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Shinjuku tout ban a ‘performance’ prior to bid for 2020 Olympics

Spa! Oct. 29
Spa! Oct. 29

In September, the International Olympic Committee announced that Tokyo will be the host of the 2020 Olympic Games. Since then, news outlets have speculated that preparation for the Games may include the eradication of the Kabukicho red-light district.

The quarter, located in Shinjuku Ward, is known for its large number of adult-entertainment establishments. Starting on September 1, just days before the IOC decision, the ward began implementing a ban on street solicitation in an effort to combat the practice known as bottakuri, in which customers at bars or clubs unknowingly rack up exorbitant charges.

This, however, may not be the beginning of the end. Spa! turns to Korean photo journalist Choul Kwon, who has spent over a decade in Tokyo documenting the seedier aspects of the pleasure quarter, is skeptical that Kabukicho will be shutting its gates anytime soon.

As an example, the photographer describes how the street solicitation ban was implemented.

“In walking the streets, I didn’t see any touts,” say Kwon, referring to the first day of the ban. “It was the first time in my 16 years of photographing Kabukicho to experience this.”

The photographer says that the day before the mandate came into effect the ward mayor and other officials participated in a parade to promote the measure. “It was an effort to show the IOC that the area is completely safe,” he says.

But it was short-lived.

“Starting on September 4, the touts were back,” Kwon says. “The regulation does not come with a penalty. Police officers and advisers on patrol only offer ‘guidance.’ In the end, it was just a performance for the IOC.”

In 2003, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara appointed Yutaka Takehana as vice governor. By the end of 2005, law enforcement had busted 280 brothels, clubs, and casinos, arrested 400 gangsters, and cited 1,000 foreigners for visa violations. As well, regulations were implemented citywide to limit street touting.

The photographer says the actions of a decade ago did have an impact on Kabukicho. “The Korean dating clubs and Koreans overstaying on their visas dropped off sharply,” he says.

But overall, street touting in Kabukicho did not decrease. Kwon guesses that it has only jumped. “Each day, I’ll see the touts and police standing around together, shooting the breeze,” he says. “There really is no serious plan to clean up Kabukicho.”

As to the Olympics, Kwon says the red-light district will of course be a draw.

“The Robot Restaurant, which opened last year, is the kind of thing that fascinates foreigners,” says the photographer. “But the government cannot clean Kabukicho up because it’s meaning will be lost.”

Kwon says that it is necessary for there to be a middle ground that eliminates the rip-off (bottakuri) joints and other problematic activities, such as drug sales and underage prostitution.

“In that way, Kabukicho can continue to be an ‘adult playground’ in the future,” he says.

Source: “2020 nen made ni Shinjuku Kabukicho ha joka sareru no ka?” Nikkan Spa! (Web)