ad info

Main Page

And the Winner is...

Cover Story
Making Cities Work
What Makes Good Governance?

Asia's Best Cities
The Top Ten
The Complete Rankings

The Rankings Explained

Hong Kong vs. Singapore
The Competition Heats Up
A Comparison
Different Lifestyles

A devil of a job in the City of Angels

Dollars and Sense

overall rank: 1

country: Japan

population: 11,875,162

snapshot: The City at a Glance

Tokyo has ranked among the world's largest cities for centuries, and the experience shows in its ability to deliver services to its residents. Aside from the basics - utilities, schools, clean streets, efficient public transport - at which Tokyo traditionally excels, the Japanese megapolis provides sign-language interpreters for the deaf, home helpers for the elderly, and subsidies for single-parent households. Not that officials can smooth all the rough spots. Tokyoites justly complain of cramped housing, the lack of greenery, and a deteriorating environment. But the city works.

Still, looking after the needs of 12 million people is a stretch. Take garbage. The city produces millions of tons a year (it peaked at 4.9 million tons in 1989). The city runs a ''Tokyo Slim" campaign to encourage residents to reduce waste and to recycle cans, glass and plastic. People are required to put out all household garbage in specially-produced transparent bags that do not pollute during incineration. Recently, the city began charging for refuse from collection offices and factories to encourage them to throw out less. Still, landfill space is running out and opposition to incineration is growing due to concerns about harmful emissions.

And with size and success came not a little hubris that Tokyo is finding it can ill afford, especially during a recession. The city is in an unprecedented financial pinch with revenues falling and debts totalling over $50 billion. Tokyo is also burdened with huge public facilities that sprouted during the l980s boom - the $1.3 billion city hall is dubbed "tax tower" - and that are still being paid for. The days when Tokyo felt it had to have the biggest and best of everything are past. "It is no longer a time for expansion but for efficient use of existing resources," says Sasaki Katsumi, director general for policy and information at the metropolitan government.

Many officials not only lavished spending on pork barrel projects, they lavished it on themselves. From dubious "study trips" abroad to "karaoke conferences" at home, government profligacy has drawn the ire of taxpayers and the attack of crusaders like Goto Yuichi, a baker who battles "tax thieves" in his spare time - one of his lawsuits forced a former mayor and his aides to pay back to city coffers some $6.5 million spent on excessive wining and dining. Governor Aoshima Yukio has pushed for improved financial disclosure and is inviting citizen activists to sit on committees studying new development plans.

Aoshima's election in 1995 was something of a turning point for Tokyo. A former comedian, Aoshima pledged during his campaign to scrap a planned $1.6 billion world cities exposition promoted by the incumbent governor. The amateur politician won and the expo was canned, much to the delight of taxpayers. Aoshima, 66, has not turned a completely new leaf for Tokyo, though. He scaled back, but did not halt, another controversial waterfront development, and broke a promise not to bail out two ailing credit unions.

The mayor is also reducing the number of bureaus in order to promote horizontal linkages over top-down policy-making, and giving local communities more autonomy in running operations like garbage collection. That is moving in the right direction for Fujita Aiko. A housewife five years ago, she joined a grassroots group and today is a member of the 128-seat metropolitan assembly. She is an ardent advocate for a slimmer administration, with power devolved to units closer to residents. Says Fujita: "We need to provide many services to citizens, such as home care for elderly people, not from a national point of view or a city's point of view, but more from a community point of view."

- By Murakami Mutsuko

Snapshot: The City at a glance

City AverageRank
Overall Score73521
Average Income US$51,374(b)8,7631
State Educational Spending Per Cap/$536.20200.226
a Ratio of House Price to Income6.3(c)246
Hospital Beds per 1,00012.165
Dust/Suspended Particles(ug/m3)45240.733
Vehicles per KM City Roads202*224.6222
Criminal Cases per 10,000198.58136
TV Sets per 1,000500+*241.693

Back to the Main Page


a = Average house price divided by average annual income.
b = Household income.
c = Based on household income.
d = Officially, land cannot be bought or sold.
e = National figure.
f = U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Pollutants Standards Index.
g = Air Pollutant Index.
h = Per 100 families
i = Per 1,000 families
j = Per 75,000 people.
k = National figure, TV sets per 1,000 people.
m = % of households with TV sets.
n = Measured in Parts per Million (ppm).
Back to top

Asiaweek features | Asiaweek home