KAWAGUCHI, Saitama Pref. — Soccer fans hoping to stop for a cup of coffee on their way to or from World Cup games at Saitama Stadium won’t be able to do so at Katsura cafe here. Whenever matches are being played — and hooligans might be in the area — the cafe will be closed.
Owner Shizue Yoshida, 57, has also taken out special “hooligan insurance” on her cafe, which has full-length windows along two walls and is located on the street running between Higashi Kawaguchi Station and Saitama Stadium.
“Though I’m a bit curious (about the kind of customers who might have turned up), I’m closing the cafe for the entire day during each of the four matches,” she said. “I can’t risk putting it in the same situation I’ve seen in TV broadcasts from overseas.”
The match that worries Yoshida most features England, notorious for its hooligans, against Sweden on Sunday. Later games are Japan against Belgium on Tuesday, Cameroon versus Saudi Arabia on June 6 and a semifinal match on June 26.
Holding the games in her hometown is an unwelcome development that has created only anxiety and offers no benefit to local shops, Yoshida said.
The nearby Cosmo gas station has received instructions from police that it should close at 7 p.m. instead of 9 p.m. on the four days, “as hooligans may run amok and set the premises on fire,” attendant Shoji Kubo, 38, said.
While some shops see the games as an excellent opportunity to make money, the roughly 60 shops and restaurants on the 1.5-km-long shopping street close to Higashi Kawaguchi Station are wavering over whether they will remain open.
JR Higashi Kawaguchi Station is the transfer point to SR Saitama Kosoku Tetsudo Line, which runs closest to the stadium. As it is also possible to walk to the stadium from JR Higashi Kawaguchi Station, and because it is the last point before the stadium where one can shop, drink or eat, locals expect a large number of visitors to be in the area.
To relieve anxiety, a local crime-prevention organization, together with the town assembly, parent-teacher associations, a youth-fostering council and shop owner associations, has set up Safety Net Higashi Kawaguchi, a so-called vigilance committee made up of volunteers.
“Though the region around the station is quite large, with 53,000 residents, there is only one police box. We thought we need to take our own measures to protect ourselves,” said Takeo Kimata, 55, chief of one of the local “kominkan” community centers in charge of organizing Safety Net.
About 150 people, mostly salarymen and civil servants from the neighborhood, have volunteered to join in the effort.
During the games, they will stand at 20 points in and around the Higashi Kawaguchi shopping district, and will patrol five routes for three hours before and two hours after every match.
The main role of the volunteers is to watch closely for irregularities, gather information and report to the information center, where police and medics are on standby.
“With additional volunteers from the city of Kawaguchi, a total of 210 people are expected to stand on the streets,” Kimata said, explaining that the five patrol routes include the vicinity of the station, residential areas and parks, with special attention during the time when children leave school to go home.
“Items such as bicycles or signboards, which could be used as weapons during fights, will be removed from streets beforehand,” said Kenzo Ueyama, 51, who is in charge of disaster prevention at the Kawaguchi municipal office.
The city is in close contact with Safety Net, and is lending walkie-talkies and dispatching additional personnel to help out.
A few months ago, the city organized a video-viewing session to study hooligans, together with police and local organizations such as Safety Net.
“If the kind of hooligans we saw on the video, with physiques that seem to exceed ours by three times, create problems, there is no way our volunteers can counter them. It is most important that the information center be notified as soon as possible” at the first sign of trouble, he said, adding that a number of riot police buses will also be deployed close to the station.
While aware that precautions against damage are necessary, some fear a loss of hospitality toward visitors as locals have become perhaps overly wary of the possibility of hooligan trouble.
Susumu Nagahori, 73, head of a local citizen’s association, said: “It will be a pity if we can’t even offer a bowl of noodles to guests that come from so far away. They are looking forward to seeing not just the stadium but also the neighborhood. I truly hope many shop owners maintain a welcoming spirit and keep their doors open.”
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