Tokyo and New York are two of the most famous and influential cities in the world. They are both cultural, economic, and political hubs that attract millions of visitors and residents every year.
However, they are also very different in many ways, and some people may prefer one over the other.
In this article, we will explore 10 reasons why Tokyo is better than New York, based on the urban design, infrastructure, culture, environment, and more of these two megacities.
1. Tokyo has a more efficient and convenient public transportation system
One of the most important aspects of living in a big city is how easy it is to get around. In this regard, Tokyo beats New York by a long shot.
Tokyo has more than 1000 train stations and 13 subway lines that cover the entire city. You can reach almost any destination in Tokyo by train, subway, bus, or bike, and the fares are relatively cheap and affordable.
The trains and subways are also very punctual, reliable, and clean, and they run frequently and late into the night.
New York, on the other hand, has only 472 subway stations and 24 lines, and many of them are outdated and unreliable.
The subway system is often plagued by delays, breakdowns, overcrowding, and rats. The fares are also expensive and keep rising, and the service is limited and infrequent at night.
The buses are slow and unpredictable, and the taxis are scarce and costly. The bike lanes are inadequate and unsafe, and the traffic is horrendous and stressful.
2. Tokyo has a more affordable and accessible housing market
Tokyo has a lower average rent than New York, which makes it more affordable for people to live in the city.
According to Numbeo, a website that compares the cost of living in different cities, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center of Tokyo is ¥141,190 ($950) , while the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the city center of New York is $4,095.
This means that Tokyo’s rent is about 77% cheaper than New York’s rent.
Tokyo has a higher vacancy rate than New York, which makes it more accessible for people to find and rent a place to live in the city.
According to the Japan Property Central, a website that provides information on the real estate market in Japan, the vacancy rate for rental apartments in Tokyo was 6.4% in 2020, while the vacancy rate for rental apartments in New York was 5.1% in 2020.
This means that Tokyo has more available and unoccupied units than New York, which gives renters more options and choices.
Tokyo has a higher quality and comfort than New York, which makes it more desirable for people to live in the city.
According to the Mercer Quality of Living Ranking, a survey that evaluates the living conditions in different cities, Tokyo ranked 49th out of 231 cities in 2020, while New York ranked 58th out of 231 cities in 2020.
This means that Tokyo scored higher than New York in factors such as housing, health, education, environment, and public services, which affect the quality and comfort of living.
3. Tokyo has a more diverse and vibrant street life
Another important aspect of living in a big city is how enjoyable it is to explore and experience the street life.
Tokyo has a more diverse and vibrant street life, with many small shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes that cater to different tastes and preferences.
You can find anything from traditional sushi and ramen to modern burgers and pizza, from cozy izakayas and karaoke bars to trendy clubs and lounges, from cute cat cafes and maid cafes to quirky robot restaurants and owl cafes.
The streets are also full of life and color, with neon lights, anime characters, street performers, and festivals.
New York, on the other hand, has more chain stores, fast food outlets, and generic buildings that create a monotonous and bland streetscape. You can find the same Starbucks, McDonald’s, and CVS on every corner, and the same skyscrapers, office buildings, and hotels on every block.
4. Tokyo has a more human-scale and walkable urban design
Tokyo has a more human-scale and walkable urban design, with narrower streets, smaller blocks, and more pedestrian crossings.
Tokyo has many narrow streets, called yokochō, that are lined with small shops, restaurants, bars, and cafes. These streets are often pedestrian-only or shared with bicycles, and create a lively and intimate atmosphere.
They also provide a variety of services and amenities within walking distance, and foster social interaction and community.
For example, the Golden Gai district in Shinjuku is a famous yokochō area that has over 200 tiny bars and eateries, each with its own unique character and clientele.
Tokyo has many small blocks, called zakkyo, that are filled with multi-tenant buildings that house different uses and activities. These blocks are often irregular in shape and size, and create a diverse and dynamic urban fabric.
They also allow for mixed-use development and organic growth, and offer flexibility and adaptability for the residents and businesses.
For example, the Nakagin Capsule Tower in Ginza is a zakkyo building that consists of 140 modular units that can be used as apartments or offices, and can be replaced or rearranged as needed.
Tokyo has many pedestrian crossings that are located at frequent intervals and allow people to cross the street safely and conveniently. These crossings are often signaled by traffic lights, zebra stripes, or raised pavements, and create a smooth and continuous pedestrian flow.
They also reduce the distance and time required to walk between destinations, and increase the accessibility and connectivity of the city.
For example, the Shibuya Crossing is one of the busiest and most iconic intersections in the world, where thousands of people cross the street in all directions every few minutes.
5. Tokyo has a more flexible and adaptive zoning system
A fourth important aspect of living in a big city is how well it adapts and evolves with the changing needs and demands of the people.
Tokyo has a more flexible and adaptive zoning system, which allows for mixed-use development and organic growth.
The zoning system is less restrictive and prescriptive, and more responsive and permissive. It allows for different land uses and activities to coexist and complement each other, and for the city to grow and change naturally and spontaneously.
New York, on the other hand, has a more rigid and restrictive zoning system, which separates different land uses and limits the potential of urban spaces.
The zoning system is more strict and prohibitive, and less flexible and creative. It prevents different land uses and activities from interacting and enhancing each other, and for the city to grow and change dynamically and innovatively.
6. Tokyo has a more resilient and decentralized infrastructure
New York has a more centralized and vulnerable infrastructure than Tokyo.
New York relies heavily on a single power grid that serves the entire city and parts of the surrounding states. This grid is susceptible to blackouts and brownouts due to high demand, extreme weather, or human error.
For example, in 2003, a massive blackout affected 50 million people in the Northeast, including New York City, due to a cascading failure of the grid.
In 2019, a smaller blackout left 72,000 customers without power in Manhattan due to a transformer fire.
Tokyo, on the other hand, has a more distributed and diversified power system, with multiple sources of generation and transmission, including renewable energy and microgrids. This system is more resilient and reliable, and can isolate and recover from disruptions more quickly and effectively.
New York depends largely on a single water supply system that delivers water from upstate reservoirs to the city through a network of aqueducts, tunnels, and pipes.
This system is aging and deteriorating, and requires constant maintenance and repair. It is also vulnerable to contamination, leakage, or sabotage.
For example, in 2015, a leak in one of the tunnels was estimated to waste 35 million gallons of water per day.
In 2017, a tunnel repair project was delayed and over budget, risking the water supply of millions of people.
Tokyo, on the other hand, has a more varied and redundant water supply system, with multiple sources of water, including groundwater, rivers, lakes, and desalination. This system is more modern and efficient, and can cope with different scenarios of water demand and availability.
7. Tokyo has a more innovative and creative architecture
Tokyo has a more innovative and creative architecture than New York. Here are some of them:
The Reversible Destiny Lofts in Mitaka, Tokyo, are a group of nine colorful and irregular-shaped apartment units designed by Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins in 2005.
The lofts are meant to challenge the conventional notions of living space and stimulate the senses and imagination of the residents. The lofts feature uneven floors, spherical rooms, hanging furniture, and sliding windows. The lofts are also reversible, meaning that they can be rearranged and transformed according to the needs and preferences of the occupants.
The Prada Aoyama store in Tokyo is a six-story glass building designed by Herzog & de Meuron in 2003. The store is a showcase of the Swiss architects’ innovative and expressive approach to architecture, as well as the fashion brand’s cutting-edge and sophisticated style.
The store’s facade consists of a grid of convex and concave glass panels that create a distorted and dynamic reflection of the surroundings. The store’s interior features a spiral staircase, a cylindrical elevator, and a series of display spaces that blur the boundaries between inside and outside.
The Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo is a complex of two arenas designed by Kenzo Tange in 1964 for the Tokyo Olympics. The gymnasium is a masterpiece of modern architecture, combining structural engineering and aesthetic expression.
The gymnasium’s roof is composed of two hyperbolic paraboloid shells that span over 100 meters and are supported by four steel cables and four reinforced concrete pillars. The gymnasium’s roof creates a dramatic and elegant silhouette that resembles a traditional Japanese fan.
8. Tokyo has a more respectful and courteous culture
In Tokyo, people often bow as a form of greeting and showing respect. The angle and duration of the bow depend on the status and relationship of the people involved. Bowing is also used to express gratitude, apology, or request.
In New York, people usually shake hands or hug as a form of greeting, but these gestures are less formal and respectful than bowing. Shaking hands or hugging can also be seen as intrusive or inappropriate by some people.
In Tokyo, people tend to use honorifics and titles when addressing or referring to others. Honorifics are suffixes that indicate the level of respect or intimacy between the speaker and the listener, such as -san, -sama, -kun, or -chan.
Titles are words that indicate the role or position of the person, such as sensei, senpai, or kaicho.
Using honorifics and titles is a way of showing respect and politeness to others.
In New York, people tend to use first names or nicknames when addressing or referring to others, even in professional or formal settings.
Using first names or nicknames can be seen as friendly or casual, but also as disrespectful or rude by some people. It is also not unusual for American children to call their parents by their first names.
In Tokyo, people often exchange gifts as a way of expressing appreciation, friendship, or hospitality.
Gift giving is a common practice in Japan, especially on occasions such as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, or holidays.
Gifts are usually wrapped in beautiful paper or cloth, and are presented with both hands and a bow.
The recipient is expected to express gratitude and admiration for the gift, and to reciprocate with a gift of equal or lesser value.
In New York, people also exchange gifts on some occasions, but the practice is less frequent and elaborate than in Tokyo.
9. Tokyo has a more clean and green environment
Tokyo has more parks and gardens than New York, which provide green spaces for recreation, relaxation, and nature appreciation.
According to the World Cities Culture Forum, Tokyo has 6,000 parks and gardens, covering 36% of the city’s area, while New York has 1,700 parks and gardens, covering 27% of the city’s area.
Some of the famous parks and gardens in Tokyo include Ueno Park, Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park, and Imperial Palace East Garden, which offer a variety of landscapes, flora, and fauna.
Tokyo has less trash and smog than New York, which reduce the pollution and health risks for the residents.
According to the World Health Organization, Tokyo has an annual mean PM2.5 concentration of 15 μg/m3, while New York has an annual mean PM2.5 concentration of 18 μg/m33.
PM2.5 are fine particles that can harm human health, such as causing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
Tokyo also has a more efficient and effective waste management system, which collects and disposes of the city’s garbage in a sanitary and environmentally friendly way.
Tokyo recycles about 20% of its waste, while New York recycles about 17% of its waste.
Tokyo has more trees and flowers than New York, which enhance the beauty and biodiversity of the city.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo has about 6.3 million trees, which absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, and provide shade and habitat for wildlife.
Tokyo also has a rich variety of flowers, which bloom throughout the year and create a colorful and fragrant scenery. Some of the famous flowers in Tokyo include cherry blossoms, plum blossoms, azaleas, hydrangeas, and chrysanthemums.
10. Tokyo has a more dynamic and diverse economy
Tokyo has a more balanced and diversified economic structure, which supports a variety of industries and sectors.
According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo’s GDP in 2020 was composed of 23.4% from information and communications, 18.8% from finance and insurance, 11.9% from wholesale and retail trade, 10.7% from professional and scientific services, 8.6% from manufacturing, and 26.6% from other industries.
This shows that Tokyo has a strong presence in both high-tech and traditional sectors, and is not overly dependent on any single industry.
Tokyo has a more innovative and competitive economy, which fosters a culture of entrepreneurship and creativity.
According to the Global Innovation Index 2021, Tokyo ranked first in the world in terms of innovation performance, ahead of New York, which ranked fourth.
Tokyo also ranked first in the world in terms of patent applications, with 46,772 applications in 2020, compared to New York, which ranked fifth with 15,814 applications.
Tokyo also has a vibrant startup ecosystem, with over 10,000 startups and 500 venture capital firms, as well as various support programs and initiatives by the government and private sector.
Tokyo has a more stable and resilient economy, which can cope with shocks and crises.
According to the Global Financial Centres Index 30, Tokyo ranked third in the world in terms of financial stability, ahead of New York, which ranked sixth.
Tokyo also ranked second in the world in terms of economic resilience, behind only Singapore, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Ranking 2021.