Watching Downtown Tokyo

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?

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.

Community Safety in Suginami

Following our meeting with the Mayor the other day, we went back to Suginami-ku to talk to the community safety people, who are part of the Disaster Management section. Suginami is interesting because, as far back as 2004, it was the first Local Authority in Japan to introduce a special bohan kamera jourei (security camera ordinance) which is based in part at least on principles of data protection and privacy. And until neighbouring Setegaya-ku introduced their own ordinance last year, they were, so far as I know, the only such authority. The ordinance followed public consultation which showed that although people generally thought CCTV was effective (95%), a significant minority of 34% were concerned about privacy, and 72% thought that regulation was needed. These figures seem to be significantly more in favour of privacy and regulation of CCTV than the nationwide survey done by Hino Kimihiro, however he asked different questions leading to answers that are not directly comparable.

Suginami is one of the areas of Tokyo that has the other kind of CCTV system introduced by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police after 2002, help points where people press a button if they feel in danger and speak to someone from the police. The help points have both CCTV camera and an alarm / red flashing light if the caller says it is an emergency.

However the Suginami community safety officers said that these cameras have not proved very effective and in fact they cause a lot of problems, because children tend to press the button for fun, and run away – meaning that there are many false alarms.

Suginami has some of the same kind of array of ‘blue-light’ volunteer patrols as Arakawa-ku. In Suginami, there is a fleet of mini-patoka (mini patrol cars) and motorbikes, used by 15 retired police officers. These are mainly about visibility leading to deterrence and increased community confidence, as the volunteers ex-officers have no special powers nor do they carry side-arms or handcuffs or any other conventional ‘police’ equipment. Suginami does not have the small community safety stations like Arakawa-ku, although they do also have the same problem of local koban (police boxes) being closed. However where Suginami really stands out is in the sheer number of volunteers they have involved in their community patrols, organised through the local PTAs, shoutenkai (shopkeepers’ associations) and choukai (community associations). There are 140 groups with 9600 people actively involved in one way or another in community safety just in Suginami.

Suginami is a relatively wealthy ward and the kinds of problems that concern Arakawa (mainly minor street crime and snatch-thefts) are not such big issues here.  The main concern in this ward seems to be burglary and furikomi – the practice of gangsters and other criminals calling old people and pretending to be a relative or representative of a relative and persuading them to transfer money to a particular ATM (which you can do in Japan – it would be impossible in the UK). Furikomi is a very interesting phenomenon in that it seems to be a product of family, social and technological changes. Many older people who would have lived with family in traditional Japanese society are now living alone. They are lonely and miss the intimacy of family contact, so they tend to welcome unexpected calls from relatives who may now be living almost anywhere in Japan. These older people are also technologically literate and able to use mobile phones, ATMs and computers. The combination of this technological skill, dispersed families, and psychological vulnerability makes for a ripe target for fraudsters, and Suginami estimate that 40% of all crime in the ward is some form of furikomi.

In many ways, increasing concern for privacy is also a product of this change in lifestyles and family structure, as well as building techniques – western-style walls and better sound insulation mean that you can’t always know what is going on in the next room anymore, let alone in your neighbours’ apartments or houses. This also makes burglary rather easier, as once the thief has got past the initial walls or doors, no-one can hear or see very much. The intense and intimate ‘natural surveillance’ that used to characterise ordinary Japanese communities is disappearing. But the Suginami community safety officers see the possibility of revitalising such natural surveillance, and protecting privacy, without going down the route of impersonal, technologically-mediated surveillance. In many ways, this is quite heartening – if, of course, you are of a communitarian mindset. Such supportive, mutually monitored and very inward-looking communities can be stifling to those who do not fit and exclusionary to those from outside… and, not coincidentally, one of our last interviews was with a leading support group for foreign migrants in Japan, who have a very different perspective on all of these developments. That will be in my next post, which may not be until Saturday as we’re going off to Kansai for a couple of days…

(Thank-you to the Disaster Management section for their time and patience).

Japanese surveillance studies researchers

Somebody's watching you... office workers walk past an installation in Shinjuku station, Tokyo
Somebody's watching you... office workers walk past an installation in Shinjuku station, Tokyo

We’ve met with several Japanese surveillance studies researchers whilst out here this time. I mentioned Ogura Toshimaru already the other day, but we also had a long meeting the week before with Hino Kimihiro, a researcher into bohan machizukuri (community security development), and government advisor on security planning. Dr Hino has been carrying out a number of research projects on both ‘designing out crime’ and on the effectiveness and public acceptability of CCTV in Japan. I hadn’t come across this research before as my contacts here were mainly in social sciences and law and Dr Hino tends to publish in urban planning journals and is not connected to other Japanese surveillance researchers. His work is very interesting and reminiscent of that of Martin Gill or Farrington and Welsh in the UK. It is a shame, that just like those researchers who have carried out analyses of CCTV for the UK Home Office, his assessments tend to be ignored by the government. Dr Hino’s latest project is to assess the trials of a new movement recognition system in Kawasaki city. I hope he can come to the January Camera Surveillance workshop at Queen’s University, Ontario, or the April Surveillance & Society conference in London (details coming soon!).

I also met today with Tajima Yasuhiko, a professor of media law in the School of Journalism at Jochi (Sophia) University in Tokyo. Professor Tajima has been one of the most important critical voices in the debate about surveillance in Japan, and has bridged the academic and activist world, being involved with legal action against juki-net and Google StreetView. We had a productive conversation about the politics of surveillance in Japan and the prospects for critical voices to be heard. He wasn’t optimistic that they would be, and neither am I after our meeting at the Prime Minister’s IT Strategic JQ the other day, however I am also convinved that in many ways Japan has not yet gown as coordinated and centralised a route on issues of security and surveillance as has the UK. There is, so far as I can see, no real attempt to link up things like juki-net or other databases and the anshin anzen (or bohan) machizukuri agenda, and i-Japan, national and local police, and wider community security agendas do not really coordinate at all. This is due to the lack of an obvious ‘threat’ like that of terrorism in the UK, around which such coordination can occur. The government half-heartedly tries to get people worried about North Korea, but really they aren’t, and ‘ageing society’, whilst a phrase used to justify almost anything (including central databases) is a worry, it does not generate the fear that comes with the war on terror.

We also considered the relative weakness of Japanese civil liberties organisations and the failure of the mainstream media to pick up on issues of privacy and surveillance. There seems to be some effort now to try to coordinate various organisations to push for an explicit constitutional protection for privacy (rather than the rather vague inclusion of such an idea in a wider notion of the ‘pursuit of happiness’), but whilst I can see that being happily accepted after the government has got its central database(s), I can’t see it being done in time to alter either this trajectory or the way in which the database(s) are built.

Community Safety in Arakawa

Far from the skyscrapers and bright lights of Shinjuku, where we had our last interview on community security and safety development (anzen anshin machizukuri), Arakawa-ku is a defiantly shitamachi (‘low-town’ or working class) area to the north-east of Tokyo just north of Ueno and outside the Yamanote-sen JR railway loop line that has for much of the last 40 years defined the boundaries of the richer parts of the city.

Bordering the Ara river and split by the Sumida river, it was traditionally a marshy place liable to flooding. It was also a place with a large buraku (outcaste) population and Minowa (in the north of the ward) contains the mournful Jokan-ji (or Nagekomi – ‘thrown-away’) temple, where prostitutes who died in the Yoshiwara pleasure district were cremated. The place has been hit hard by disaster. It was levelled twice in the the Twentieth Century, first by 1923 Kanto daishinsai (Great Kanto Earthquake) and then again by the firebombing in the last years of WW2.

Nevertheless, its rough, industrious, hardworking spirit has continued, and these days, despite the march of secure manshon (high-rise housing) down the post-war avenues, it remains a place full of small industrial units, especially recycling businesses and clothing wholesalers and manufacturers in Nippori, small bars and family restaurants, and lots of ordinary housing, even some of the last remaining dojunkai (early concrete public housing) constructed after the earthquake. It’s also the starting point of the last remaining tramway (streetcar line) in Tokyo, the Toden Arakawa-sen. I like it a lot and it’s where my wife and I have lived in Tokyo in the past, and where we still stay when we return (there will be more pictures in a later post).

It was natural then to turn our attention to the place as a case-study area, mainly because it is so different from Shinjuku and the other areas that have gained so much attention from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s recent initiatives. We met with three officials from the Community Safety section of the local administration: the boss and two guys who had been seconded from the city police and the fire service respectively. The boss was full of enthusiasm for the direction that Arakawa-ku has taken, which although they don’t use the term ‘machizukuri‘ is far more about real community involvement than some places that do.

The HQ of Arakawa community safety
The HQ of Arakawa community safety

Arakawa has no comprehensive CCTV strategy, although the police do consult with the developers of large new buildings on its installation. That’s not to say that they don’t have a certain degree of ‘CCTV envy’ of those places with the latest high-tech gadgets that Arakawa can’t afford, but they are not dazed by the glamour of cameras and are realistic about both the limitations of CCTV and the appropriateness of such systems for their city. Instead they concentrate on using and enhancing the natural surveillance capacities of the local communities. They make a great deal of use of volunteers, retired police officers and ordinary local people, who do their own patrols, including the delightful wan-wan (‘woof-woof’) patrol which, judging from the posters, involves mainly older female residents and very small dogs! Participation in the various community initiatives is encouraged through the use of techniques like professional rakugo (traditional comic monologue) performances in schools and community centres. They also run community patrols in miniature versions of police patoka (patrol cars), which not only look more friendly but unlike the US-style police cars can get through much narrower streets.

The cute community patrol cars
The cute community patrol cars

However these diverse community projects are being stitched together in quite an innovative way, with the use of small anzen anshin sutashion (security and safety stations), which are a bit like community versions of the police koban, the miniature two-person police boxes which dot the city. Indeed the officials referred to them as minkan koban (‘people’s koban’). These small help stations, staffed mainly by ex-police don’t just provide ‘security’ information, they also deal with social security in the broader sense, offering help for older people with benefits, for example. In almost all cases, they have replaced koban that were closed by the police. So one could argue that this is essentially the local authority being forced to pick up the bill for services that used to be provided by the police and at the same time is actually losing real police service. However, the strategy overall is a valiant attempt to make ‘community safety’ less an issue of exclusionary security and more one of inclusivity and community development, more a natural and intimate part of everyday life that does not involve new forms of external control.

Of course, crime isn’t really a massive issue here anyway. Arakawa has consistently had the second or third lowest crime rates of all the 23 Tokyo wards. But even since the introduction of these initiatives, crime has fallen still further from the relative high point it reached a few years ago. And hardly a CCTV camera in sight…

Community Safety in Shinjuku

As well as trying to interview officials at national and city level here, I am also looking at a few different areas of the city, including Shinjuku, where I have done some work before. Shinjuku is a central ward of Tokyo that includes the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) buildings, part of a growing high-rise district, possibly the busiest railway station in the world, one of the most extensive entertainment districts in the city (not just Kabukicho, the conventional ‘red light’ district, but also a lot of gay clubs and bars), and substantial Korean and Chinese communities.

We had an interesting interview this week with the two officials seconded from the Metropolitan Police Department (keishicho), to run the efforts in Shinjuku (as usual there is a lot more than I can summarise here). We met in the Emergency Control Room, a cramped space full of monitors old and new, walkie-talkies and lots and lots of yellow telephones. We had a brief chat about emergency planning, but as we there to talk security and surveillance, we moved on.

Anzen anshin (or bohan) machizukuri (community safety (or security) development) in Tokyo derives from a TMG ordinance (jourei) of 2003 which encourages all ku (city wards) to implement it. The main reason was that recorded crimes had reached a record high in the city in 2002 (I’ll consider crime figures in Japan and their reliability in another post). There were a patchwork of existing community safety organisations but these appear to have been separate from the chounaikai (local community associations). What the 2003 ordinance did was to make community safety the responsibility of the chounaikai with co-ordination, information and encouragement from the ku administration.

The Shinjuku authorities are very keen on this, much more so than some others, for example, Arakawa-ku where we are living and which I am also examining, which tends to rely on much more conventional policing. This may be a matter of money (Arakawa is nowhere near as wealthy as Shinjuku), but it may also be down to the attitudes of the public and local state officials. This kind of community safety work is time-intensive, and requires a substantial commitment in order to carry out things like citizen patrols (which seem to be one of the core elements).

We also talked about CCTV, which Tokyo started to implement in 2003 as well for the same ostensible reasons. Of course Kabukicho is one of the city-centre pilot areas (along with Ikebukuro, Shibuya, Ropongi and the later addition of Ueno), with over 50 cameras operated by the city police. Given their position it is hardly surprising that they had little time for talk of a ‘surveillance society’ (or indeed even the idea of ‘surveillance’ – the word kanshi provokes quite a strong reaction here – no, no – they are definitely not doing surveillance). They also talked about the co-ordination of shoutenkai (shopkeepers’ association) CCTV systems. It seems that despite their large numbers, these systems are generally not monitored, i.e. there is not control room and no-one is watching. The officials were also certain that the shoutenkai operators themselves were not even allowed to view footage without permission from local police. This is something I will have to investigate more as I have read in the past of shoutenkai representatives claiming the opposite – that they had to give permission for the police to view footage. It seems that both shoutenkai and chounaikai are being encouraged to install CCTV systems, and there are grant systems in place – basically one third comes from the city, one third from the ku, and one third has to be found by the organisation itself from its members.

This means that coverage is very uneven and tends to be restricted to wealthy and / or particularly committed –kai. Shinjuku has many, many shoutenkai systems. Nippori, in Arakawa, in contrast has three cameras – not three systems, but three cameras…

(Thank-you very much to Mr Takahashi and Mr Yabe for their time and patience with my questions).