Tokyo became a megacity by reinventing itself after a massive disaster

If you walk through Japan’s energetic urban heart you will see a vibrant culture that bounced back from natural disaster.

There’s a lot to learn from Tokyo; to begin with, the ability to rise and shine like a phoenix after nature has turned you into ashes. In the darkness near the west bank of Tokyo’s Sumida River, you can watch tourists pull on bright, glaring, nylon vests the sort of thing you’d wear in a pickup soccer game, as though the 70 shivering visitors from South Africa, China, Malaysia, Spain, and Russia had travelled all that way to chase balls along the gritty waterfront. Now, this may seem like a normal day-to-day thing in Japan, but mind you, this is a city that was destroyed in the tsunami.

It was an hour or two before dawn, and tourists were actually suiting up for a tour of Tsukiji Shijo, which at the time was the largest fish market in the world. Tsukiji was a labyrinth of warehouses, freezers, loading docks, auction blocks, and vendor stalls, and it had fed the city for nearly a century. It had also become—to the dismay of some who worked there—an attraction, promoted in countless articles and cable cooking shows.

In 2018, the historic market was nearing the end of its run. The breezy stalls and cracked cobblestone floors lured tourists seeking authenticity, but in hypermodern Tokyo, such things were officially seen as an unsanitary part of the unruly past. By autumn Tsukiji would close, its vendors moving from the heart of the city to a new, bland-looking facility to the southeast.

Walking on the streets of Tokyo is basically a reminder that even when your city has been destroyed in the worst form, by nature or by man, there’s always hope to rise from the abyss, and be back on your feet. Tough times either destroy us or build us, in Tokyo’s case, the city mainly used this opportunity to be reinvented.

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