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The Urbanist’s Tokyo

A city that has turned itself back on again.


Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.  

This spring, the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world’s tallest broadcast tower (with restaurant, of course; this is Tokyo), is set to open: an apt symbol of the capital getting back on its feet after the gravity-altering March earthquake. But following two decades of economic malaise and a revolving door of prime ministers—six in the past five years—it’ll take a lot more than a 2,000-foot tower to set things right. Still, economic growth is up for the first time since the quake (alas, for visiting Americans, the yen is high too; at press time it was at 77 to the dollar), and there is a sense that things are finally starting to get back to normal—even as, notes one salaryman, TV network “NHK has been broadcasting a radiation map of Tokyo every day.” (There are, according to monitors, no dangerous levels of airborne radiation.) Meanwhile, one of the most noticeable changes in daily life is a heightened awareness of energy use, which some Tokyoites feel was long overdue anyway. You can see this in more use of natural light, real-time display readings of power consumption, and spirited anti-nuke marches, unheard of in the pre-Fukushima era. Besides that, the mood in the city is a bit more subdued, which may not be such a bad thing, says Roland Kelts, author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. “To some extent, a slightly calmer Tokyo is more pleasant.”


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