• Chunichi Shimbun

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Shopping and entertainment districts in Chubu are seeing a jump in solicitation, including in Nishiki 3-chome (Kin-san), a bustling part of Nagoya’s Naka Ward that is known as the liveliest downtown area in the region.

Touting is on the rise, with drunk customers finding themselves being pulled into hostess bars and other establishments that charge exorbitant fees.

Such establishments used to task their own staff with soliciting customers, but after the Aichi Prefectural Police cracked down, it is more common to see “freelancers” reeling in customers for them.

Although the number of touting victims is on the decline, the police are tightening their scrutiny of touts as the bonenkai (year-end party) season nears.

Some men who appeared to be touting were seen loitering in the Kin-san area one night in early November. When approached by a reporter, one of them said: “You’re not recording or taking photos of us, are you?”

The man, 21, claimed to be a freelancer. He was only willing to answer questions after this reporter showed his business card and company ID and was checked thoroughly to ensure he was not affiliated with the police.

As it turns out, the man was apparently employed by a hostess bar to solicit customers in Kin-san, the area centering on Nishiki 3-chome, until two years ago. This was around the time that touting victims were on the rise.

When the Aichi Prefectural Police began cracking down harder on touting in the bustling entertainment district in fall 2014, the man switched to freelancing.

Establishments stopped conducting their own customer-hunting activities to avoid violating the entertainment business control law, which prohibits customer solicitation, and the prefecture’s anti-nuisance ordinance, which prohibits unreasonable solicitation.

The man now works five days a week from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. to persuade customers to patronize establishments in the area.

“Trust is the most important thing in our trade. We simply introduce customers to an establishment that offers what they want at a fair price,” he said.

These men typically receive 20 percent of what the customer spent in an hour as a reward. However, despite claiming to be freelancers, most are in fact working with the establishments. So the prefectural police consider them “to be just like employees.”

To combat this issue, the police launched a project in September 2015 to eliminate touting and scams.

In one year, they exposed 93 people involved in solicitation activities and 15 business owners who were suspected of breaking the entertainment business control law and the anti-nuisance ordinance.

According to the police, reports on touting scams dropped to 71 cases (amounting to ¥20.75 million) in a one-year period beginning in October 2015, from 127 cases (amounting to ¥46 million) in the previous one-year period, as a result of the project.

As of Sept. 30 this year, the estimated number of touts active in Kin-san had fallen to around 120, compared with about 180 as of Aug. 31, 2015.

However, it is difficult to pin down the exact number of active touts.

“We are not sure of the actual number and there may in fact be more of them around,” a senior police officer admitted.

In addition, information from people familiar with the investigators has been circulating among the freelancers, helping them avoid the police.

To prevent more customer scams, Aichi Prefecture is preparing to draft an ordinance that would ban establishments from accepting customers introduced by freelance touts.

This is an attempt to crack down on establishments who claim they are not involved in solicitation activities because freelancers do the touting instead.

The ordinance would prohibit bars, clubs and other establishments from giving confusing explanations to customers, using misleading price lists that make it seem like something is cheaper than it actually is, and collecting payments in a strong-arm manner.

The police also plan to make some of these actions punishable by the ordinance.

Among public comments solicited by the police about the proposed ordinance in August, most agreed it was necessary.

“We cannot allow proper stores to have their sales taken by establishments that use customer solicitation,” said a person affiliated with a restaurant in Kin-san.

“That may negatively affect the image of the whole area, so I hope (the police) will strengthen their crackdown,” the person said.

The Aichi Bar Association has also formed a voluntary group to deal with touting scams. The lawyers are negotiating with establishments to prevent customers from being victimized.

To avoid becoming a target, “it is important to refuse solicitors and avoid entering establishments that you do not know,” said Hikaru Kashima, the lawyer leading the group.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published on Nov. 23.

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