TMC reports on TV Asahi “Super Morning” rupo re Shibuya Center Gai citizen patrols harassing buskers, NJ


Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free

Hi Blog. I haven’t seen this program myself, but if the below is true, this is some pretty serious stuff: Officially-sanctioned and media-encouraged vigilanteism. Anyone else see the program in question or know about these citizen patrols and their haranguing ways? Arudou Debito


From: TMC
Subject: Discrimination in Shibuya’s Center Gai
Date: January 9, 2011

Dear Debito,

This is my first time contacting you but I have been reading your website for a long time. This may have already been brought to your attention but I thought I’d let you know anyway.

I was watching television on Friday morning (January 7th) and caught a segment featured on TV Asahi’s Super Morning about a citizen patrol operating in Shibuya’s Center Gai district that acts in an aggressive and belligerent manner. First, this group is shown breaking up a live music performance by young Japanese. Unlike what you would expect from such patrols, their manner of enforcing ward bylaws was extremely rude and invited escalation of the situation. Instead of simply telling the musicians to discontinue and wait for their response, the oyaji in charge of this band of bullies screamed at the kids like a yakusa to stop playing and continued haranguing them as they were dispersing. In contrast, the young musicians were not shown being argumentative at all.

The other disturbing scene occurred when this gang spotted an African male leaning on a guard rail. From a fair distance away, the patrol (composed of about six Japanese males dressed in their citizens patrol jackets) immediately went over, surrounded the guy and demanded that he pick up some cans that were on the ground next to him. Despite the fact that the African was doing nothing but leaning against a guard rail, they started barking at him (given their close distance to the African, their posture, numbers and tone, it could be perceived as very threatening). The African quite rightly took umbrage at the unprovoked intrusion and got into an argument that escalated into some pushing and shoving, with the African kicking some objects in the street. Eventually the police were called in to settle the dispute. Had it been some oyaji doing the same thing, I highly doubt the patrol would have done anything. In addition, I have so far never seen the police get that aggressive right off the bat in public.

From what I could tell the group was composed mainly of older men with a few younger ones included (two of which had lived in the US for a long time and were fairly fluent in English (as shown when they gave directions to some tourists) so it is ironic that they are spending their time hassling foreigners). Following the story, the panel (including Mr. Baseball’s son, Kazushige Nagashima) discussed how good it was that this group was cleaning up the area (complete with upbeat parade music playing in the background) and that more “ganko oyajis” like these were needed to make Tokyo neighborhoods safe for the elderly. There were no dissenting opinions of course. This use of aggressive vigilante groups that take liberties the cops generally don’t or can’t is disturbing. I think citizen patrols are great but strutting around like brownshirts targeting certain groups and causing trouble is definitely outside of their mandate. Sincerely, TMC


14 comments on “TMC reports on TV Asahi “Super Morning” rupo re Shibuya Center Gai citizen patrols harassing buskers, NJ

  • This is an old story but as I live in Shibuya, about 300 meters from the center gai, I don’t like the idea of nasty old people bullying people they don’t like. I was fairly neutral about it until one of those aggressive oyaji came running up to me to get off my bike last summer- but I got past him.

    I must stress however, that I was probably breaking some rule by riding my bike up the center gai. They probably have a rule for everything (or would like to) but at the same time I wasn’t prepared to have some bloke shouting at me in the street. You know, this is desperately petty and mean spirited. I routinely cycle the wrong way up the street outside of the US Embassy and the police don’t mind at all. They have more important things to do, you know, like protect the American Embassy from the hoards of terrorists lurking around Japan blowing people up, or perhaps old women pushing in the visa queue.

    Very unpleasant people – 自己満足親父暴音隊 jikomanzoku oyagiboon (hot air) tai. Somehow the leading minor middle aged unformed bully in the videos reminds me of a less intelligent but more gutsy Ishihara Shintaro.

    It looks like they really, really enjoy it. But I am not sure that these ritual morality plays (old vs young, conservative vs non-conservative, Japanese vs foreigners) help anyone really.

    Perfect Kempeitai material though. If they are really serious, they’ll drive away the young custom and be reduced to a perfect paradise of only people they approve of able to walk the streets in a manner they approve of.

    But I am happy to say that they seem a minor pest. I assume they would only pick on targets they could get away with, you know if things got rough, people that the redoubtable blue nylon heros of Shibuya Koban would immediately side against.

  • I’m glad TMC pointed out the fact that two of the posse had lived in the US and spoke OK English. I think a lot of bad Japanese behavior towards non-Japanese in Japan gets excused & explained away as cultural miscommunication due to Japan’s isolation & lack of familiarity with foreigners, but in MANY cases this is simply just not true. Many Japanese are very well traveled and have visited or lived in Western countries (this is something many Japanese people brag about here in Japan), and they will simply not speak English and/or feign ignorance about international sensitivities when it is convenient. It’s hard to know this kind of discreet cultural stuff until you’ve lived here for a while.

    I am originally from New York, which statistically has the largest number of “new” Japanese immigrants (not Japanese-Americans, but fresh from Japan people) & tourists of anyplace in the US. I have had a lot of dealings with the NYC Japanese immgrant community before I moved to Japan and let me tell you, they are VERY aware of their rights in the US and are very sensitive to any form of discrimination. That’s why I was so surprised to see some of the behavior here, particularly from Japanese who have been abroad. I am sad to say that my experience here has essentially ensured that when I do return to the US I will not be as sensitive to their concerns as I was before, because my overall experience has been that the average Japanese wants to have their cake & eat it too. Very intelligent, well traveled Japanese people will argue about civil rights in the US, but ignore the situation of non-Japanese in Japan and write many things off as attributable to Japanese culture (read:unassailable issues–simply, THIS IS JAPAN).

    I know this is not the most enlightened position to take, but I’m sorry, I’ve experienced enough here in Japan to support these sentiments. The scariest part for me has been realizing, from personal experience, that often these people are not just the older Japanese people, but the young Japanese men and women here. Japan is closing back up and is quite happy to have no foreigners here (meanwhile they fully expect to be able to visit and live wherever they want outside of Japan with full civil rights). It’s a shame because I do love the art and culture of Japan, and living here and seeing different parts of the country has been mostly very pleasant, but the reality is that your non-Japanese life here is cheap, and only luck prevents you from getting stepped on by your lack of rights, public support, or legal redress. Not even going to the media can really help you here. In many ways, particularly for non-Japanese, Japanese is a rich & modern country with the legal & civil rights framework of a lawless South American or Mexican hamlet.

    I had fun, but I’m definitely ready to go back to the US. DEFINITELY not perfect, and very screwed up in many ways, but I have a lot more respect for th US system of civil rights and law than I had before. Not perfect by any stretch, but a damn sight better than being a non-Japanese living in Japan.

    — My goodness, this particular post precipitates this outpouring?

  • Jeremy,
    So an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is your idea of justice, and what one Japanese does means they should all “get their just desserts” or not get their civil rights in the US? I am not sure you fully understand what the US civil rights system is, and I think your view sums up pretty well the Japanese view you purport to object to.

  • I was in Nagoya, just walking to some store and there was one of those patrols. A guy pointed at me to the other guys. I suddenly stopped and asked them what they were doing pointing at people. They right away apologized but that was not enough for me. I called my Japanese friend and he asked for their names and which association belonged to, they refused to say so because of “privacy concerns”… So my guess it’s a guideline the police gives to these groups, no only an isolated incident in Shibuya.

  • PKU: thanks for those links. Love how ‘gomennasai’ was rendered in katakana for the guy who was smoking, just in case viewers didn’t get that HE WAS A FOREIGNER!!!!! (Did I detect some irony in the tone of the announcer about it being ‘abunai’, though? Or was that sincere?)

  • I was in Shibuya doing some shopping (late Dec.) when this particular patrol plus camera crew surrounded this middle-aged Japanese guy leaning on a lamp post telling him to state his business and clean up the litter around him. It seemed at the time that this was a staged event (ヤラセ)to try and produce higher ratings (like COPS in the U.S.), but I guess the patrol, despite their offensive ways, is a legit gathering of people fed up with whay they deem to be social scum. Will probably never go to Shibuya again unless I absolutely have to.

  • Debito, could you clarify what the legal authority of these citizen patrols actually is? Do people have any legal obligation to obey their orders? Can they arrest or fine you if you don’t do what they say?

    I am guessing the answer is that they have zero power to do anything, but it would nice to know for sure.

    — I’m not a lawyer or legally-trained expert, but as far as I can see, these citizen patrols have no legal power of search, arrest, or enforcing any other criminal-law-based penalty (such as fines). They are not police, granted police powers by the Ministry of Justice. They are just concerned citizens on patrol who feel empowered to tell people they see to shape up or ship out.

    The main power they have, again from what I can see, is that they can call the police on you, and have the police take the complaint more seriously than average.

  • Really, unless you’re actually breaking a law or local ordinance ( no smoking zones, littering, busking etc ) the only power they have is to intimidate and irritate you as you go about your business.

    Provided you’re not breaking a law ordinance, the best approach is to turn on your best Oyaji Japanese back on the Oyaji. He can’t escalate further than that without physically accosting you, which he can’t do.

    Keep calm, and always play with their minds. They’re ignorant toothless bullies, and ignorant bullies deserve to be messed with psychologically. They can’t handle it.

  • Its all about the lingering belief of some older people that they have the right to order people around for being “rude”, when they themselves are “rude” (but they can do that because they are older).

    @ Jeremy and TMC, about 2 of the posse being younger, English speaking and having been in the USA, this doesnt surprise me. One of my first impressions of Japanese companies vis a vis non Japanese since 1988 onwards, is that the oyaji boss delegates the “Japan that can say no in English” role to a younger subordinate. Said young guys may have been in the USA, but maybe they didnt have a good experience, or maybe think they re actually “helping the foreigner” by “explaining the rules” by information giving in English.

    Since I learnt Japanese I ve always immediately appealed directly in Japanese to any superior, basically I learnt the language to cut through the bullsh*t and push to get things done faster. Some said this was confrontational, but as I became middle-aged I ve found it’s actually been more accepted, at least in my experience. Ie. Oyaji can do it (!?).

    Secondly, I think this group is an outlet for a certain demographic who likes to push people around, and tell them what “the rules” are. From above, it seems “No leaning against an object in public” is one of their “rules”, probably they think it looks slovenly and they want people to stand up straight and not loiter, ie. stink the place up. This happened to me, some older guy came up to me when I was using a payphone and interrupted my call to say I couldnt lean against it-cue confrontation in which I berated him mercilessly for being so rude as to interrupt my phone call. When I asked a passing station staff to call the police, he backed off and jumped on a train, scowling.

    Its bascially all about some people thinking they can do what they like and tell others-who they deem below them in some imaginary hierarchy-what to do. Picking on an African in the TV program just smacks of that.

    I m looking forward to this group bothering me in Shibuya, and practicing my critical skills in Japanese. Lepanto in Nagoya did the right thing-turn the tables on them.

  • I don’t see how the black man did anything wrong. Drinking in public isn’t illegal in Japan. I have seen Japanese men do it.

    For the musicians, I guess they should have a permit to perform. Was their beef that they had a drum set and would be too loud?

  • I have mixed feelings about these groups.

    One the one hand I can respect that they would like to see that the laws and rules are obeyed, but they are going about it in the way.

    If they approached me with this belligerent behaviour, I think the most important thing would be to keep a cool head.

    Nothing gives you me a better feeling than ignoring these kinds of idiots right to their face.

  • If they come up to me or anyone else in the vicinity of the station while I am theoretically waiting for someone, then I’m going to complain to the station staff immediately, about the “Henna Oyaji impersonating a police officer harrasing passengers/customers. Meiwaku desu, mo Shibuya eki wo tsukaemasen”
    It is harassment of one individual by another, plain and simple. They have no mandate for this. They just think they are older, and better.

  • One part is the legality of it all. I mean, sure, SOME of the stuff they stop people for is theoretically illegal, like smoking outside the smoking zones (even though they obviously stood somewhere where it wouldn’t bother anyone). But leaning against a railing? Sitting down? I’m fairly certain that’s not against the law.
    I would encourage people to go to the nearest koban and complain about harassment.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>