Correspondents' Eye on Tokyo:
Tech and Retro in Tokyo

When it comes to tech in Tokyo, for many people the overriding image is that of robots and sci-fi-level gadgetry. But when news editor Sarah Hilton found herself moving to the city from Australia in 2018, it was in fact the contrast between the historic and the conveniently futuristic found in everyday life in Tokyo that held her fascination.
From its history to latest news, Sarah Hilton loves all things tech.

Retro Tokyo

Growing up in Sydney with a Japanese mother and English father, Hilton spent some time traveling between Australia and Japan to visit family, but never imagined one day living here. When she finally came in 2018 to work at Nikkei, one of Japan's major national newspapers, she felt like she had stepped back in time. Explaining: "When I moved here, I lived in Yanaka, Taito City, Tokyo which was such a ball. It's such an old part of Tokyo. It suffered less damage than many other areas in World War II and so it's this amazing time capsule from pre-1940s Tokyo."

It was not just Hilton's rose-colored glasses swaying her opinion of Yanaka either, as she would often hear from friends and family coming to visit that they had a wonderful time exploring and meeting local shopkeepers. She feels that the area has a real sense of community that contributes to the welcoming ambiance.

Eventually, she moved to Nakameguro, Meguro City, Tokyo, to experience a more modern side of the city. While she enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of her new neighborhood, she still finds herself spending weekends in Yanaka, making the most of the unique combination of tradition and modernity in Tokyo's neighborhoods. 

Tokyo and Tapes

Hilton's interest in retro Tokyo does not stop with Yanaka, but instead finds a crossover with Japanese tech in the form of her cassette-tape collection.

Her interest in cassette tapes started when a friend made her a mixtape and bought her a retro Walkman, Sony's portable cassette player, from waltz, a record and tape store on the backstreets of Nakameguro. From there, she was hooked, and began frequenting the store to see what she could to add to her ever-growing collection.

Hilton's retro Sony Walkman and one of the cassettes on her current rotation. Photo: courtesy of Sarah Hilton

Hilton remembers growing up around tapes because of her father, but it had been a while since she had seen any when she visited waltz: "Because Japan still has a bit of everything, you can buy tapes there that are difficult to find in other countries. You can get second-hand tapes from the 1970s as easily as you can cassette tapes of new releases, which are starting to be produced again, too."

waltz cassette-tape and record store in Nakameguro is one of Hilton's go-to places for physical media in Tokyo.  Photo: courtesy of waltz

There is a part of Hilton that finds fascination in this tech of the past. "I think the way that Japan collects physical media is really interesting, and if you're into that stuff it's an endless rabbit hole." One of the places that she feels really embodies the contrast between retro and modern tech in Tokyo is Akihabara. "It's an indispensable platform for tech and a part of the history of Tokyo. Akihabara is very cool, I love how there is a niche for everything from gaming to gadgets, music to anime culture."

Tokyo and Tech

Appreciating not just retro but modern tech, it was not long before Hilton began writing about technological advances, too. In 2021—after three years at Nikkei in Tokyo— she joined Rest of World, a non-profit publication focusing on the impact of technology.

With a decided interest in tech start-ups, Hilton has a close eye on the future of revolutionary technology to come out of Tokyo: "If I think about something like the cassette tape, that was the Walkman. There had been nothing like the Walkman until then, it revolutionized portable audio engineering. Currently, there are a few interesting 'soon-icorns' that are waiting to burst into unicorn status. In particular, ambitious space tech companies like ispace and Astroscale have recently gathered some interesting talent."

Outside of futuristic tech in Tokyo, Hilton equally appreciates the reliability of tech that can be found in daily life from convenience store printers to bullet trains. "I think it's the way that everyday stuff just works that is the futuristic thing about it. There's a lot of comfort with automation in Japan that isn't common overseas."

From Yanaka to Meguro, Nikkei to Rest of World, Hilton has explored different aspects of both the city and her chosen industry and she intends to remain in both for as long as possible.  Now, after two years at Rest of World, she has her sights set on the next step of her career as breaking news editor at Bloomberg. With a focus on breaking financial and political news, she's excited to see how her interest in Tokyo's tech world will play into the domestic and international worlds of business and finance, saying, "I'm excited to join colleagues at the top of their field and to keep serving ever-growing reader appetite in the dynamic Asia region." 

"I feel like it's a real treat to be able to do the job that I do, and to do it in Tokyo. Because of my business and finance journalism bias, my favorite parts of tech are the ones that intersect with business and finance. So, ideally, I would love to stay at that intersection. Blockchain is a good example of this intersection and with large amounts of money being directed to Japanese startups and city government initiatives like Shibuya Startup Support, I think we will see many more Japanese startups flourish over the next few years. It's an exciting time to be living and working in Tokyo. "

Sarah Hilton

Starting from November 2023, Sarah Hilton is Breaking News Editor at Bloomberg Tokyo, handling breaking financial and political news. Prior to that, she was the Asia Regional Editor for Rest of World, a non-profit publication focusing on the impact of tech outside of the Western bubble, and a financial and business news journalist at Nikkei's Sydney and Tokyo offices.
Interview and writing by Cassandra Lord
Photos by Cassandra Lord