The return Sunday of the pedestrian-only zone in Tokyo’s Akihabara electronics and entertainment district is being watched with a mixture of positive expectation and anxiety.
The “pedestrian heaven,” as it is called, was suspended following a fatal attack there in June 2008. Before the incident, cars had been blocked from the area starting at noon Sundays and national holidays since 1973.
Merchants hope the reopening could bring in more money, but nearby residents are concerned it will also bring back various problems, such as rampant litter and street performances getting out of control.
People affected by the 2008 attack, in which a man drove a truck into the street and then stabbed people indiscriminately, view the situation with mixed feelings, hoping the massacre will not fade from memory.
In December, the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Safety Commission approved a plan to block off a section of Chuo Dori — one of Akihabara’s main thoroughfares — every Sunday afternoon from this weekend to June on a trial basis.
Welcoming the decision, Chiyoda Ward Mayor Masami Ishikawa said the reopening is a “result of ardent efforts concerning safety and security by community members,” adding he will give full support to improving the “attractiveness and dynamism” of the area.
Since the suspension, a group set up by residents and shops decided to ban improper street performances in the area and organized voluntary patrols on weekends, helping to pave the way for the resumption.
The group is hoping to attract more consumers to Akiba, as the district has come to be called, amid growing fears the area could languish due to the prolonged recession.
On the surface, Akiba appears to be bustling, with shoppers crowding its streets especially on weekends on the back of its popularity among foreign tourists eager to buy electronic appliances as well as goods featuring Japanese manga and “anime.”
But an official with a well-established home appliance store in the area said, “We have been hit by a sharp drop in sales since the Lehman shock,” referring to the global financial crisis triggered by the collapse of U.S. investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. in September 2008.
“If (the pedestrian zone) reopens, more people will turn out and the entire area will likely come alive,” the official said.
Some residents, however, remain worried that the problems of the past will also return.
Several months before the fatal rampage, Akiba saw a series of illegal activities, including a case in which a woman was arrested for exposing her underwear in a public place and incidents such as pedestrians randomly firing air guns.
“We didn’t have an atmosphere where families were able to walk around with peace of mind,” a man living in the area said, adding he is concerned the district could go back to being “bad-mannered Akiba.”
Chiyoda Ward said it has received more than 200 e-mails and phone calls, most of which have indicated that people are worried that personal security in Akihabara could deteriorate.
“It is important to continue safety activities even after the reopening,” an official said.
Meanwhile, among the people affected by the random attack, a woman whose friend lost a relative in the incident said: “Akihabara is my favorite place. I want many people to come here.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.