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Tokyo ordinance freezes out gangs from summer festivals

Publication Date : 19-08-2014


Local summer festivals in Tokyo were once lined with many street stalls run by organisations with links to organised crime. But festivals have undergone a makeover after a metropolitan government ordinance enacted in October 2011 banned event organisers from allowing gangs from becoming involved.

A new provision was added to the ordinance, stipulating that businesses and individuals organising festivals should stop gangsters from joining such events.

The Metropolitan Police Department and local associations of shop operators are trying to stop organisations of street stall vendors known as “tekiya” from setting up stalls because of their close ties with gangsters. The MPD plans to assist local residents and shops in organising and managing summer festivals in their communities.

Though there are fewer colourful street stalls, visitors are heaping praise on those set up and managed by local residents associations and shop operator associations.

Prefectural governments have enacted similar ordinances to prohibit companies and individuals from providing benefits to organised gangs and their members.

Article 17 of Tokyo’s ordinance stipulates that festival organisers should take measures to prevent gangsters from becoming involved.

For example, in the Furukawa Matsuri festival held on July 26 and 27 in parks and within the premises of a shrine in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, local primary school-related groups and resident associations set up tents to run about 10 stalls.

The stalls offered various food items, such as a cup of shaved ice for 100 yen (92 US cents), a pack of takoyaki octopus dumplings at 250 yen (US$2.44) and a frankfurter for 100 yen.

The street stall operators were members of local residents associations and parent-teacher associations of nearby schools. A 37-year-old company employee who visited the festival with his family said, “The prices are reasonable and we can now safely take our children.”

According to the Kasai Police Station, a tekiya organisation that is suspected to have close ties with a gang affiliated with the Yamaguchi-gumi crime syndicate previously operated a number of stalls at the festival.

But after the ordinance was enacted, the police station issued a warning to the tekiya organisation that it would no longer be granted permission to set up stalls around the festival venue. Local police also requested festival organisers to prevent the organisation from operating stalls as long as it maintains ties with gangs.

A senior police officer said, “Because of cooperation from local residents, we succeeded in excluding the organisation.”

The Azabujuban Noryo Matsuri, a local summer festival to be held in Minato Ward, Tokyo, later this month, will also see big changes under the initiative of local residents.

About 300 stalls operated by tekiya members lined the streets in the past. But after the festival in 2011 was cancelled following the Great East Japan Earthquake, local residents began efforts in 2012 to bar the tekiya.

Shop operators in the neighbourhood set up stalls featuring popular attractions, such as catching goldfish and ring tossing. The Azabu Police Station prepared for possible gang harassment by guarding local shop operators and others involved in organising the festival.

Tatsuo Sunaga, head of Azabujuban Shotengai Shinko Kumiai, a union promoting the shopping street that organises the summer festival, said: “Our festival has become an event organised by local residents once again, just like the old days. This town’s former atmosphere has returned.”

Similar efforts have made headway in other parts of Tokyo.

According to the MPD, organised crime syndicates use festivals as fund-raising sources by having tekiya organisations open stalls and then taking part of the sales proceeds as a commission, or by allotting space for each stall and receiving a commission that way.

In April, the MPD acted on the ordinance and issued a warning to a gang affiliated with the Kyokutokai crime syndicate, which made zoning arrangements for festivals in Tokyo.

However, some people say stalls operated by tekiya members are a part of the festival tradition.

Though the ordinance barred gangs from directly operating stalls, police said there were cases where gang members posed as ordinary members of the public by using false names to operate stalls in festivals.

A senior MPD official said: “Festivals should not be allowed to become financial resources for gangs. We’ll maintain the upbeat atmosphere of festivals by excluding gangs through the joint efforts of the public and private sectors.”


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