OSAKA — Does Osaka really want lots of foreign visitors to come for the World Cup?
With less than two weeks to the start of the event, that’s the question on the minds of many resident foreigners here who fear that city officials, police and the media have created a state of panic by focusing on potential hooliganism and — in the name of safety precautions — are ignoring some practical hospitality issues.
Since earlier this year, when Osaka police showed local merchants a video of British hooligans on a rampage, there has been a steady stream of media reports warning of the dangers of unruly fans. This, a growing number of people feel, has created an atmosphere inhospitable to foreign fans.
“Osaka will welcome foreigners who are corporate sponsors or those who have enough money to stay at one of the top hotels,” a senior member of the Kansai consular corps said on condition of anonymity.
“But there is a siege mentality among Osaka residents and officials which has been fed by the media. This has led to policies that presume foreigners are troublemakers first and guests second.”
As examples, the official cited decisions by the city not to set up large visual screens in outdoor public places to broadcast the matches, and the refusal to set aside areas for fans arriving with just backpacks.
But city officials, led by Mayor Takafumi Isomura, defended the emphasis on security measures.
“What if there is trouble and something happens? We don’t want people to say afterward that the city should have done something,” Isomura told a recent news conference. “We don’t want to get caught unprepared.”
At the same time, Osaka has not prepared for the possibility that foreign visitors might decide to just spend the night on the streets rather than pay for a hotel room, although campsites have been designated in areas some distance from the city center.
“We had hoped to set up areas for backpackers at certain locations, but there is opposition among local merchants and residents,” the mayor said. “We’re still trying to work things out.”
During the World Cup, Osaka will deploy nearly 8,000 police officers around the city. In addition, hundreds of volunteers have been recruited to monitor the area around Nagai Park, where the matches will be played, and the city has hired private security firms to monitor trains and subway stations.
In an announcement that made local headlines, Osaka police said hooligans who are arrested would be detained in a new prefectural police headquarters building that is not slated to officially open until July 31.
All this security may help ease concerns among local Japanese, but a growing number of resident foreigners in Osaka are worried that innocent foreign residents or fans out for a night on the town may find themselves the victims of police brutality.
“Imagine one local bartender, waitress, or customer who sees a group of white foreign men shouting loudly and appearing to have been drinking and has heard all of the media stories about hooligans,” said the Australian manager of a bar in south Osaka.
“The next thing you know, a squad of cops in full riot gear shows up at the bar or restaurant where foreigners have gathered. At that point, the situation could become very ugly if police start interrogating people in a rough manner.”
Isomura acknowledged that some foreign residents have concerns about overzealous police cracking down on innocent foreign visitors. But his concerns are otherwise.
“Rather than being too strict, I’m worried that Osaka cops will be too easy,” the mayor said.
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