Tokyo – Journey to the Future

Winning the 2020 Olympics has been a catalyst for renewed debate around Tokyo’s future. At JLL’s recent ‘Real Estate and Hotel Investment Forum’ in the city, we asked three renowned experts on Tokyo for their views on the city’s future and competitive position. The three experts were:

  • Dr. Hiroo Ichikawa, Director of the Mori Memorial Foundation
  • Kazuhiko Washio, Creative Director at Hakuhodo/Future Catalysts
  • Paul Tange, architect and President of Tange Associates

With the city’s first Olympics in 1964 seen as an important turning point for the city, propelling it on a journey towards true ‘super city’ status, many hope the 2020 Games can have a similarly transformative effect on Tokyo. Dr. Ichikawa saw three potential legacies for the 2020 Games. Firstly, he envisaged physical changes in the city due to the realisation of urban development projects sparked by the Games. Secondly, since half a century has passed since Tokyo first hosted the Games, he argued that it will offer a new experience for the city. Thirdly, he feels the Games will create a range of new business opportunities for Tokyo to capitalise upon.

But in the lead up to the games, more work needs to be done.  Dr. Ichikawa suggests that Tokyo has two major weaknesses: a lack of global connectivity and continuing barriers to entrepreneurialism. The city has been ranked 4th in the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Global Power City Index, of which Dr. Ichikawa is the Director, since its inception. To rise in the rankings and improve as a global city, he believes that Tokyo must make its economic system more flexible and become more accessible to foreigners.

Kazuhiko Washio recommends that Tokyo forges its own path – building a unique ‘Tokyo way’. He emphasised the city’s size and scale, and argued that Tokyo must not merely learn from other ‘super’ cities, but from cities with similar qualities. Tokyo must find a catalyst to turn itself into a truly innovative and experimental city.


The renowned architect Paul Tange has fears over the scale and nature of the changes the city will face. Already, he argued, too many cities are beginning to lose their individual identities – looking more and more similar to each other as they globalise. He stressed the importance of retaining Tokyo’s character, describing it as ‘chaotic, modern and old; with big buildings next to tiny houses; almost incomprehensible to non-Japanese’. To Mr. Tange, it seems that keeping this local flavour is just as important as transforming the city physically.

Overall, it is clear that the 2020 Olympics Games offer a once in a generation opportunity to transform Tokyo’s future, and to set the city on a new path. With the aim of attracting 20 million visitors during the Olympic year, there is a unique chance to spread Tokyo’s message across the world. However, this opportunity must be harnessed correctly, supported by the success of Abenomics, local reforms and an improved visitor experience. These changes, taken together, will further strengthen Tokyo’s position as an enduringly global city.

About the Author

Born and bred in Liverpool, Rosemary understood at an early age that cities have very distinct characters. As a town planner and market strategist her personal interest in what makes cities work, grew into a career and a passion. She is now an International Director and Head of JLL’s Cities Research Programme which she set up 12 years ago. Cities are constantly evolving, she says, models and urban personalities change, technology is always pushing forward and the choice of cities in which to invest, develop, shop and live continues to extend. Analysing, tracking and interpreting and anticipating the nature of the New World of Cities is as important as it is fascinating. Rosemary is a Trustee of the Urban Land Institute and serves on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Future of Cities.

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