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Watching Downtown Tokyo

November 11, 2013

So, I’m back in Tokyo until next April, revisiting the areas which I examined in 2005-6, where surveillance cameras have been installed by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police, and the wards where I did case-study research on community safety development in 2009 (see my posts in this blog from July to September 2009).

One initial impression is that the progress of video surveillance has not perhaps been as rapid as I would have thought, but it may be that this impression is mistaken. Certainly, the numbers of cameras deployed by the TMP have not increased rapidly. While I looked initially at Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district, where cameras were first introduced in 2002 and Shibuya and Ikebukuro (2004), they were also introduced in Ueno (2006) and Roppongi (2007). The numbers of cameras in these areas and the technologies in use have not changed greatly since their introduction: Kabukicho has 55; Shibuya, 20;  Ikebukuro, 49; Ueno, 12; and Roppongi, 44. The cameras are all in areas associated with the night economy – pink or ‘red line areas’, or what in the UK would be called ‘red light districts’ or places strongly associated with gang-related nightlife activities.

From then there was a gap and nothing happened until this year, when the TMP introduced a small number of cameras into an area they seem to have previously overlooked: the so-called ‘Kabukicho of the East’ – it’s even referred to in this way by tourist guides – Kinshicho in Sumida ward, still very much a rough, working class area. Kinshicho is apparently known for two things: gambling (on horse-racing – it’s not coincidentally the HQ of  the Japan Racing Association) and ‘gaijin bars’ (or hostess bars staffed by foreign hostesses). But, if one examines the crime maps produced by the TMP, Kinshicho is not a particularly high crime area especially compared to its western counterpart, Kabukicho, and there are other areas of dubious repute in Tokyo, so what’s behind this particular move at this time?

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CCTV cameras at the Tokyo Sky Tree Tower (Hirotaka Kawakami)

This is simply speculation on my part, and I will be talking to police and others about this in the next few months, but Sumida ward is gentrifying. In 2006, the massive new Olinas shopping complex was built in the Kinshicho area, and then in 2012, the Tokyo Sky Tree Tower, the new communications tower for Tokyo, complete with associated shopping and entertainment complex, landed in Oshiage, just to the north. Shitamachi (literally ‘low city’ – or downtown) areas have become fashionable now and not just among tourists. But this nostalgic search for an older, ‘authentic’ Tokyo, usually that of the post-WW2 period, is limited to safe images of craftsmen, small shops, stand-up bars, street food, hard-work and propriety. Frankly, Kinshicho seems to be seen as an embarrassing throwback to a shadow image of the ‘bad old days’ of the shitamachi of gangs, gambling and the sex trade, that the authorities at least do not want associated with the new and more pleasant presentation they are seeking to create.

But the TMP cameras are only a small part of the story of public space video surveillance in Tokyo, and if one sticks to the police numbers, one would get a very misleading impression. For example, the Sky Tree Tower has been the focus of a major introduction of video surveillance through the main mechanism for public space surveillance in Tokyo, the 2003 Anzen Anshin Machizukuri Jourei (Community Safety Ordinance). This empowers neighbourhood and shopkeepers’ associations to introduce camera systems with support from ward governments and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In Oshiage, a very large and locally controversial 77 camera-system was introduced from 2012, with most of the cameras (66) directly around the Sky Tree. Kinshicho also has its TMP cameras supplemented by an even larger number of non-TMP cameras – the Asahi article above claims 47 but it’s unclear whether that includes the TMP cameras or not.

The progress of community safety development is the main focus of my research here this time, so I’ll be visiting Oshiage and Kinshicho in the near future. And I’ll be writing much more about this method of crime control through development planning, as it will no doubt be a key feature of how preparations for the 2020 Olympics are made.

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