National

Shibuya Ward calls for safe New Year's countdown after disruption at Halloween

by Ryusei Takahashi

Staff Writer

For better or worse, the holidays bring people together.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather at the famed ‘scramble crossing’ in front of Shibuya Station in Tokyo on Monday to count down the last moments of the year together.

However, problems can arise when so many gather in the same place at the same time. At Halloween, 13 individuals were arrested for alleged groping, theft and assault in Shibuya Ward in the capital after a massive crowd descended on the neighborhood, forcing the local police department to dispatch several hundred officers to subdue the chaos. Volunteers spent hours the next morning cleaning up piles of litter left behind by revelers the previous night.

The first countdown event at the Shibuya crossing, held in 2016, was created precisely to avoid what happened on Halloween this year, according to an official from the Shibuya Ward Office. Events with comedians and athletes will be held in front of Shibuya 109 and Shibuya Modi — two department stores near the intersection — on Dec. 31, in an effort to keep the crowd occupied and therefore avoid sexual assaults and transgressions with intoxicated people. The lack of such events, the official says, might explain the disorder seen on Halloween in Shibuya.

Still, Halloween and New Year’s are difficult to compare, the official says, because at Halloween people fill the streets from midafternoon until the early morning for days on end. On the other hand, he said, for most people the end of the year is a time for reflection and celebration — a rare reprieve for busy workers to forget about their jobs and spend time with family. During this time, many people gather at the Shibuya crossing to witness the end of the year and the beginning of the new one. “They’re very different holidays,” he said. “People come at different times for different reasons.”

About 60,000 people came to Shibuya’s countdown event in 2016, and more than 100,000 descended on the area in 2017. Local authorities expect even more to come this year.

Some streets near Shibuya Station will be closed to traffic between 11 p.m. Monday and 2 a.m. Tuesday. Pedestrians will have free access to the traffic-free crossing area between 11:30 p.m. and 1 a.m. that night, after which traffic there will resume.

East Japan Railway Co. also announced that Shibuya Station’s Hachiko exit, which is nearest to the crossing, will be closed at 11 p.m. on Monday and will be reopened an hour and 20 minutes later. The official said police officers will be relaying information in both English and Japanese. He said he hopes people will follow the rules and behave themselves so that everyone can enjoy the event.

“This event was created in 2016 to bring residents together and address societal issues that have worsened in recent years,” said Shibuya Mayor Ken Hasebe, who is also the vice president of the Countdown Planning Committee, in a statement. “We want people to enjoy counting down to the New Year in peace.”