Japan: Overcrowded from Cradle to Grave

Living in a small island nation 80% covered in forests and mountains isn't easy, especially when there are 127 million of you. Japan: Overcrowded from Cradle to Grave graphically illustrates how Japan's citizens cope with overcrowding everywhere; all the time.


1) Tokyo Megalopolis

Tokyo reigns as the world's largest city. The estimated population of 35 million in the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area gives new meaning to the word "overcrowded". With so many people crammed cheek by jowl, one might expect chaos and crime on a Lagos-ian scale, but no. Amazingly, and without the need for martial law, Tokyo works very well indeed. Crime is low by western standards, services are reliable and the infrastructure is the envy of most other cities. You won't find much peace & quiet in Tokyo; what you WILL find is a city that ticks like clockwork through the combined efforts of its people. Speaking of clockwork, the above video compresses 35 years of skyscraper construction in Shinjuku, downtown Tokyo, into just 10 seconds! (overcrowded city video via Japundit)


2) Tokyo Streets were Made for Walkin'

Sea of umbrellasSea of umbrellas

Tokyo was founded over 400 years ago but very little of the old town remains. A catastrophic earthquake in 1923 and the devastation wrought by World War II resulted in the city being rebuilt to modern standards. Wide streets that work WITH the city's infrastructure, not against it, funnel hundreds of thousands of people to and from major train stations. Overcrowded, yes, but the streets of Tokyo, Osaka and other Japanese cities are rarely prey to pedestrian gridlock. (overcrowded streets via Cambridge2000)


3) Subways like Rolling Sardine Cans

"EEK!"... Sorry lady, just doing my job!"EEK!"... Sorry lady, just doing my job!

Like most metropolitan centers, Tokyo is a working city and the workers have to come from somewhere - and go home again at the end of each working day. They do this, for the most part, using the renowned Tokyo subway system. Multiple lines, color-coded for ease of use even by foreigners, crisscross the city from beneath like some bizarre subterranean spider web. Morning and evening rush hours are busiest, to the point where gloved and uniformed "people pushers" ensure that the doors of the overcrowded cars close smoothly. (overcrowded subway via MSN)


4) Packed Parks

Cheery cherry blossomsCheery cherry blossoms

Most large Japanese cities boast large, beautiful, well-maintained city parks. Naturally, these refreshing green spaces can get very overcrowded - especially at Cherry Blossom Viewing time ("Hanabi") when green gives way to soft pink and the gentle snow of flower petals. Groups of friends and entire families camp out in the parks, enjoying picnic lunches and pouring drinks for one another. Competition for choice viewing spots is, needless to say, intense. (overcrowded park via P.Jacobs)


5) The Ultimate Overcrowded Swimming Pool

This incredible video has to be seen to be believed! Only people completely acclimated to overcrowded city streets, subways, parks and more would squeeze into this "human soup". The water is totally obscured by skin, swimsuits and pool toys! True, Japan suffered through a sweltering heat wave this past summer but how cool do you think the vastly overcrowded Summerland Wave Pool is, filled with hundreds of 98.6 degree people?? One positive note - swimmers at Japanese public pools are required to go through a "chemical bath" (my Japanese wife's words) before proceeding to the main pool. Thank goodness for small blessings! (overcrowded pool via Killian-Nakamura c/o Blogs On Japan)


6) Overcrowded Graveyards Provide no Final Escape

At least it's quiet...At least it's quiet...

Alas, Japan's long-suffering citizens gain no respite from overcrowded conditions, even in death. This view of a cemetery outside Japan's ancient former capitol, Kyoto, illustrates plainly that though life may end, overcrowding goes on... and on... (overcrowded cemetery via Plastic Bamboo)

These images and descriptions only begin to touch on what overcrowding in Japan is like - live with it on a daily basis and slowly, inexorably, you'll begin to become part of The Crowd. You just might find warm, secure comfort being one of many millions... embracing the primeval Herd Instinct and deriving comfort from safety in eight-digit numbers!

Steve Levenstein
Japanese Innovations Writer

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Sep 10, 2007
by Lady Bee
Lady Bee's picture

Swimming Pool

Ouch! I thought it was crowded at doggy beach.

Lady Bee
Animal Blogger

Sep 10, 2007
by Road Show
Road Show's picture

Swimming Pool

Reference made to "human soup"...would that be "pee" soup??


Sep 10, 2007
by Steve Levenstein
Steve Levenstein's picture

Pee soup...

The one problem with the "chemical bath" swimmers take before they go in, is that they need to take another as soon as they get out!

Sep 13, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Remind Me

NOT to plan any vacations there.

Sep 14, 2007
by Adam (not verified)

I lived in Tokyo for two

I lived in Tokyo for two years, and despite being quite crowded, it's by far one of the most amazing and energetic cities I've ever lived in. BTW, I'm originally from Connecticut. I would live in Tokyo again in an instant.

Sep 14, 2007
by Steve Levenstein
Steve Levenstein's picture

So would I...

So would I... the crowding is truly unbelievable at times but like most things, you learn to live with it. Avoid rush hour on the trains if you can, that sort of thing. 

Mainly, the people are friendly, sociable and act responsibly to make it work.

Sep 14, 2007
by Anonymous (not verified)

Crowded, yes, but crowded

Crowded, yes, but crowded with very polite people not prone to random acts of violence if their space is violated..

New York City is sparsly peopled in comparison to Tokyo. But in New York City everyone is a rude cuss with a violent streak ready to explode at any moment dare you just make eye-contact..

Where would you rather live?

Sep 15, 2007
by Claudius (not verified)

"Living in a small island

"Living in a small island nation"

People such as Steve Levenstein need to educate themselves about geography. Japan is NOT a small country! Japan is larger then UK, Malaysia, Germany, New Zealand etcetera which makes Japan a fairly big country. The Japanese island nation is not so wide, but stretches very long from top to bottom.

 Yes Tokyo, Osaka etc are very densely populated. However the amount of people varies per region. Those gigantic metropolises are not all of Japan obviously.

Sep 15, 2007
by Steve Levenstein
Steve Levenstein's picture

Aye, Claudius...

Small is a relative term, Claudius, and if you bothered to actually read the article you'd see that 80% of Japan is forested or mountainous. And yes, Japan's giant metropoli are not all of the country - i never implied they were. Figured that was "obvious".

Sep 16, 2007
by Claudius (not verified)

"Small is a relative term,

"Small is a relative term, Claudius, and if you bothered to actually read the article you'd see that 80% of Japan is forested or mountainous"

I did read your article. If you inspect other countries you'll find that many also don't use a lot of their ground area for living space. The statement "living in a small island nation" in regards to Japan, however you phrase it remains a utter false statement.

By the way "Island nations" in particular form their own category. Out of all the island nations worldwide Japan ranks 4th as world's largest island nation.

Sep 23, 2007
by Nils (not verified)


I got to say, when I was in Tokyo for two weeks a few years ago, it never felt crowded. The only exception were the late trains, when everybody tries to get home. (And presumably, the rush hour in the morning is the same, but I avoided getting up too early.)

And at the same time, you can find crowded trains here too. Frankfurt - where I live - has only 620000 inhabitants. Yet one train this morning was completely full, as in, not a single person more could have squeezed in there. Because the train had 15 min delay.

To sum it up... I am really not sure how accurate the picture of the "overcrowded Japan" is.

Apr 18, 2008
by Anonymous

In many visits

I have visited Japan many times both business and personal. I agree that calling Japan over crowded is not a fair statement. However the cities can be very much so. The short time I have spent in Tokyo made me realize I would never want to live there. Hell I can do with visiting for that matter. But big cities just are not my thing. The people are courteous, the streets clean ( cleaner than most american cities ), I always felt safe, the food great and the women friendly. But the shear mass of humanity and being in the shadows of buildings all day long was just too much for me.

For the record:

To Nils:
The pictures of the "White Gloves" Yeah I've seen that. It's accurate and not only in Tokyo but Nagoya, Osaka and I am sure other cities as well.

To Toshihiko Nobe:
By the name and the sound of your response it obvious you love Japan, But seriously take a chill pill. Unlike Japan we have those (pills) here in the states.

To Claudius:
Calm.... Think Zen....

Aug 11, 2008
by Anonymous


They have babies too quickly.

Nov 9, 2008
by Anonymous

wow, and i thought the

wow, and i thought the coridors in my school were crowded.....

Dec 3, 2008
by Anonymous