization of Old Urbanism), whose response to tall building enthusiasts like myself, Ed Glaeser, and Alon Levy is that “dense doesn’t have to mean tall.” And it’s true – Tokyo manages a relatively high density with very few tall buildings.

But there are costs that Tokyo bears for its lack of height and downtown density.

First and foremost are the high housing prices. Imagine New York City if Midtown and the Upper East and West Sides were still tenement neighborhoods, and everyone living and working above the sixth floor was competing for housing and space in the outer boroughs. Narrow the streets and replace the prewars with postwar buildings, and that’s Tokyo.

Tokyo’s high housing costs manifest themselves in many different ways. For one, people cram themselves into tinier and tinier homes, and are forced to endure the noise of their neighbors in a way they wouldn’t be if half of them could be elevated into the sky. Smaller homes are ceteris paribus good more energy efficient, but not when so many of the homes in the suburbs are single-family detached, and thus less energy efficient than slightly larger apartments that aren’t leaking energy from all five exposed sides.

High prices also cause people to live very far from work. Many of them still take the train, but the commute is very long, sapping what is becoming an increasingly precious commodity: time. And some commutes are just impossibly long, limiting job opportunities and flexibility.

And then on an aesthetic note, the density caps lead to ugly (not to mention energy inefficient) buildings. Japanese cities have very few historic areas left compared to European and American ones, but redevelopment is limited by the fact that many urban buildings are built to the zoning envelope, and thus tearing them down and building anew will result in higher rents per square foot, but not more square feet.

In this way, Tokyo is a little like the northern Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint: huge demand drives up prices for a hideous housing stock that isn’t being expanded even when it is replenished.

Many people say that Japan’s low-rise skyline is the result of its earthquake-prone geology, but from what I understand, the consensus among engineers nowadays is that skyscrapers aren’t actually more earthquake-prone than lower buildings. Shortly after Japan’s earthquake last year, R. Taggart Murphy at TNR wrote that “skyscrapers, if properly constructed, were actually more structurally stable than the six-to-eight-story office buildings that then constituted Japan’s standard office blocks,” saying that Japan accepted this engineering reality in the ’60s when it allowed the first skyscrapers to go up.

And in fact Japanese seem to be demanding downtown high-rises. Even after the earthquake, Japanese buyers didn’t abandon high-rises like everyone thought they would:

In the months right after last year’s March 11 earthquake, sales of [high-rise] condominiums in Tokyo dropped 30 percent compared to the previous year. Much of the drop was in areas surrounding Tokyo Bay, which is basically landfill. Fears of liquefaction caused potential buyers of tower condos to reconsider, and for a while the media surmised that planned high-rise housing projects might be abandoned.

That didn’t happen. According to real-estate analysts, the earthquake convinced many commuters to move closer to their workplaces, so if another major one strikes they would be able to get home quickly and without the need for public transportation. And the waterfront is within 5 km of the central business district of the capital.

Tokyo doesn’t need to embrace all aspects of the “hypertrophic” city. The streets, for example, can stay narrow. But it’s got to at least give up on the obsession with low- to lower/middle-height buildings if it wants to bring down housing prices, cut commutes, and give its inhabitants more space and privacy.

Come to think of it, a modern Japanese take on Manhattan’s Financial District would be pretty cool!

  • Alon Levy

    Tokyo’s single-family detached houses aren’t what Americans think when they hear “single-family detached houses.” The streets are much narrower and the blocks much shorter, so a larger proportion of space is dedicated to building footprint. (Also? 45% detached isn’t that high. Just sayin’.)

    The density is also much higher at nodes like train stations, and this arrangement lends itself to transit use much better than relatively uniform density. Those photos from New World Economics of very narrow streets flanked by single-family houses are of side streets; Google Earth-tour the major train stations and you’ll see very wide throughfares and rows of shopping centers and apartment buildings. Here is Nakano, facing away from the train station. This isn’t surprising – the entire urban geography of Tokyo and its inner suburbs is oriented around trains, and if you’re using rapid transit, you want to concentrate activity at the train stations. The result is that although the overall neighborhood density gradient from Central Tokyo to its outer-urban neighborhoods and inner suburbs is much gentler than in New York, within each neighborhood the development is spiky around rapid transit nodes. In contrast, American prewar cities’ urban geography is based on streetcars, or on rapid transit that stops very frequently and reinforces an independent grid.

    The other issue is that it’s a really, really bad idea to compare yourself to Paris and Manhattan, which are not the usual density one sees in prewar transit cities. I see the same problem in posts by Tel Aviv urbanists who should know better: comparing Tel Aviv to Paris and Barcelona, they find its density deficient – never mind that it’s denser than almost any other major or not-so-major European city.

  • Stephen Smith

    It may be that it’s a really, really bad idea to compare yourself to Paris and Manhattan if you’re Tel Aviv, but if you’re Tokyo, arguably the largest city in the world and inarguably the largest economy, it seems appropriate.

    You have a point about the spikiness, and I meant to add something to the original post about average vs. weighted density, which the “market suburbanists” have had problems with in the past, and Cox may be falling prey to here as well. And you’re right – in the US and Europe, rapid transit built bigger buildings onto a base of streetcar and walkable neighborhoods.

    And the Yamanote loop also has a lot to do with Tokyo’s weird downtown. (Suburban railroads were forbidden by the government from crossing it before WWII, and inside was only served by the metro networks – sort of the opposite of an efficient S-Bahn, for those wondering.) Does Osaka have a more defined downtown?

    On the other hand, given the simple logic of supply and demand and the yawning gap between construction costs and housing prices, Tokyo consumers could clearly benefit from having one of the gradients (city-level or station-level) made steeper.

    And even if you’re right that Tokyo is denser where it matters than most cities – even New York and Paris – it’s possible that because of this, the amenity value is rising faster than the upzoning, resulting in high prices. This certainly seems true in the US: it’s the densest cities where the gap between demand and supply is growing most quickly).

  • Miles Bader

    Besides the points Alon makes, note that:
    (1) Much “traditional” housing in Tokyo was of fairly fragile wooden construction (you can still find these buildings, but they’re going fast…), and, well, not very robust, especially when being fire-bombed. Wide swathes of the city were basically obliterated in WWII (e.g., look at pictures of the area around Shibuya station following the war: there’s nothing left standing at all!). So I think comparing to historic low-rise buildings in Paris or whatever is a bit silly.
    (2) In general, Japanese culture has a reputation for being less emotionally attached to old buildings, and more willing to knock stuff down and constantly rebuild. Yeah, you lose some neat stuff, but on the other hand, you get a lot of cool new stuff too. American cities feel positively stuffy by comparison…
    (3) My understanding is that the (huge) recent-ish increase in the number of high-rise buildings is very much related to earthquake safety: tall buildings were previously disallowed because of earthquake fears, and are now increasingly allowed because of improvements in technology. [what one hears is that the west-Shinjuku "skyscraper district" was possible earlier on because that area was considered more stable.]

    …and although this is based only on personal experience, I think Tokyo residential areas—even those in the center of the city close to major stations!—are usually very quiet; I dunno where you get the “endure the noise of their neighbors” bit from…

    [I think Tokyo's density and development pattern is very nice, it feels much more ... hmm, interesting than a lot of other cities. It's really kind of nice being able to walk from a super-intense commercial center into quiet and quirky residential streets in 5 minutes—and then 5 minutes later, stumble on another commercial center which you've never heard of, passing small parks, temples, .... There's very little of the "endless repetition of apartments" feeling you get in so many other big cities.]

  • Miles Bader

    It’s certainly true that low-rise residential areas in the immediate proximity of the most popular dense areas are pretty obviously populated by the rich (“count the Lamborghinis”…), but in recent years, there also seems to be an obvious encroachment of high-rise housing (which is also not exactly cheap, but … cheaper, I guess) into these areas.

  • benjaminhemric


    It’s unclear to me from the various posts why Tokyo has relatively little high-rise housing. Consensus seems to say that at least originally it was due to earthquake regulations, but that now this is no longer the case. One suggestion seems to be that it is a result of density regulations, but another comment seems to suggest that it is a result of a market lag, so to speak. If it’s a result of zoning regulations, what are the regulations (basically) and what is the rationale behind them? (Tokyo seems to have high rise office buildings, so why would high-rise apartment houses be restricted?)

    In other words, I’m wondering how much of Tokyo’s development pattern is actually due to “planning,” how much is due to changes in technology, and how much is due to existing (and past) market urbanism (Japanese preferences)?

    Benjamin Hemric
    Thurs., June 28, 2012, 2:45 p.m.

  • A.F.

    I consider life in a high rise to be hellish. My opinion is not from living in one; only from visiting friends in them and talking to people who had grown up in them and were eager to leave. I think that one of the great strengths of Tokyo is it’s size and density while still allowing one to have a house, windows, and a quiet street. Also, I understand that high rises are designed to withstand strong earthquakes, but tell me, when you’re 40+ stories up from the ground and your building is swaying in a violent quake, are you going to be sitting there with your arms crossed smirking or are you going to be saying “this is the last time I do this.” I’ve had plenty of good experiences living in 4 to 6 story buildings, but I just consider those heights and that separation from the ground to be inhuman.

  • Stephen Smith

    The thing about Tokyo, though, is that you don’t get “windows and a quiet street.” Your windows are next to useless since you’re so close to your neighbors (in fact, there is a law that says that it’s incumbent upon the homeowner to make sure that people can’t see in), and it’s noisy because you’re down on the street with everyone else and the streets are narrow (which they have to be, or else everyone couldn’t fit into such low-rise buildings).

  • Miles Bader

    I don’t think there’s any dramatic or unusual mismatch between “high rise office buildings” and “high-rise apartment houses.” “Olde” Tokyo had neither, basically; once the postwar recovery happened new construction was often “midrise” (5-10 stories), and there are a lot of both business and residential buildings of this type, and in recent years, there’s been a surge in the number of true skyscrapers for both business and residential use.

    High(er)-rise construction tends to be clustered around things like rail stations, or along major roads, etc., and it seems pretty plausible that businesses are simply more willing to pay a price premium for location than people looking for housing are (and businesses are in general less averse to some of the negative consequences of these very dense areas, like noise and traffic). Unlike, e.g., Hong Kong or Manhattan, Tokyo has a fair amount of space, so there’s going to be somewhat less pressure to build high except in these most desirable areas.

    There are certain areas, which seem offhand like they would be very desirable, but have a conspicuous lack of anything higher than about two stories, and I would be curious to know what’s in play there… [E.g., the "backstreet" areas in Jingumae, between Harajuku and Aoyama: palpably dripping with money, surrounded by highly desirable shopping areas and subway lines—but oddly undeveloped...] It may be that the well-moneyed residents who live in such highly desirable areas are also politically influential enough to keep development out (such things definitely happen)…

  • Stephen Smith

    I think you hit the nail on the head with the “backstreet” comment. The planning rules allow 10- to 20-story buildings on main roads and within a block or two (or more in bigger areas) of train stations, but there are plenty of places that are walkable to transit but on small streets or outside of a 5 minute walk from the train station that remain at two or three stories, despite the fact that people demand to live there almost as much as on the big streets and the areas that are within 5 minutes walking distance of the station. (like you said, “palpably dripping with money”).

    Partly I think this is due to the fact that people don’t value wide streets streets nearly as much as planners weight them. You see this in Manhattan too – demand on the streets is definitely lower than on the avenues (I’ve heard developers talk about the difficulty of charging “avenue prices for street locations”), but the difference isn’t nearly as large as the allowed density differences are.

    It also seems like Tokyo planners weight railway access too much and walking not enough. When your choice is live in a central-but-not-transit-adjacent area (of which it seems there are many in Tokyo) and walk 15 minutes to the train or live somewhere farther out where you walk for 2 minutes to the train but endure a half hour longer commute, the choice is obvious. But looking at the sort of development that Tokyo authorities allow, it doesn’t look like they recognize this.

  • Miles Bader

    Er, have you ever actually seen them…?

    Tokyo inner-city low-rise neighborhoods are definitely very different in style than ‘murcan-style single-family areas, but they’re neither noisy nor unpleasant—nor, for that matter, do they feel particularly crowded, despite the higher density. In fact they’re usually very nice. These houses are usually very small, without a garden (though if you’re rich …) or garage, but in terms of “lifestyle,” they really do give some feeling of a quiet respite even in the middle of the city.

  • John Hupp

    If earthquake code is Tokyo is anything like in LA, I would imagine that it’s not so much that they “can’t” build high-rises, so much as that the cost of doing so is higher enough that developers find it unprofitable to build up. This is one of the reasons you see predominantly wood-over-concrete five-plus-ones in LA; wood structures have a much lower mass, and therefore need less reinforcement than concrete or steel structures (and consequently cost dramatically less), but fire code limits them to four or five stories. Put simply, higher seismic forces amplify the disparity in construction costs between different structural materials.

    FWIW, much of Los Angeles is, in fact, zoned for four stories (eight stories on the boulevards). This would allow something approaching Paris density. One limitation I can imagine in Tokyo that does not exist in LA, though, is historically small lot sizes. If staircases and elevators are eating up most of your floor plate, it’s not really possible to exceed a certain height. Plus, Japan has a tradition of very strong property rights (see the mess when they constructed Narita), so there isn’t really any good avenue for conjoining adjacent plots.

  • Stephen Smith

    Okay, fair enough, it’s quiet because Japanese culture has so internalized being quiet so as not to disturb your neighbors who sleep 10 feet away from you.

    And maybe the neighborhoods don’t feel particularly crowded, but it’s a fact that the living spaces are more crowded. (And like I said, because they’re single-family detached houses, they’re not even particularly energy efficient.)

    Anyway, obviously they’re livable, and they have some charm, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best option or way to deal with the tradeoff between price and aesthetics (or at least, a certain aesthetic).

  • Miles Bader

    Not just “livable,” but often very nice.

    Anyway, I think there is no one “best” way. Although some of these low-rise areas are a bit odd (like the one I mentioned), I’d say those are something of an exception. Much low-rise housing in Tokyo simply tends to be in less fashionable or slightly inconvenient locations, and there’s generally a smooth decrease in density away from areas which justify it—there’s a huge amount of small and mid-rise apartments, and a quickly increasing amount of high-rise buildings; local density seems to be steeply trending up.

    In other words, I’m not really sure what the problem is: even if one can identify particular places which don’t meet some criteria for “optimum usage,” overall, things seem pretty reasonable, and seem to be developing in a fairly organic way in the right direction.

  • Stephen Smith

    The problem is high housing prices, long commutes, and cramped homes. These are quality-of-life issues in and of themselves, albeit subjective, but I see them as also contributing to Japan’s quite dire demographic problem. Not being able to afford an apartment with an extra bedroom for a kid might make you think twice about having one, and not having the money to move out of your parents’ house (a problem in Japan, from what I understand) might make it hard to start a family of your own. Having an extra-long commute sucks, but it’s also possible that some commutes are just impossibly long, depriving people of job opportunities (also a problem in auto-oriented sprawling US metro areas – it’s just impossible for some people to get to high-paying jobs on the other side of the city). Both high housing costs and long commutes hurt the economy, and feeling insecure about your economic future is a yet another reason not to have a kid.

    Anyway, obviously there is no “best” way to do things, but the world changes and there will definitely be a better way of doing things. Tokyo has some of the highest housing costs in the world, and to me (who has, admittedly, never been east of Istanbul or west of Hawaii), this seems like one of the things that would be ameliorated in a better world, and I’m trying to present options for doing so.

  • Alon Levy

    Stephen, pull up a list of developed countries by fertility rates. Economic future has nothing to do with it – Hong Kong and Singapore have even lower TFRs than Japan, and the European periphery ex-Ireland also has very low TFRs (and had them even when it was booming). Likewise, cramped living spaces aren’t the issue. There were cramped living spaces in all Tigers in the postwar era; it took concerted government programs to bring down birth rates, and it’s only relatively recently that governments have tried to reverse the trend as those programs grew too successful. I believe it’s true in Japan and know it’s true of Singapore and Israel that young couples can get the money for apartments of their own once they marry and have children (in Israel, parents save money to buy their children apartments precisely for this occasion).

    The issue is that Japanese society is assholish to working women, especially working mothers. Once education levels are high enough that women know how to use birth control, the correlation between women’s rights and fertility goes the other way, and this way Scandinavia has some of the highest adult TFRs in the first world, nearing replacement rate, while countries that haven’t made the same efforts end up seeing both low birth rates and low female labor participation. In contrast, in Singapore, they have quotas capping the percentage of women in med school, and working men get health care benefits for their entire family whereas working women get them only for themselves; we’re not exactly talking about a society whose gender norms were written by Betty Friedan.

    Japan’s dying-out hysteria comes 100% from its unwillingness to change in terms of culture, not housing development. Political leaders refuse to allow more immigrants in on the grounds that it would be even worse than dying out; we’re talking about the kind of country with private detective agencies that specialize in figuring out whether your intended spouse is a Korean who changed their name. Treating women as if they’re fully human is somewhat of a novelty.

  • Mathieu Helie

    It’s interesting how the meaning of density has been transformed over time. It now means “people per area” instead of “built area”. By the old definition, Tokyo is the densest place in the world, with very little relief from buildings in the form of parks or great public spaces (its most iconic space is the multiway intersection in Shibuya).

    I’ve had this hypothesis that Japan is free of urban sprawl as the large-scale planned development, the way we see it in America as the suburban subdivision or in China as the high-rise subdivision. While free of sprawl, Japan experiences the reverse from its unplanning – no urban civic amenities. Sweep over Tokyo in Google Earth and you find practically nothing but buildings – a complex array of buildings no doubt – but no open space until you reach the edge and farmland occurs.

    It seems as though Japan never progressed past the 19th century urban planning model.

  • Miles Bader

    Tokyo has tons of parks (and other “relief”, e.g. temples/shrines, many of which are park-like), both large and small. Is it “enough”? Maybe not, no doubt people would like even more. But your claim seems sort of bizarre.

    I think this would be obvious to you if you’d spent some time there, but even a brief glance at google maps shows this (“what are all those green places?”).

    Please people, if you’re going to comment on something which you clearly don’t know very much about, at least try to avoid using an authoritative tone, and use some weasel wording (“maybe”, “it could be that”, “one possibility”…).

    [And another meta note: statistics have their place, but they're not enough. Details matter (note Alon's point about how the scale at which density measurements are done can dramatically influence what they reveal). The real "goal" is vague concepts like "happiness," and although there can be some correlation with broad statistical measurements, it's very far from perfect (or even good). Looking at statistics tables and maps is at best a starting point for a conversation, not a basis on which to make grand proclamations.]

  • Miles Bader

    I agree that the right-wing has way too much influence on Japanese politics, and that there are some good arguments for allowing greater immigration to Japan, but I’m not sure how increased immigration would change societal attitudes towards women much. The majority of foreign residents in Japan come from fairly conservative societies as well, often more so than Japan (e.g., Korea, which is way more conservative than Japan, and has if anything more regressive attitudes towards women).

    Anyway, cartoonish politicians and the wacky desires of their most creepy supporters aside, Japan is obviously[*] changing, including in its attitudes towards women: it’s better now than it was 20 years ago, and vastly better than it was 50 years ago. It’s a fair argument (and I’d agree) that the rate of change is “too slow,” but any process where the majority of progress is made by people dying tends to be … :]

    [*] “Obviously” both to me personally (based on talking to people, of all ages and backgrounds, observation of how they act, and reading Japanese books and watching its media), but also in the sense that any culture which isn’t held in a straight-jacket and cut off from all outside influences (and Japan most certainly is neither) inevitably changes—and in the current hyper-connected modern age, things are accelerating.

  • Matt Robare

    The streets of Tokyo are narrow enough that people can use them, negating the “need” for buffers of empty land separating people from cars. Most parks in my experience are so disused that they become open garbage pits by day and centers for crime by night. There are some exceptions, usually when the park is in the center of a district surrounded by a complex array of buildings with a complex array of uses.

  • Matt Robare

    I would imagine that time-preference plays a role in housing development. I have no idea how fast people have been moving into Tokyo, but if demand for housing is growing fast enough then I should imagine that what’s been happening is that developers want to turn a profit as soon as possible and the housing that’s getting built is what the majority of people looking for housing are willing and able to pay. Presumably, not that many people can afford the premiums for living in a new highrise that result from the longer regulatory and construction time.

  • Miles Bader

    You can’t really apply American truisms to Japan though. Even in the case of obscure small parks in the middle of nowhere (in urban terms), Tokyo parks are like Tokyo in general: both very clean and very safe (even when unlit at 3am), and relatively well-used by “ordinary” people. It’s really a different world.

    I guess the safety and cleanliness may affect people’s willingness to live in smaller housing—the more usable public space is, the less need there is for private space (it’s not a perfect tradeoff of course, but I think the relationship holds).

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  • hilldomain

    “The streets, for example, can stay narrow. But it’s got to at least give up on the obsession with low- to lower/middle-height buildings if it wants to bring down housing prices, cut commutes, and give its inhabitants more space and privacy.”

    You are assuming so much from your cultural point of view and you don’t know what you are talking about. Here are ten things you didn’t know when you decided to write this article 1. You assume that the Japanese value their privacy like westerners- they don’t. And living in an apartment doesn’t solve this because if you own it you have to go to meetings with neighbors instead of having autonomy over your property 2. Why would the market want to bring down housing prices? 3. What do they care about someones commute times? There is no incentive to decrease commute times because people are used to it. But also the commute times in other cities are much longer than Tokyo (average 45 min.), Look at LA and your stuck in a car with lost time. At least in Japan your on a train and can read or whatever even if it is crowded. 4. You assume people want to get back home quickly. Men work primarily in Japan and they don’t want to see their nagging wives so they go out and drink and sleep on the way home. 5. Japanese don’t need nor want much space. There is a saying 1 tatami is good for one person to lie on or 2 to sit and talk. That is all they require. They don’t like to be alone and value group mentality instead of individualism in most cases. 6. The prices would stay the same or get higher if new buildings that are higher were built in central Tokyo because they are new so it would do the opposite of what you think. 7. Houses only last 30 years here and then are torn down, building 40-60 years. It keeps the construction workers working and is good for the economy at least that is how they see it. And people like new anything here. 8. The higher you build the higher the maintenance costs are and the less land you actually own. Then in 50 years you have to pay for a new building to be built or your kids do or you try and sell a worthless apartment because they don’t hold their value they decrease.
    9. The streets can’t stay as narrow as they are because of fires and safety vehicles need to get to peoples houses ad write now many streets are too small. 10. Development companies build apartment buildings and jack up the prices to make them un-affordable for the average family. Many built 10 years ago still can’t be sold and they just decrease in value. People don’t want em, there are too many, and too expensive.

    And about the arthquake. After about a month people were back to reality and forgot about moving downtown as if they could afford it. As you move downtown in most cities, the housing gets smaller and more expensive.

    The trend for young couples without children is to move into the city and build micro houses on micro lots. I live in a 730 sqm house in one of the nicer 23 wards that would be huge fr the couples aIl am talking about.

    The way I got around the price problem is to buy an old house (40 years) and only pay for the land (house is free). I had it inspected is all and will later reform it if needed. Japanese don’t do this. They want new. So the house next to mine on a comparable lot cots about $600,000 US built by some shoddy construction company that churns our cookie cutter homes with cheap ugly materials with new growth wood. I paid half that for a house built with old growth lumber and my taxes are next to nothing (about $1000 US a year). This 10 minutes from Shinjuku station by train.

  • hilldomain

    Have you been to Tokyo? you should read some of the articles and books on Urban Planning in Japan. They just don’t have a western approach to planning and it actually works. Tokyo Metabolizing( )
    is a good book in Japanese and English.

    Although Tokyo needs more parks it has been correcting the damage done throughout history by earthquakes (1923), fire bombings during the war, and the boom years of sprawl. yes there is quite a lot of sprawl. I am not sure why you would think otherwise. The cities just keep connecting from Tokyo, to Kawasaki, To Yokohama and beyond- 33 million people in the greater area. This is in contrast to America where there is a separation between say east coast cities by forest and farmland. Watch the animation Pom Poko which is about post war Tokyo sprawl.

    There are plans for a green ring which has already started. I live in Suginami and there is a large park and very small parks dotting the land scape. Its true most people now dont replant trees on their property once they subdivide them and build new houses but people use potted plants uniquely and now high rises are beginning to include green roof areas. You won’t find many old trees because of the war and subsequent fires. some European cities suffered a similar fate but not even close to the same extent (google it for pictures). But after the war the effort was making money and the Japanese did forget there historical ties to nature (Shinto roots).

    There are a few very large parks in central ring of Tokyo like Yoyogi Koen or the Imperial palace grounds but not many.
    One thing that Tokyo does have because there are not as many very tall buildings is the open sky. In this way Tokyo is a very bright city unlike Gotham city (New York) or other dark and dreary East coast cities like Philly. Tokyo is also much cleaner and orderly but some areas still have very quaint winding streets to explore.

    One thing I dont understand is why there are not more green roofs in every city (other than initial cost). I imagine whole cities where all buildings replaced there footprint with rooftop green.

  • Guest

    in Tokyo? i find all the parks well kept and relatively safe.

  • hilldomain

    I agree people use public spaces for everything here and hardly ever entertain guests. There is a place for everything in Tokyo in walking distance. And if people are at work for 8-10 hours a day, commuting for 2 hrs, drinking for 4 hours and sleeping for 6-8 wont need a yard to take care of a tree and a few plants are fine because there are parks.

  • hilldomain

    the properties even downtown used to be owned by many individuals so they were quite small. There is just no demand for high rises.

    What I like about Tokyo is many neighborhoods are built to human scale and that is very comforting t me. It just feels right. High rises throw everything out of proportion and especially when you look at building heights in Japan historically. So there is both a human and historical context that can’t be ignored. In the end it is more about people and less about efficiency (which I feel is just a negative by product of the industrial movement- industrial efficiency) .

  • hilldomain

    It depends on who your neighbors are. sometimes its eerily quiet other times every dog and their pup is barking , or the kids are whining next door, or I can here the old man next door clipping his toe nails, or the mopeds delivering newspapers 5 ties a day (starting at 4am), or the constant other deliveries, or you can’t just let a good fart out. But overall it isn’t like I imagine Brooklyn being, people yelling out the window at their girlfriend or whatever.

  • hilldomain

    But what about row houses in America.or Condos or apartments? You hear the neighbors through the wall. People everywhere like detached houses more than attached period. Make em more energy efficient. I mean already by not being 10,000 sqft they are more energy efficient and the weather in Tokyo is temperate. They also heat and cool only the room you are in (small rooms as well). Its just an American concept of comfort being related to excessive amounts of personal space. Once you live in a ell designed small space you would think differently. If you think of a first class seat on an Airplane you will see how luxurious a small space can be. Right now I am writing in a space that is less than 2 tatami long and 100cm wide, but it has a skylight ad the windows on one side so it seems cozy and spacious at the same time. I built this space on my veranda to write in. It works. Japanese houses can be claustrophobic if they are built incorrectly but if done right they are like well designed forts. I think people are imagining an American city with a small house. Its not the same. The houses are low so the sky is wide open and the roof lines and power lines create nice lines to gaze at. Add a few potted plants, a tree, a stray cat and children laughing and get quite a nice environment.