The most successful metropolis in the history
of the world has 39 million residents, 50% more people than any other urban area. It is the safest big city on the planet, and
with a two trillion dollar GDP, its economy is larger than all but eight entire countries. This is Tokyo, Earth’s model megacity. Our story begins 561 years ago when a samurai
warrior built a castle on the shore of a fishing village called Edo. Its rich soil was ideal for growing rice and
attracted farmers from far and wide. In 1600, the great commander Tokugawa Ieyasu
won the Battle of Sekigahara, a pivotal moment in history that secured Edo’s status as
the most important place in Japan. Unfortunately, the buildings of the expanding
city were made of wood and paper, a dangerous combination to confront the warm winds of
summer. Legend has it that on one particularly dry
afternoon in 1657, a priest made the deadly mistake of burning an unlucky kimono. The fire flared up, ignited his temple, and
engulfed 70% of the city. 100,000 people lost their lives. Despite the disaster, by the middle of the
19th century Edo’s population was in the millions. That’s when the military shogunate system
that had ruled for almost 700 years ended. A new government led by a young emperor finally
made Edo the official capital of Japan, renamed it Tokyo, and made the castle his imperial
palace. To celebrate his arrival, everyone toasted
with rounds of sake on the house. Around this time Japan opened up to foreign
trade and influence, with Tokyo driving the industrial revolution that was modernizing
the country. But rapid development had a cost: a strained
natural environment. Forests were razed, pollutants choked the
air, and Tokyo’s once pristine waterways grew increasingly toxic. It was time for a more conscientious approach. The principle of Satoyama was born, promoting
sustainable coexistence with nature, especially in the rice paddy fields covering Japan’s
sprawling foothills. Today, a century of conservation has resulted
in parks covering 20% of the land in the Tokyo metropolitan area. But while the danger from pollution has been
largely overcome, one natural phenomenon poses an unavoidable threat: earthquakes. In 1923, an 8.0 magnitude quake rocked Tokyo,
devastating the geologically unstable eastern wards of the city. As firestorms engulfed whole neighborhoods,
some took advantage of the chaos to target political enemies and minority groups, like
Koreans. When the smoke finally cleared, 140,000 people
had perished. Just twenty-two years later, in 1944, Tokyo
was hit again. This time from above by allied air forces
who waged a relentless nine month campaign that lasted until Japan’s surrender to end
WWII following America’s detonation of two atomic weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the worst night of the onslaught, 279 Boeing
B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers dropped more than 1,600 tons of explosives on Eastern Tokyo. It is regarded as the single most destructive
bombing raid in human history, leaving more than 100,000 dead and more than 1 million
homeless. It took generations for Tokyo to completely
recover, but today – after more than seven decades at peace – Tokyo is thriving. Its dense metropolitan area now stretches
an incredible 32 uninterrupted kilometers all the way to Japan’s second largest city,
Yokohama. While roads and highways are how many get
around, the arteries that set Tokyo apart from other megacities are its extensive rail
lines. After WWII, Japan didn’t have access to
the oil reserves an automobile-focused transport system required, so the government wisely
invested heavily in rail projects to connect central Tokyo with surrounding towns and cities. In October 1964, just in time for Tokyo to
host the summer Olympics, Japan debuted the world’s first modern high-speed rail line
to Osaka, the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, with trains reaching speeds of 256 km/hr. Today, Tokyo’s urban rail network serves
a world-leading 40 million passengers a day. Compare that to America’s car-dominated
system where space for roads and parking can take up to 60% of a city’s available land. Of course, Tokyo has innovative ways of storing
the cars that it does have, and its bikes. Congestion has also been eased by an $11 billion
megaproject. The Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is one-thirds bridge,
two-thirds tunnel. It has turned what was a 90-minute drive through
downtown and around the shore of the bay, into a 15-minute sprint through it instead. The project took 30 years to design and complete
because it has to withstand the ever-present danger of earthquakes. That’s also why buildings in Tokyo cost
an extra 50 percent to construct and why they tend to be shorter than the skyscrapers in
other economic capitals, two factors that drive up real estate prices and add to urban
sprawl. From above, Tokyo seems like an unnavigable
maze. But on the ground, life for many is lived
locally within their own neighborhoods. Shops and businesses to obtain day-to-day
essentials can usually be reached within a short walk, including many of the world’s
greatest sushi restaurants. Japan runs on seafood. Along Tokyo’s harbor lies Tsukiji, the largest
fish market on Earth. Everyday, more than 50,000 people come to
buy and sell 400 different types of seafood. Among the buyers are the chefs of the 227
restaurants with at least one Michelin star, making Tokyo the city with the most of these
prestigious marks of excellence. In fact, when President Obama visited Tokyo,
he ate handcrafted sushi prepared by the great Jiro himself. He also played football with a humanoid robot,
just one example of how Japan is leading the global transition to automation. As a technology superpower, Tokyo is home
to the most non-state-owned Fortune 500 companies of any city in the world and – along with
New York and London – is considered one of three command centers of the global economy. All of these factors make Tokyo the most advanced
major city, and it’s getting ready to put on a show for the entire world. In the summer of 2020 it will host the Olympic
Games. This is motivating Tokyo’s metropolitan
government to use its massive annual budget, which is larger than the country of Saudi
Arabia, to fast-track its progress. Among the achievements that are already complete,
or that officials are hoping to showcase to the world, include: A program to have functioning robots installed
throughout the city to assist people regardless of age, nationality, or disability. The 920,000 expected daily visitors during
the Olympics could ask nearby robots to help with language translation, directions, or
transportation. Robots are just one example of how hosting
the games could benefit Tokyo’s citizens long after the closing ceremony. With an aging population projected to peak
in 2020, and then decline, Tokyo is experiencing a graying of its society on a scale that no
city has experienced before. And because there will be fewer workers paying
taxes, and more elderly living on government pensions requiring care, the government is
heavily encouraging volunteerism. This shouldn’t be too hard for the citizens
of Tokyo, some of the most considerate people on Earth. They routinely rank first in helpfulness,
ease of local public transportation, and cleanliness of streets. Amid the turmoil following the March 2011
earthquake, visitors praised Tokyoites for their orderliness. This is part of Gaman, the Japanese spirit
of self-control–a dedication to the greater good through self-discipline. Of course, well planned and maintained infrastructure
is the main reason why Tokyo works so well. Recent and soon-to-be-completed projects include: A bold, $350 million plan to jump-start a
hydrogen-powered transportation system by increasing the number of hydrogen stations
from eight to 35, while putting 6,000 fuel cell cars and 100 fuel cell buses on the road
by 2020. A network of fuel cell vehicles – which can
double as mobile electricity generators – could be a gamechanger in an emergency. Just two of these buses can power an entire
hospital for a day. Other transportation upgrades include the
three-ring expressway that’s cut many trips throughout the region in half; Repairing and reinforcing bridges, tunnels,
and roads using advanced laser scanning technology and carbon fiber with the aim of detecting
problematic infrastructure before it fails, while extending its life up to 100 years; Installing more solar heat-blocking pavement
that’s up to 8°C cooler than asphalt to help solve Tokyo’s heat island problem—a
challenge faced by many other cities around the world; Transferring as many power lines underground
as possible, widening sidewalks, doubling the amount of dedicated bike lanes, and opening
outdoor cafes in an initiative dubbed the Tokyo Champs Elysees project. The city is aggressively reducing CO2 emissions
through the first urban cap and trade system covering factories and commercial facilities,
like office buildings. To reduce the danger of heavy flooding from
rainfall, massive underground chambers and tunnels have been installed to regulate and
divert waters from rivers, channels, and sewers that have traditionally overflowed; These measures go hand-in-hand with an integrated
series of floodwall gates, rain gauges, and river level monitoring cameras that are watched
24/7 by engineers at two command centers that can each operate the entire system remotely
in case either one of them fails. With so much historical damage from fire,
officials are pushing to replace old wooden houses with fireproof ones, creating entire
zones where residents wouldn’t have to evacuate during a nearby blaze, and ensuring that major
routes are lined with fire and earthquake proof buildings so emergency vehicles can
move freely. Amplifying the appeal of hosting the Olympics
is the opportunity to share these advancements with their guests, who are encouraged to implement
these best practices in their own cities. Tokyo already does this by hosting and teaching
foreign first responders the most advanced search and rescue techniques, sharing infrastructure
best practices with officials visiting from abroad, and helping engineers from Kuala Lumpur
update their wastewater management system. Tokyo is also a pioneer in land reclamation. With mountains hemming its growth, adding
land to the bay is an increasingly attractive option, particularly if that land is made
of trash. The Sea Forest area is a former landfill that
is being converted to parkland and will even host Olympic events. In the coming years, population growth and
rising seas will force the entire world to do more with less. And while Tokyo isn’t perfect, by using
its resources wisely, planning for the future, and sharing what it learns with the rest of
the world, it should be a model for cities of all sizes, everywhere. If you enjoyed this video, subscribe and check
out my other examinations of mega-cities and mega-projects. Until next time, I’m Bryce Plank.


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