Tokyo: The Most Populated City In The World

Tokyo's journey to becoming the world's most populated city, is a testament to its economic growth, urban development, and cultural allure. This bustling metropolis is home to over 37 million people, reflecting its status as a global powerhouse.

Tyson Peveto
Tyson Peveto

Tyson Peveto is an American travel writer living abroad since 2017. After three years in Bangkok, he currently lives in Germany with his wife and dog.

Tokyo: The Most Populated City In The World
Photo:Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Tokyo, the bustling capital city of Japan, is the most populated city in the world, with over 37 million residents in its metropolitan area. Located on the eastern coast of Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands. The city covers an area of approximately 2,188 square kilometers (845 square miles) and is divided into 23 special wards, each with its own local government. The Greater Tokyo Area includes the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama, making it one of the most densely populated urban areas on the planet.

The population of Tokyo is diverse, with a mix of native Japanese people and international residents from around the world. The city has a relatively low birth rate, and its population is aging, with nearly a quarter of residents over the age of 65. Despite this, Tokyo continues to attract young people from across Japan and beyond, drawn by the opportunities for education, employment, and entertainment that the city offers.

Japan view of Mt. Fuji and pagoda in spring season

Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Tokyo’s history spans over four centuries, beginning with its original name, Edo. The city began to flourish when Tokugawa Ieyasu founded the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1603. As Japan’s political and cultural center, Edo grew into a significantly important city with a population exceeding one million by the mid-eighteenth century.

While the Emperor resided in Kyoto, the nation’s official capital, the Edo Period persisted for nearly 260 years until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. At this time, the Tokugawa Shogunate fell, imperial rule resumed, and the Emperor relocated to Edo, renaming it Tokyo, thus establishing it as Japan’s capital.

During the Meiji era (1868-1912), Japan eagerly embraced Western culture. Stone and brick buildings replaced feudal lords’ mansions, and main roads were paved with round stones. In 1869, Japan opened its first telecommunications line between Tokyo and Yokohama, followed by the first steam locomotive in 1872, running from Shimbashi to Yokohama.

Crowds at the Shibuya, Japan - Most Populated City In The World

Photo: Parry Suwanitch/Shutterstock

Western fashion trends emerged, and in 1882, Japan’s first zoological gardens opened in Ueno. In 1885, the cabinet system of government was implemented, and Ito Hirobumi became Japan’s first prime minister. The Constitution of the Empire of Japan, established in 1889, marked the foundation of a modern political system.

The Taisho era (1912-1926) saw an increase in urban workers and a rise in consumer lifestyles among citizens. Education improved, and more girls pursued higher education. Performing arts, such as theatre and opera, expanded.

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In September 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo. Fires resulting from the earthquake razed the city center, leaving over 140,000 people dead or missing and destroying 300,000 homes. A city reconstruction plan was developed but only partly realized due to budget constraints.

Tokyo Memorial Hall - Yokoamicho Park

Photo: Yu Photo/Shutterstock

The Showa era (1926-1989) began in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. Despite the somber atmosphere, Japan’s first subway line opened between Asakusa and Ueno in 1927 and in 1928, the 16th general elections for the House of Representatives were held following the enactment of universal male suffrage.

By 1935, Tokyo’s population reached 6.36 million, rivaling New York and London. Notable developments during this time included the completion of Tokyo Airport at Haneda in 1931 and the opening of the Port of Tokyo in 1941.

However, the Pacific War, which started in 1941, significantly impacted Tokyo. In 1943, the dual administrative system of Tokyo-fu (prefecture) and Tokyo-shi (city) was abolished for war-time efficiency, merging the prefecture and city into the Metropolis of Tokyo. The metropolitan administrative system was established, and a governor was appointed.

Tokyo endured 102 bombings during the war’s final phase, with the most devastating air raid occurring on March 10, 1945. The war concluded on September 2, 1945, when Japanese officials signed the Instrument of Surrender, bombings left much of Tokyo in ruins and by October 1945, the population had decreased to 3.49 million, half of its 1940 size.

Tokyo Shinjuku building and Mt. Fuji

Photo: Sakarin Sawasdinaka/Shutterstock 

In May 1947, the new Constitution of Japan and the Local Autonomy Law were implemented, and Seiichiro Yasui became the first Governor of Tokyo elected under the new system. In August of that year, Tokyo Metropolis adopted its current 23 special-ward system.

The 1950s marked a period of steady recovery for Japan. Television broadcasting began in 1953, and Japan joined the United Nations in 1956. Economic recovery was bolstered by the Korean War in 1950, leading to rapid economic growth in the 1960s.

Technological advancements and the introduction of new industries and technologies facilitated mass production of synthetic fibers and household appliances like televisions, refrigerators, and washing machines, transforming Tokyo residents’ daily lives. In 1962, Tokyo’s population surpassed 10 million. In 1964, Tokyo hosted the Olympic Games, and the Shinkansen (“Bullet Train”) line and Metropolitan Expressway were inaugurated, laying the groundwork for Tokyo’s present-day prosperity.

Senso-ji temple in Tokyo, Japan

Photo: Nattee Chalermtiragool/Shutterstock

The 1970s revealed the toll of rapid economic growth as environmental issues such as air and river pollution, as well as noise, became prevalent. The 1973 Oil Crisis ended the period of rapid economic growth.

During the 1980s, Tokyo experienced substantial economic growth due to its expanding global economic activity and the rise of the information society. The city emerged as one of the world’s most dynamic major metropolis known for its cutting-edge technology, information, culture, fashion, and public safety. Starting in 1986, land and stock prices soared, creating the “bubble economy.”

Under the bubble economy, Japan experienced remarkable growth, but the bubble’s collapse in the early 1990s resulted in a prolonged economic downturn and declining tax revenues, leading to a protracted economic slump for the metropolitan area.

However, Tokyo managed to overcome this crisis through two consecutive fiscal recovery programs. The population began returning to the city, and in 1997, the number of people moving in exceeded those moving out for the first time in 12 years. In 2001, Tokyo’s population reached 12 million and surpassed 13 million in 2010.

In March 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake hit the Tohoku region, significantly impacting Tokyo. Drawing on lessons learned from this catastrophe, Tokyo focused on enhancing its crisis management system. In September 2013, the city was chosen to host its second Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

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To ensure the 2020 Games was the best yet and leave lasting legacies, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government implemented various  initiatives, including infrastructure improvements, environmental measures, and cultural promotion.

The Most Populated City In The World

Tokyo’s population is projected to begin decreasing after peaking in 2025 but is expected to retain its title as the most populated city in the world for many more years to come. Considering societal changes such as an aging population, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has committed to making Tokyo the world’s premier city where a balance between economic prosperity and quality of life is achieved, allowing everyone to fully enjoy their lives.

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