How many people live in Tokyo?

So I’m back in the United States, and friends and family ask me over coffee and drinks: how many people live in Tokyo? The answer requires explanation—some sources say 8 million, others say 12.5 million, others 34.5 million. It’s not that the Japanese census is that unreliable. Instead, distinctions must be carefully made between the 23 wards of Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolis/Prefecture, and the Greater Tokyo Area.


Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is the de facto capital of Japan, but there’s nothing in law that defines this as such. Tokyo is also the only prefecture called a “metropolis,” but there is no legal difference between Tokyo and other prefectures. The prefecture is made up of villages and cities, the same as any other prefecture, except that in the east the municipalities are called ku, or “wards.”

These 23 wards are just ordinary municipalities that are functionally the same as a city, but exist under a different name as a holdover from the pre-war local government regime. There is no unifying body or collective unit that binds these 23 wards together apart from the rest of Tokyo prefecture, but these 23 wards are collectively considered to be the heart of urban Tokyo. The population of Tokyo prefecture is about 12.5 million; the 23 wards have a collective population of about 8.5 million.


The capital of Japan; the green dot in the center of the map is the Imperial Palace.

But as the above map shows, the borders don’t mean the city stops. In many ways, nearby cities Chiba, Kawasaki, and Yokohama share more in common with the 23 wards than the mountains in western Tokyo Prefecture. And the three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba are therefore often included in the definition of Greater Tokyo, or Shuto Ken.

Tokyo’s 12.5 million people, Kanagawa’s 9 million, Saitama’s 7 million, and Chiba’s 6 million make for a combined total of 34.5 million people in this greater block, which is about 25% of Japan’s entire population concentrated in one area.


The four prefectures of Greater Tokyo

So that’s the short answer to the question that makes up this post title.

23 thoughts on “How many people live in Tokyo?

  1. It’s actually a little higher than that. The Cabinet office released figures last year recording the Tokyo population at 12.76 (the metropolitan government puts the number a little higher still) which is the first time in 28 years to reach 10% of the national figure (127.77 million). The population of the area in and around Tokyo “increased to 34.83 million—27.3 percent of the national figure. The ministry’s findings also showed that 64.61 million people—50.6 percent of the country’s population—lived in the metropolitan areas in and surrounding Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.”

    Lower land prices are one factor which has increased population concentration. Tokyo in fact experienced a depopulation trend between 1967 and 1997 in part because people couldn’t afford to live there. This also shows up in the daytime population which is usually around 20% higher than the recorded official figure but is trending higher. That’s important for infrastructure planning and distribution of tax revenues. In defence of Tokyo’s tax take, Ishihara always like to point out that Chiyoda, Chuo and Minato wards have daytime populations over eight times their night time figures.

  2. These 23 wards are just ordinary municipalities that are functionally the same as a city, but exist under a different name as a holdover from the pre-war local government regime.

    It makes plenty of sense when you consider that before the wards became the modern “special wards” (特別区 tokubetsu-ku) they were simply normal wards in the city of Tokyo (東京市 tōkyō-shi) which existed from 1889 to 1943.

    Also, “Greater Tokyo Area” is a vague English expression with no single agreed-upon definition. On the other hand the National Capital Region (首都圏 shutoken) is defined as including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, and Yamanashi, so it is significantly bigger than the area described in this post.

  3. Thanks all for the comments.

    Aaron, part of your correction is right—my post was mistaken in the Japanese of Greater Tokyo as defined, which should be “Tokyo-ken”, which is the four prefectures; “Shutoken” is the national capital region which contains 8 prefectures you describe. More fun maps are on the link too:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Tokyo_Area#Various_definitions_of_Tokyo.2FKant.C5.8D

    In 1943, the City of Tokyo and the Prefecture of Tokyo—Tokyo-shi and Tokyo-fu—merged to become Tokyo-to, the modern metropolis. At that time the wards became independent municipalities and have ended up existing in that form to this day.

  4. Adding places like Yokohama and Chiba into “Greater Tokyo” may work on paper etc, but if you ask people in those cities you will find a lot of people who do not consider themselves ‘from Tokyo’ but from their city (i.e. Yokohama etc).

  5. 23区 is also a range of womens wear from Onward Kashiyama.

    http://www.23ku-web.jp

    It’s always seemed like an odd name for a fashion brand. I can’t imagine “32 Boroughs” working in Britain. Then again, the majority of Londoners would be hard pressed to tell you how many boroughs the city has whereas most Tokyoites seem to know there are 23 wards. Quite a few are able to name them all as well although Nerima-ku often trips people up except those who live there. A smaller number of people in Tokyo seem to know how many wards there are in Osaka (24). Unless they come from Kansai. In my random questioning over the years, most people who don’t know usually guess that Tokyo has more wards than Osaka which can win you a few drinks or a punch in the face depending on the mood of your audience and whether they have decided you are too much of a smart alec.

    If you want to push your luck, you could also ask how many wards Nagoya has (16) and which ward names are common to all three cities (only Minato-ku and Kita-ku). Most people, if they are tolerating your insufferable smugness at this point, guess Chuo-ku but the equivalent of “central ward” in Nagoya is Naka-ku.

  6. This is a nice uncontroversial issue that can nevertheless generate endless discussion among nerds.

    Harder to determine – how many people are from X country in “the greater Tokyo area.” Sure, various govt sources have the data, but it’s a pain and who is to say one definition of greater Tokyo is better than another. If you count Chiba and Ibaragi, can you really say that the WHOLE prefecture in each instance is really part of a metropolitan or even suburban area? Same goes for some areas inside Tokyo prefecture. One question I have (and when the time comes would look up if I had to) – is there any widely accepted definition, and is it actually reasonable?

  7. “It’s always seemed like an odd name for a fashion brand. I can’t imagine “32 Boroughs” working in Britain. Then again, the majority of Londoners would be hard pressed to tell you how many boroughs the city has whereas most Tokyoites seem to know there are 23 wards.”

    Yeah, but you could totally have a brand named “Five Boroughs” from New York City. I think the “five boroughs” of NYC are probably even more often referred to than the “23 wards” of Tokyo, partly because there are few enough of them that anyone can remember the full list.

    It is interesting though that only in Tokyo does the number of wards have any cultural relevance in Japan. Kyoto has 11 wards, and while I’m sure I could have named all of them easily, if you had asked me to just give a number I probably would have said “9 or 10” without doing an actual count.

    “If you count Chiba and Ibaragi, can you really say that the WHOLE prefecture in each instance is really part of a metropolitan or even suburban area?”
    This really applied to ANY “greater metropolitan area”. For example, while it is uncontroversial that my hometown of Montclair lies within the “greater NYC area”, I’m not sure if you would automatically make that assumption about Curzon’s home town in the western part of the state, and you’d really be stretching if you include a town like Cherry Hill in South Jersey, which prides itself on being part of Philadelphia’s metro area.

  8. And to continue, I just noticed that the transportation section of the English language Wiki page for Kyoto includes a link saying “See Transportation in Greater Osaka”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyoto#Transportation

    I must admit I have never even SEEN the expression “Greater Osaka” before, and Kyoto or Kobe residents would probably be angry to be lumped into that category. Of course, the usual name for what they seem to refer to would be Keihanshin, referring to Kyoto Osaka and Kobe, but even this can get a bit tricky when you consider that Kyoto Prefecture includes some very faraway and very rural territory to the north.

  9. “It’s always seemed like an odd name for a fashion brand. I can’t imagine “32 Boroughs” working in Britain.”

    Old England works in France.So is Shanghai Tang in Hong Kong. God knows why someone thought “Banana Republic” can be a brand name.

    “If you want to push your luck, you could also ask how many wards Nagoya has (16) and which ward names are common to all three cities (only Minato-ku and Kita-ku). ”

    Once again you beat me to it.Having lived in the city for almost a year now and still didn’t know how many ward that the Nag got.

    Being a Chiba born and having lived there for four years,I know that many who lives in the 下総Shimofusa region consider themselves as 千葉都民,instead of 県民、上総that lies in the Boso peninsula is another story.
    Funny trivia is 下総locates in the north and not south and 上総locates in the south and not north.This reflects the times when the center of Japan was in Kansai and the way to connect Chiba and the capital was seaward by Kuroshio current.

    And don’t for get about the formal name of Narita airport is New Tokyo International Airport,let alone the fact Disney Land in Urayasu is being called as “Tokyo” instead of “Chiba”.

  10. X-post to my shared items———————-

    Very neat overview of a simple population question. Many of the questions we ask don’t have simple answers, and it’s important to have the occasional accurate analysis.

    The final figure this post presents is 34.5 million people, and wow, I have some trouble with that figure. It’s more than any other figure for the metropolis I’ve heard before, but I suppose I can’t dismiss it. What an area!

  11. If people don’t wash their damned hands and quarantine themselves upon early diagnosis of flu-like symptoms, 5% percent of that 34.5 million could be infected with swine flu a hundred days from now.

    According to scientists, of course.

  12. Ace – Disneyland Resort Paris is not in Paris either. Nor, incidentally, is Disneyland (the orginal) in Los Angeles.

  13. Just checked on net and yeah,Jade.You’re right.I thought they called the park “Euro Disneyland”.The original Disneyland is indeed in Anaheim and not in LA,but they are just “Disneyland” and never”LA Disneyland”.

    I also learned that Tokyo Disenyland was to be named as “Oriental Disneyland”of which you can still find it’s legacy in the name of the management company “Oriental land”.
    Anyway.me thinks “The Oriental Disneyland” maynot be politically correct in America,but is much better and accurate than “Tokyo” Disneyland.

  14. I’m sure that “23 ku” is only ingrained into people’s heads because there is no other way to clearly refer to that particular region without saying “the former Tokyo City” or something like that. In Kyoto and Osaka you can just refer to the city without specifying the number of wards.

    In my mind, it’s best to imagine the Greater Tokyo Area as a circle around the Imperial Palace with a radius of about 50 or 60 km (35 miles for you Americans out there). The edge of the circle would pass through the Tokyo Bay side of the Boso Peninsula, Narita, Tsukuba, the northern burbs of Saitama like Kuki and Ageo, Kawagoe, and the outer fringes of Tokyo and Kanagawa. Those places are really on the borderline in my mind, but anything closer in is probably serving largely as a bedroom town for Tokyo.

    By the way, Aceface, they officially renamed the airport a few years ago. It is not “New Tokyo” any more—now it is just “Narita.” Urayasu is close enough to Tokyo that I think we shouldn’t get too angry at Disney…

  15. Also, where’s the outrage about half of Osaka Airport being in Hyogo? And about calling it “Itami” even though Itami is on the servicing side and the terminal is actually in Toyonaka? Ozappa naming shall not be tolerated!

  16. Ace – I know that Disneyland is never called “LA Disney”, hence it was merely an incidental comment (though it is often referred to as being in LA), but I did not know TDL was ever to be called Oriental Disneyland. That would no longer work now there is a small silly one in Hong Kong, and plans to build one in Shanghai as well.

    My own criteria for Greater Tokyo is more like “one hour by train from Tokyo/Shinjuku station”. It would be an idea to get some data on commuting habits perhaps – see what %age of each city actually goes into Tokyo (the 23 wards – and you are right that we have no Tokyo City to cover the wards like Sendai, Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, etc do). If the %age is above a certain figure, we can state that X city is a feeder town (a bed town) of Tokyo, and thus part of Greater Tokyo. Here’s a discussion on the topic:
    http://uub.jp/arc/arc.cgi?N=252
    But looking at
    東京を中心とする地域の定義一覧
    and
    都市雇用圏
    not to mention the
    東京地方 part of 東京
    on Wikipedia Japan shows that there really is no one set definition. I like the 総務省統計局による東京都市圏 myself, though there is too much Boso.

  17. This map is pretty close to how I envision the Tokyo metropolitan area:

    But I still think there is no way in hell that Kujukuri counts as part of “greater Tokyo.” The entire Pacific coast might as well be another planet.

  18. That’s the 総務省統計局による東京都市圏 isn’t it?
    (My previous post may be lost in spam catching due to the URL…)

  19. “one hour by train from Tokyo/Shinjuku station”
    Not including Shinkansen, of course. Wouldn’t that get you to Nagoya?

  20. Jade: We might be talking about the same thing. I still haven’t found the exact term that you’re using, though. That map is the 都市雇用圏, the idea being that the area should be defined as one where 10% or more of the population commutes into “center city” areas (the purple spots on the map). The population of this zone was about 32 million as of 2000, and the area fluctuates in each census. I would not be surprised to see Tsukuba fall within the zone next year thanks to the new express line.

    The circular perimeter is what MLIT (the transport ministry) uses to define the Tokyo area for transit planning purposes, probably much of the reason why commuter trains from Tokyo tend to terminate somewhere around that perimeter.

    Here’s the best Wikipedia article on point, I think: http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/東京都市圏

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