This is a question that is repeatedly asked by travelers or people looking for work in foreign countries. It’s commonly understood that the largest cities in the world will have the greatest levels of diversity, chances to find work, and the best educational facilities. However, it’s also known that, in general, the largest cities are also homes to the most expensive goods and services.
In order to determine what the largest city in the world is, it’s important first to establish the criteria in which we are grading them. A quick internet search will yield in conflicting results which, technically, is not incorrect. Some people view the largest cities from the number of citizens living within a certain municipality. Others view them from how many people reside in urbanized areas. It’s uncommon to grade the largest cities based on their physical territory since it can be quite difficult to determine the actual size (square feet or square meters) of each city as city lines can be ambiguously drawn.
However, the largest city on Earth is generally believed to be Tokyo in Japan.
Tokyo’s official name in English is Tokyo Metropolis. It is the capital city of Japan and is one of the country’s 47 prefectures. Tokyo can be further divided into different areas, and Greater Tokyo is the largest metropolitan area in the world based on population size.
Tokyo is often referred to as a city, but it is officially recognized as a metropolitan prefecture by the Japanese government. This city/prefecture combines the elements of both a city and prefecture, a characteristic found only in Tokyo.
In addition to being labeled as the largest city on earth based on several criteria, Tokyo was also ranked first in the Global Economic Power Index. It hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, the 1979 and 1993 G-7 Summits, and will become the host for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics and Summer Paralympics.
Tokyo became a leading international financial center (IFC) in the mid 1960s and deemed as one of the three command centers for the world economy. Other command centers include New York City and London.
Although the majority of Tokyo’s 13,572 square mile area (ranked 45th in the world in terms of size), roughly 36% of the metro area is covered in forests. All of its forests were designated as Natural Parks in March 2008. These forests are home to native cryptomeria and Japanese cypress, and their growths are more abundant in the mountainous regions.
Tokyo is a diverse prefecture with 23 special wards/cities. The dense population means that you’ll enter crowded spaces whenever you leave your hotel room or apartment, but it can get pretty quiet during nighttimes in certain wards.
Special Wards of Tokyo
23 municipalities make up the special wards of Tokyo that collectively are the core and most populous parts of the prefecture. They were originally combined and called Tokyo City but this was abolished during World War II to create the new Tokyo Metropolis. In English, we confusingly call each of these wards individual “cities” whilst calling them Tokyo as a whole. The most populous ward, Setagaya, is home to 910,000 people with a population density of 15,690 per square kilometer.
Tokyo’s Population and Foreign Demographic
Tokyo is by far the most populated city of Japan and even in the world. In 2017, it was estimated that there are a total of 13.76 million people in Tokyo. The average population density is over 6,075 people per square kilometer. There’s been an estimated annual population increase of about 1% (around 100,000 people), since 2000. Tokyo’s daytime and nighttime population is about 14.978 million and 12.416 million, respectively. The special wards with the most extreme differences between daytime and nighttime populations are Minato, Chiyoda, and Chuo.
In Tokyo, the largest foreign community is Chinese which consists of approximately 127,000 people. This is followed by Koreans with around 110,000 people. Filipinos make up about 32,000 of the foreign population while Americans make up 18,000. The Shinjuku ward has the greatest foreign population with almost of coming from South Korea and a third from China.
Transportation in Tokyo
All of special wards in Tokyo are interlinked through road, rail and air travel. The major airports are Haneda Airport (Ota ward) and Narita International Airport (Chiba prefecture) located about 60 kilometers south of Tokyo.
The high speed railway (bullet trains) known as shinkansen is a network that is preferable to flying for domestic travel. The maximum travel speed of a bullet train is about 320 km/h (200 mph). Using bullet trains, you can arrive in far away destinations in roughly the same time it takes for a plane to take off and land there. However, if you’re looking to travel between the 23 special wards of Tokyo, the most efficient way would be using the JR East train lines and the subway.
The main JR lines Tokyo are:
- The Yamanote Line (green trains), the most well-known of all Tokyo lines
- The Chuo Rapid Line (orange trains), which are also well-known and run east-west through the Yamanote Line. This train links Tokyo and Shinjuku stations.
- The Chuo-Sobu Line (yellow trains), which runs parallel to most Chuo Rapid Lines but has more stops.
- The Keihn Tohoku Line (silver trains with a distinct sky blue strip) which is technically two lines that merge at Osaki station.
- The Nippori-Toneri Line which is an automated train system that serves the north-eastern portion of Greater Tokyo.
In addition, there are two subway companies:
- The Toei Subway with four lines with a total travel distance of 107 kilometers
- The Tokyo Metro with nine lines and a total length of 195.4 kilometers
These two subways have a combined length of 195.4 kilometers and mainly serve the area inside of the Yamanote JR line. There are also numerous private railway companies that take commuters between destinations. These include:
- Tokyu Railways serving south-western Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture
- Toby Railways linking Tokyo with Saitama and Tochigi prefectures (including Nikko)
- Seibu Railways linking Tokyo to Tama Region in the west
- Keio Railways linking central Tokyo and Tama regions