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.

Research News

This is just a quick personal update to say that my long-time collaborator, Kiyoshi Abe of Kwansei Gakuin University, and I, have been successful in winning a Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Fellowship, for my project, Public Safety and Surveillance in the Global City: The Case of Tokyo. I’ll be heading to Japan for ten months from mid-June this year, where I will be based in Tokyo, and working with Kiyoshi (who is down in Kobe) and hopefully also with some great people from Meiji University. That’s when this blog will return to being much more of a research diary for my fieldwork again – it’s been a while!

Kabukicho Renaissance?

Kabukicho is a place that is hard to love. A seedy, crime-infested dive full of ‘massage parlours’, ‘aesthetic salons’, ‘image bars’ and other thinly-disguised forms of brothel. Tokyo has had red-light disticts since the Edo period, of course, and the Yoshiwara was only the most famous. Shinjuku was always one of them, and since the failure of the threatre initiative that gave the neighbourhood its name, Kabukicho has been the best known. Kabukicho is interesting though for many reasons. It had a radical political and cultural history in the 60s and 70s. It was the epicentre of changes that occurred in organised crime in the 80s and 90s, with Chinese gangs replacing the Yakuza as the biggest ‘threat’. And it is now the centre of efforts by the Shinjuku authorities to clean up its image, with the Kabukicho Renaissance policy, and the new Town Manager, and by Tokyo police to crack down on illegal immigration.

The new Japanese ‘jury’ system

The Guardian Comment is Free site asked me to do a (very quick) comment piece on the new Japanese ‘jury’ system and it’s now online here. I had to cut my original down to around 600 words and they edited it a little more to fit, and added an awful photo (where on earth they got it I am not quite sure…). Here’s the full version…

Disorder in the Court

Japan’s courts are not usually the subject of massive popular interest in the country. Salacious details of criminal cases fill the pages of the popular weekly magazines and provide fodder for cheap TV shows, but the court system itself is seen as distant, formal and, above all, dull.

The courts have long been seen as a a rubber-stamping exercise for cases already decided by confession in police cells. Japan’s 95% confession rate has been attributed to a cultural sense of shame, or to the thorough and minutely detailed dossiers of public prosecutors, but according to Amnesty International, the psychological pressure of up to 23 days of isolation and constant questioning (not to mention intimidation and physical violence) might provide a better explanation. In recent years, the issue of coerced confessions has been increasingly recognised in Japan, and the most recent example was the freeing in June this year of Toshikazu Sugaya, a man who DNA evidence has now shown could not have been guilty of the killing of a 4-year old girl, a crime that he confessed to in police cells and of which he was consequently convicted of in 1990.

Added to this is a growing feeling that the courts were too remote from people. So in 2004, a new law was passed to introduce a new method of adjudication for some criminal trials beginning in May 2009. Now the first trial using this new system, a case of murder involving elderly neighbours, has just started in Tokyo. Some have characterised this saiban-in as a ‘jury’ system, but it is actually a ‘lay-judge’ system. Whereas in the UK, twelve ordinary people are called by the courts to hear evidence and make a judgement on the guilt of the accused, in the new Japanese system six citizens join three professional judges. They not only hear evidence, but are also able to question witnesses and help decide the sentence. Verdicts are majority decisions but have to include at least one of the professional judges.

It seems an onerous task. So it is not surprising that many who were originally short-listed for lay-judge duty but did not make the final six for the first trial, are relieved to have escaped not because, as is so common in the UK, they found it inconvenient, but because of the burden of responsibility they felt. This has particular cultural components. Strongly-stated opinions and absolutes are not favoured in Japan, and people like to keep options open. The selection process itself was remarkably complex and involved summoning an initial 100 candidates, some of which were excused on grounds of infirmity or age, and more were then deselected after detailed questioning on their views and attitudes. Even court officials are now admitting that they may have overdone it.

But why this particular, strange, hybrid system? The answer is that it had form. Japan had an almost identical system from 1928 to 1943. During the Taisho period that saw a brief flowering of a more democratic culture in Japan, progressives had tried to introduce a full Anglo-American style twelve-person jury, however, judges, and conservative and nationalist politicians opposed this initiative and forced a compromise: the saiban-in system.However according to research by Takashi Maruta, the lay-judges still actually challenged the professional judges in many serious cases refusing to accept the confession and dossiers of evidence and preferring to rely on oral testimony of the accused and witnesses in court. Even in its compromised form such a volatile system offended traditionalist judges (who like many state representatives saw their power as deriving from the Emperor and therefore ultimately, divine sources), lawyers and was hardly suited to the militarist regime that gained control in the 1930s, and was eventually stopped.

But opposition seems rather different this time around. In the UK, civil libertarians have been fighting to defend jury systems, but in Japan civil liberties arguments have been marshalled by protestors against the new system. Opponents argue that the selection process violates privacy by forcing citizens’ personal views to be exposed, and is also authoritarian because citizens cannot refuse to serve unless they have health reasons. Some have even likened the system to a lynch-mob, because of course Japan still uses the death penalty.

However dig deeper, and underlying these arguments are reactionary and conservative concerns and the once-again rising influence of nationalists, in other words very similar conditions to those of the late 1920s: defence of the ‘professionalism’ of judges, and the arguments about the quasi-sacred integrity and necessary distance of courts from popular influence. More generally though, even though this system is the result of a bill passed five years ago, it seems part of an air of populist desperation from the increasingly unpopular ruling Liberal Democratic Party that faces defeat for the first time in decades in the general election at the end of this month.

However, if nothing else, the controversy over the system has excited Japanese people about the court system, and not just in bloody tales of murder and mayhem, and whatever happens in the future, any disorder in the court that results in interest and engagement in criminal justice has to be a good thing.

CCTV and urban regeneration in Nippori

The link between urban regeneration or redevelopment and the introduction of video surveillance has been well documented by many different authors in Britain, in particularly Roy Coleman in Reclaiming the Streets. It seems that the link is strong in Tokyo too. This new CCTV scheme in the front of Nippori railway station in Arakawa-ku is not only clearly part of the social and spatial restructuring of this area, it is an essential part of the new image, with the new entranceway celebrating the security cameras as much as the area’s name. This is the area we were told by Shinjuku officials had only three cameras, whereas in fact it has the princely total of ten! In retrospect the Shinjuku people seemed to be rather condescending towards Arakawa-ku.