Yuta Yamasaki and his wife moved from southern Japan to Tokyo a decade ago because job prospects were better in the big city. They now have three sons — ages 10, 8 and 6 — and they are looking for a larger place to live. But Mr. Yamasaki, who runs a gelato shop, and his wife, a child-care worker, aren’t planning to move far. They are confident they can find an affordable three-bedroom apartment in their own neighborhood.
As housing prices have soared in major cities across the United States and throughout much of the developed world, it has become normal for people to move away from the places with the strongest economies and best jobs because those places are unaffordable. Prosperous cities increasingly operate like private clubs, auctioning off a limited number of homes to the highest bidders.
Tokyo is different.
In the past half century, by investing in transit and allowing development, the city has added more housing units than the total number of units in New York City. It has remained affordable by becoming the world’s largest city. It has become the world’s largest city by remaining affordable.
Two full-time workers earning Tokyo’s minimum wage can comfortably afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in six of the city’s 23 wards. By contrast, two people working minimum-wage jobs cannot afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in any of the 23 counties in the New York metropolitan area.