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?

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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.

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ in Chiyoda-ku
The Tokyo Metropolitan Police HQ in Chiyoda-ku

We had an enlightening interview, which will give me much to analyse later, with three senior officers from the Seikatsu Anzen Bu (literally, ‘Everyday Life Safety Division’) of the Keisicho (Tokyo Metropolitan Police). Interestingly, this division that was created as a result of the Seikatsu Anzen Jourei (Governor Ishihara’s 2003 Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance) and which deals with all the community security and safety initiatives, including CCTV, is separate from the Chiki Bu (the community division) that is responsible for the koban neighbourhood police box system.

Like almost everyone in authority we have met here, the police were convinced that they were not doing surveillance in using the cameras. They also confirmed that almost all of the CCTV systems operated by shoutenkai (shopkeepers’ associations) are not monitored and are simply recorded. They also stressed their deep concern for privacy and the rights of citizens and said that data from the police-operated cameras – of which there are around 150 in Shinjuku (the largest system with 50 cameras in the Kabukicho entertainment district), Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Roppongi and Ueno – was only kept for 7 days unless there was a specific reason to retain it. This is a legal requirement not just a police guideline. The police cameras are monitored both in local stations and in a central control room, but we were told that it was strictly forbidden for us to visit (unlike every other city in which I have done research) as everyone who enters has to be pre-enrolled in the police iris-scan security database.

We talked a lot about the history of the development of CCTV and of community safety initiatives in Tokyo, and Governor Ishihara’s absolutely central role in backing video surveillance became very clear (it’s a shame he has so far refused an interview with us!). What was also particularly interesting was that the police themselves did not think that apparently obvious ‘trigger events’ were as important as it might seem. For example, they claim that the police only really began considering the use of CCTV cameras not after the Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo underground but because of the influence of G8 summit security. One officer specifically mentioned the Gleneagles summit (which was just starting when terrorists attacked the London transport system), but this was in 2005, well after the TMG had already introduced CCTV, and after which the Tokyo police have not introduced a lot more cameras. So I don’t quite understand their point. It may become clearer once I have the complete transcripts… They also claimed that it was the Tokyo police rather than Japan Railways themselves or the Tokyo Metro authority who insisted on installing CCTV in the Tokyo transport network after the Aum attacks.

The officers talked a lot about community involvement. They dismissed the objections to their public space CCTV systems for several reasons, not least as I have already mentioned that they were not doing ‘surveillance’, but more importantly because they claimed to have done extensive consultation with local community groups, businesses etc. The claimed that they could not do anything without this support. This may have been true for Kabukicho, which was undoubtedly afflicted by an influx of Chinese gangs in the 1990s, but we heard from the local government of another ward that is being lined up for one of the new volunteer-based child safety camera systems being introduced from 2010 that they were given no choice by the police, and that local people were not happy about it. The problem is that this local authority don’t want to be interviewed further about this as they are in a rather delicate position over this new system.

(Thank-you very much to the officers from the Seikatsu Anzen Bu for giving us their time)

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).