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Hacktreks 2

First Chapters

Japan v The New York Times

JT Brown

The New Times claims Tokyo is the 'world's most expensive city' - this is plainly wrong and yet another example of fiction and 'bad journalism' from this New York paper.

The New York Times ran an article last month (June 17) claiming that Tokyo remains the most expensive city in the world. Really?? Despite the name of his employer, reporter James Brooke apparently has never heard of New York City. Or Moscow, or London or Riyadh or any other city that actually IS expensive. Either that, or he didn’t want to let facts get the way of a good story. Specifically, he states early on in his piece that in Tokyo "$10,000-a-month apartment rents (are) not uncommon". That’s plain WRONG. "$10,000-a-month rents are VERY uncommon. Such a rent is so uncommon that I, myself, have never known anyone who has paid even remotely that much in my now almost 16 years here. We’re strictly talking about a few corporate elite or the rich and famous. On average, square footage here is certainly less than that of western apartments. But whether in suburban Tokyo or even close to the center of the metropolis, a family of four pays somewhere in between 100,000 and 200,000 yen($840-$1680) per month, be it for rent, or for mortgage.

In that very same sentence, Brooke also blithely throws in a remark about "expensive city rail travel". It is true that trains here are not exactly cheap. My wife has a 75 minute train ride (including a transfer) to work each day morning. Her monthly train pass costs $149. But for comparison’s sake, BART in the San Francisco Bay Area costs about the same for as lengthy a ride. And the Metro Transit Authority serving metropolitan New York costs even more. Just for an example, a commute from Bay Shore out on Long Island into Penn Station, also about a 70 minute ride, cost $252 per month. (Commute from Woking to London in the UK, a mere 26 miles is $325 per month).

The source Brooke cited for the actual ranking was conducted by a firm called Mercer Human Resources Consulting of Geneva (no cheap burg itself). I wonder if the esteemed people at Mercer took into account things such as: that the national health care is comprehensive in Japan, including dental. Or that college tuition comes in at less than one half of what it takes in supposedly inexpensive America. One year at a private university in Japan is about one million yen ($8400). At a public institution, about one half of that or a little more than $4000. According US News and World Report’s college guide for 2003, the average US state run school charges $9000, and for private schools it’s $23, 578.

Speaking of schools, unlike in virtually every North American city( and probably most everywhere else on this globe) in Japan you don’t have to pay a premium to engage in what is known as ‘white flight’ in the US, ie. paying more to avoid crime ridden neighborhoods and schools. Stateside at least, if you have a family, if you have children whose education you are concerned about it, you pick where you live carefully. And for that, you must PAY. In Japan, there are no hellholes to avoid, no crime ridden slums where children have to dodge bullets and drug pushers on their way to school. There are just respectable neighborhoods, and very respectable ones.
I could go on, but may I just refer you back to my article on deflation in Japan from February of this year ( If anything, things have edged downward in price yet more since then as deflation in Japan continues unabated. Also, see Sam North’s most recent editorial on England ( It’s a first hand account on how expensive things are over thatta way.
Ah, James Brooke and the New York Times. You’d have thought they had seen enough shoddy journalism at that paper this year.

On other fronts
It’s been quite cool in Tokyo, so far this summer. Usually by July, the temperature is hitting 32, 33 degrees celsius(90-92F) everyday, with even hotter stretches testing us from time to time. Just the summer before last, the thermometer was reading 36 degrees(97F) by 9 am for most of July. August, of course, is just as hot, and in both months, along with September, humidity is bad too.

But this year has been a relief up till now (late July). The special weather has unfortunately been brought to us by almost daily rains( or drizzles) which ordinarily can get to be a bit dreary. But I’ll take it. No sweating around the temples and neck just from sitting and watching television, no braving the nuclear blast of heat when you first return to your parked car, and the cool nights have made sleeping downright pleasant. Mosquitos have been reluctant to come out and harrass us as well. The weather may not make for nice "Wish you were here!" postcards, but nobody who is here is complaining.

© J.T. Brown July 23rd 2003
World Judo Masters in Tokyo
J T Brown is on the mat

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