The Tokyo Reporter

Goodbye to gangsters at Kyoto’s Gion Festival

Shukan Jitsuwa Aug. 2
Changes are afoot at this year’s traditional summer festivals held in the Kansai area, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (Aug. 2). Recently enacted anti-organized crime ordinances have significantly reduced the number of street vendors often present at these traditional events.

Nationwide legislation that prohibits ordinary citizens from having business dealings with criminal organizations was enacted last October. In April 2011, a special mandate regarding the exclusion of gangsters was passed in Kyoto Prefecture.

During the period between July 14 and 17 of this year’s Gion Festival, held in the famed geisha quarter of Kyoto, the Gojo Roten Kumiai vending association estimated that there were 200 fewer stalls in the streets in comparison to last year. The stalls typically sell everything from grilled chicken to ice-cold beer.

Such a decline is attributed to a motion on June 22 of the Kyoto Gion Matsuri Yamaboku Rengokai volunteer organization, which vowed not to fear, utilize, or give money to organize crime groups, which notoriously back street-vending activities. The Kyoto Prefectural Police in turn limited the number of street stalls at the event.

“While the police say it is taking such measures to reduce crowd-related accidents it is evident that the intention is to eliminate merchants making a living through these shops,” says a journalist on the police beat. “Regarding concerns about ensuring crowd safety, control measures implemented two years ago are sufficient. The real intent is to get rid of organized-crime-related merchants.”

Vendors were not pleased. “The regulation blocked us from having our street shop,” says a merchant whose festival booth goldfish scooping. “While the authorities say it is to ensure pedestrian safety,they still let establishments set up special booths in front of their regular shops. It is simply designed to eliminate us.”

Another merchant laments that the festival’s spirit is being reduced as a consequence. “While we are indeed merchants who make a living through these festivals, we are also proud of what we do and that we help in turning the festivals into lively events,” says the stall proprietor. “This is what we want to convey to the authorities.”

While these merchants are claiming to be victims, tourists on Shijo Street, the main avenue of the festival, told Shukan Jitsuwa that the change was positive as traffic flowed more swiftly and a better atmosphere resulted.

Moves to limit vendor numbers exhibiting at the Tenjin Festival, the highlight of Osaka’s summer calendar, are already underway. “The elimination of many vendors from major festivals is becoming a trend, but the real issue will be with smaller scale festivals,” says a journalist covering local news.

A festival in a district of Amagasaki City will have three vendors this year instead of the double-digit figure of the past. “From now on, we need to transform this into a volunteer-based event to make it more lively,” says the event’s managing director. (K.N.)

Source: “Bohaijoreiyoha kankokyaku wa oyorokobisuru ‘Gion Matsuri’ ‘Tenjin Matsuri’ no roten gekigen gensho,” Shukan Jitsuwa (August 2, page 213)

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