Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Past Issues
804: Drama Scene
803: Heads, Tails & Snake Eyes
801: A Legacy of Emotion
800: Through the Monocle
799: Fighting spirit
798: Taking the Stares
796: Friends Don't Let Friends Become Salarymen
795: Fuzzy Democracy
794: Hung Jury
792: Highway to Hell
791: The Cartography of Cyberspace
790: Train Talk
789: A Confessions of a Teenager in Kimono
787: A Downloaded Question
786: Counterculture Shock
785: The Good Sensei
783: Me, Charisma Woman?
782: Stumbling Block
781: Paradise Lost
779: Half and Half
778: Road Rage
777: Dumb Luck
775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ain't Easy Being Green
769: 'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Let's Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: I'll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes 'R' Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japan's Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters "R" Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthing's Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Caf Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Child's play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By James Hadfield

Illustration by Shane Busato

Through the Monocle
Most expensive, most livable… with Tokyo, it’s all about who you ask

James Hadfield is the editor of Metropolis

“These prices suck!” complains Bart when he and his family visit a Tokyo restaurant in a 1999 episode of The Simpsons. “¥10,000 for coleslaw?”

Such, alas, is the enduring reputation of this city. Though it’s been 20 years since the peak of the Bubble Era, Tokyo is still famed for its exorbitance. Earlier this month, the city reclaimed the number one spot in Mercer’s annual Cost of Living survey, buoyed by the strength of the yen. The BBC dutifully quoted its Japan man as saying this “would not surprise locals, who could find themselves paying $15 for a watermelon and $25 for a mango”—which struck me as an asinine bit of reporting until I spotted a shop near my local station hawking watermelons for ¥2,000 a pop.

But, really, is it that bad? What often gets forgotten with the Mercer survey is that it’s actually quite specific in its aims. Far from being a one-size-fits-all guide, the results are intended to help companies determine salaries when sending employees overseas. To exchange one stereotype for another, if you don’t live in a luxury apartment in Hiroo and do all your family shopping at National Azabu, Mercer’s findings might not really chime with your own experience of Tokyo.

Last month, a different survey painted the capital in an altogether rosier light. For the past three years, Monocle, the current affairs/design/culture magazine started by Wallpaper* founder Tyler Brule, has been releasing its own city ranking, focusing on quality of life rather than brute economics. In this year’s list, Tokyo once again occupies the third spot, with only Zurich and Copenhagen scoring higher.

“The reason we did it in the first place was that, when we looked at all these city surveys... they seem to be missing out on a huge chunk of what actually makes a city quite pleasant or livable,” explains editor Andrew Tuck when I catch him at the magazine’s Tokyo office during a flying visit. “Can you go for a drink at 1 o’clock in the morning? Is there a vibrant restaurant scene? If you come back from a trip on a Saturday, can you go and do your shopping on a Sunday? All these small things also make a city function.”

The Monocle metric takes account of public transport, crime rates and education, but also hours of sunshine, international flight connections and “chain store pollution.” These are, Tuck admits, “softer” and “more subjective” aspects of the city experience. But what of it? “Even when people pretend that their guides are 100 percent scientific, there is an element of what makes a city work for you.”

And, in Monocle’s case, Tokyo works rather nicely. The city is praised for its service culture, efficient public transport, low crime and abundant greenery. Tuck also admires the 2016 Olympic bid, which proposes to use existing buildings as much as possible rather than embarking on a construction spree. “It’s a real shame that that wasn’t a lesson learned in London,” he notes drily.

“I think what’s interesting about Tokyo is: here’s a massive metropolis that actually works,” he says. “Whereas that’s why, for us, we haven’t put on London or New York, because they don’t have that efficiency at their heart—they don’t tick in quite the same way.

“We also make it very clear that this isn’t a ranking of the most exciting places to live, or the grittiest, or the best place to be an artist, or the best place to become a millionaire. It really is about livability—so it’s about public transport, the green city, the ease of being able to set up a small company. Those are the kinds of things that matter.”

Monocle’s approach has attracted flak in some quarters for being too one-sided, too whimsical, but it’s not without its supporters. Since starting the survey, Tuck says that the magazine has become “very central to a debate” on livability, and that they are regularly contacted by city halls around the world looking for advice on how to up their game. Shintaro Ishihara is also a fan. When the Tokyo Governor spoke about the Olympic bid at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan earlier this year, he held up the Monocle survey as an indication of what the capital was doing right.

“He was interested by the fact we like Tokyo so much,” says the magazine’s Asia bureau chief, Fiona Wilson. “I think he’s probably used to hearing a lot of negative comments, so he’s quite interested in anyone who’s really, really positive about it.”

Wilson has lived here for nine years herself, and admits that she struggled to think of any bad points about Tokyo for this year’s survey. “Sometimes you hear people complaining, and you think, ‘Hang on a minute,’” she says. “I was having dinner the other night, and the waitress was being super polite. And this English person went, ‘Oh, she’s so polite, it’s really irritating...’”

Tuck roars with laughter. And well you might.

Got something to say about this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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