Cookouts along Tama drawing flak

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

For the people of Tokyo, the wide banks of the Tama River are among the most popular places to have a barbecue.

What many of them don’t know, however, or maybe they just don’t care, is that cookouts along most of the river, especially in the parklike areas inside the levees where the Tama flows through the metropolis, are prohibited.

Many municipalities tolerate barbecuing, though, unless they receive an overwhelming amount of complaints about smell, noise or bad manners.

The city of Komae, Tokyo, has been one such place. Heeding residents’ complaints, it plans to beef up its restrictions against cookouts on the Tama’s banks in April, and may eventually start slapping fines on violators. Unless people behave themselves in other stretches along the river, they could push other municipalities to follow suit.

Numerous cities and wards already ban cookouts along the Tama, but they don’t fine violators. Komae’s stance is expected to be tougher because of the large number of complaints.

“In Komae, the riverbank is really near a residential area. It’s very noisy, smelly and smoky. We have been receiving many complaints for years. We receive reports of people urinating at the gates of homes,” said Ryuichi Saito, head of Komae’s Environment Management Division.

When the city enforces the new ordinance in April, cookouts will officially be allowed in only one place along the Tama between Chofu and Tokyo Bay: an area near Futako-Shinchi in Takatsu Ward, Kawasaki.

The southern bank along that stretch of the river is governed by Kawasaki, while the Tokyo side touches Chofu, Komae, Setagaya Ward and Ota Ward.

Komae’s Saito said the behavior of people partaking in cookouts can be so bad that a strict ban is the only way to handle the situation.

“We didn’t discuss charging people for having barbecues because we just want to ban them,” he said, citing lots of complaints from local residents.

Outsiders are the ones usually engaging in the cookouts in Komae, he said, and in peak periods, Golden Week for instance, their number can run as high as 3,000.

Kawasaki, whose long northern border is formed by the Tama River, had a ban against cookouts for years. It was largely ignored, however.

The city would have been OK with that — if people had shown good manners. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.

“We tried to enlighten people by putting up signs saying ‘Take your garbage with you,’ but realized that wasn’t enough,” said Tadayuki Ogawa, the Kawasaki official in charge of policies regarding the Tama River.

Instead of enforcing stricter rules, like Komae, Kawasaki changed the ordinance to create a designated cookout area and levied a fee for its use and to keep it clean.

Last April, Kawasaki designated an area near Futako-Shinchi, already popular for barbecues, as the only permissible place and started charging people aged 6 and up ¥500 to enter.

It seems to be working, according to the city.

“The number of complaints has dropped dramatically,” Ogawa said.

The city hired a company to clean the area and its vicinity every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, he said.

Komae’s Saito said the people living near Futako-Shinchi are fortunate because the riverbank there is farther from residential areas than in Komae, justifying that city’s tougher policy.

Ota and Setagawa wards and the city of Chofu haven’t had the same level of problems as Komae and Kawasaki.

Ota Ward bans riverside cookouts by ordinance. An official said he is aware some people have barbecues anyway, but they don’t elicit many complaints.

Setagaya Ward and Chofu have no ordinance explicitly prohibiting cookouts, but they do ban them and post notices near the river saying fires are not permitted.

Setagaya and Chofu officials said that like their counterparts in Ota Ward they don’t receive many complaints, even though the people doing the barbecuing never stop coming.

However, whether municipalities take severe action or not, there will always be local residents who complain.

City and ward officials urge those having cookouts to pack out their garbage and keep the noise down.

In Kawasaki, even after the ordinance was changed to limit cookouts to one designated area, 30 percent of nearby residents opposed allowing barbecues under any circumstance, Ogawa said.

Also, people still have cookouts in Kawasaki other than in the Futako-Shinchi area, but the city doesn’t consider them problematic because there are few complaints from residents, Ogawa said.