The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


March 2014
Japan: 50 Years of Progress
By John Ghanotakis, Amir Khan, and Timothy Trahan

Much has changed for the ACCJ and Japan during the past 50 years. It can be a fun and eye-opening experience to consider how Tokyo has evolved over the decades.

The cost of living in Tokyo has fluctuated; the city has grown and become increasingly convenient; and we are again ramping up for the summer Olympics, this time to be held in 2020.

Below, we’ve compiled a few interesting facts about Japan and Tokyo, from the 1960s to 2014.

Some have claimed that in the early 1960s, Tokyo was a somewhat affordable city. The assertion seems reasonable since, over the decade to 1970, nominal wages exploded. The average year-on-year increase was 13 percent, and this surely drove up the cost of land and goods.

A government study at the time announced that Japanese workers spent about 30 percent of their wages on leisure activities.

Most people then spent about a third of their incomes on food. However, Japanese workers consumed so few calories that international economists considered the average person to be marginally underfed.

Even in 1970 the Japanese consumed fewer calories on average than many people in other countries. Compare this with the situation today, when Japanese government regulations require metabolic syndrome rates to be measured and controlled.

Another major change is in the area of public sanitation. In the early 1960s, only about one third of the domiciles in Japan were connected to sewers and, even later in the decade, less than 18 percent of homes had flush toilets. The degree to which Tokyo has modernized is put into perspective when we consider the washlets that can be found in many public restrooms today.

As you can imagine, the Tokyo landscape was also very different. Construction on the first high-rise office—the 30-story Kasumigaseki Building—started in the mid 1960s. And, when it opened in 1968, you could tour the top floor as people do today at Roppongi Hills.

The 1964 Olympic and Paralympic Games brought the Yoyogi, Jingu, and Komazawa stadiums. The land that is now Yoyogi Park was Washington Heights, an American military installation with barracks. The land was given back to Tokyo before the 1964 Olympics to house the visiting participants.

The famed original Imperial Hotel, designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, stood in Uchisaiwaicho until 1968. It temporarily housed the American, British, French, and Italian embassies right after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

The hotel served as a haven for the international community. A piece of its façade rests on the lawn near the entrance to the Tokyo American Club as a monument to its grandeur.

Fifty years ago there were only two subway lines in Tokyo: the Ginza and Marunouchi lines. The Chiyoda Line opened in 1969, relieving the congestion on the underground transportation system.

And, on a related subject, there were 81 cars per 1,000 head of population in Japan at around that time.

Central Tokyo’s elevated highways were built in the 1960s, a time when many roads were still unpaved.

Interestingly, there have been only marginal improvements in average commuting times. Today, most people spend 80–90 minutes traveling to and from the workplace.

The past 50 years have certainly brought great progress to Japan and the ACCJ. Now, even as we imagine a time with driverless cars, still faster Tokyo–Osaka trains, and the future of Tokyo’s expressways, it’s interesting to think about it all from the perspective of a half-century ago.







John Ghanotakis (chair), Amir Khan, and Timothy Trahan (vice chairs) are members of the ACCJ Young Professionals Group Subcommittee.