Tokyo: 1964 Gold Medalist in Population Density

Bjorn Haslov had never been to Japan. His country Denmark (43,000 sq kilometers) is about a ninth the size of Japan in terms of area. But nothing prepared him for the difference in population size.

“I was surprised,” Haslov told me. “My country had around 4 to 5 million people at that time.

Bjorn Haslov, member of the gold medal winning Danish coxless fours
Bjorn Haslov, member of the gold medal winning Danish coxless fours

When you are coming from a small country like Denmark you have no idea what it is like to live in a country of 100 million. The train system was fantastic, and worked perfectly all the time. But it took me 15 minutes just to change platforms because there were so many people.”

Fortunately, Haslov competed on the water where he won gold as a member of the Danish coxless four rowing team.

On land, nobody was spared the mass of humanity in Tokyo. My father was a journalist in Tokyo in the late 1950s. In June of 1957, he wrote this dispatch for the Louisville Times about the consequences of jamming too many people in one place.

Thomas Tomizawa_Stars and Stripes_Tokyo_circa 1957
Thomas Tomizawa, Tokyo, 1957

Tokyo, Japan — Jiro Matsushima, a skinny accountant, stood 25 minutes without once shifting his feet while waiting for a bus that would take him home. When the bus came, he sprang into action, ramming his way past other homeward -bound Japanese. Matsushima and his brief-case barely made it inside the bus before the door closed in front of a frail old kimono-clad woman. In this jampacked city, two of your most valuable assets are patience and sharp elbows. Matsushima has both.

The whole metropolis, on a giant scale, sometimes resembles the crushing scene of a department store bargain-basement during an annual sale. Waiting in lines and bulling through throngs have become a way of life. If you think Louisville is suffering from growing pains, take a look at Japan’s capital city: 

In recent years, Tokyo has grown at the rate of 250,000 to 300,000 a year. Because of high birth rates and migrations into the city from other prefectures, there are now about 8,350,000 persons in Tokyo.

Babies are born into crowded hospitals, children attend overflowing classes, breadwinners work in cramped offices, and the oldsters have hardly enough room to die. The last statement is no exaggeration. Most of the public cemeteries are filled up. One city-operated cemetery had a little space a few weeks ago, but there so many applicants that a drawing had to be held.

That is only one of the things which caused Tokyo Governor Seiichiro Yasui, in commenting on the state of the city to say, “Overpopulation is an evil. Tokyo is overpopulated.”

As Paul McCartney wrote:

Too many people going underground

Too many reaching for a piece of cake

Too many people pulled and pushed around

Too many waiting for that lucky break

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