Wednesday, July 08, 2009

What is a Tokyo ? (1)

With the Tokyo municipal elections coming up on Sunday, it is perhaps worthwhile to take a look at what Tokyo is.
First of all, it is a prefecture, not a city. Calling what will happen on Sunday municipal elections is accurate in so far as most of the population lives in what we in our imagination think is a city and its suburbs. The largest part of the main body of the Tokyo Metropolitan District is paved-over and built-over former alluvial basins and low uplands. However, the TMD has a long tail reaching 60 kilometers into the interior, into the spine of mountains at the center of the country, where settlement huddles along streambeds at the base of deep valleys cloaked in plantations of evergreens. The tallest mountain in the TMD, Kumotoriyama, is a none-too-shabby 2017 meters high, and it is surrounded by places where you really can get lost or attacked by bears.

Inamura Iwa Trail, Okutama Township
Tokyo Metropolitan District

The TMD government also administers the nearby Izu and the very distant Ogasawaras volcanic islands, 1000 kilometers to the south (Tokyo's remit indeed extends all the way to the uninhabited rock fragments of Okinotorishima, which the government of Japan has spent an extraordinary amount of money protecting). Here the main supports of the economy are, as in most of Japan's island communities, local government, domestic tourism and fishing. Whilst geographically silly, having the islands in the TMD is eminently sensible in economic and transportation terms. These tiny communities, rather than being cut off and scrambling, are sheltered inside the prefecture most able to support them.

Second, the TMD would make pretty good country, if independent. With its 12,688,000 inhabitants (10,000,000 of whom are eligible to vote on Sunday) it would be the 67th largest country by population, in between Mali and in Zimbabwe. By GDP, on an exchange rate basis, it would rank among the world’s top 25 economies, on a par with Belgium, Switzerland and Sweden. In terms of headquarters of Fortune Global 500 companies, it would rank second, behind only the United States.

(to be continued)

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