Home > Focus on Japan 2008 > I Hate Stupid Over-reactions

I Hate Stupid Over-reactions

June 15th, 2008

Due to last week’s knifing rampage, “authorities” are suspending Akihabara’s “open street” Sunday. In Japan, many heavily-visited shopping areas close the street to motor vehicle traffic and allow pedestrians to spill into and take over the entire street in order to avoid congestion and create a bit more of an open market atmosphere. Akihabara is not the only place where this happens; in Tokyo, the Ginza and I believe Shinjuku Boulevard also open up on Sundays. In fact, I can see a permanent “open street” from my balcony–Sunshine Street in Ikebukuro. Akihabara has been opening their main drag for visitors for 35 years.

Closing the street is not being done for safety reasons; after all, concentrating people on the sidewalks would, if anything, make it easier to kill more people. Perhaps in the sense of Akihabara Open Street being a famous event so it draws attackers, closing the street might seem useful–until you realize that an attacker looking for a famous area to attack would simply move on to one of the other open streets (which I believe are still open), and lacking those, would move on to other kinds of venues. At best, it would only displace the attack elsewhere. Not to mention that in 35 years, the open street hasn’t exactly been a murder magnet or anything.

No, this seems to be nothing more than an official attempt to make it look like the authorities are doing something. You know, like making everybody take off their shoes at airports. In Japan, this is a common reaction to a tragedy with no easy fix. I recall a while back, after the terror attack on a Spanish railway, some train lines in Japan reacted by removing trash cans from train platforms. Yeah, that really put a dent in terrorism. I bet scores of terrorists threw up their hands in surrender once they noticed the trash cans were gone.

In this case, beefing up and publicizing psychiatric counseling services would probably be a far better and more effective reaction, but would be harder, more expensive, and less sexy. So instead, they’re closing down the open street and beefing up police presence. Unfortunately, that’s another over-reaction: the police are now not only patrolling in gangs, but they are openly wielding nightsticks–not holstered, but always in hand–while stopping people seemingly at random and questioning them.

That ought to do wonders for business in Akihabara–I don’t want to go near the place already.

So we get these stupid over-reactions instead of doing what’s sensible–better psychiatric care (not a cure-all, but it would help) and a more sensible police presence all the time, not just after the fact. They ought to do something other than just make it seem like something is being done.

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  1. Brad
    June 15th, 2008 at 20:46 | #1

    > I bet scores of terrorists threw up their hands in surrender once they noticed the trash cans were gone.

    I remember how surprised I was when I first visited London in 1997 … I was startled to find that there were no garbage bins anywhere at all on the tube stations. When I asked why I was told that it was a reaction to the IRA bombings.

    I don’t know if that was true … I don’t even know anything about the IRA bombings in London, what tube platforms had been hit, when, et cetera. But maybe there was precedent in that for what the Japanese did?

  2. ykw
    June 16th, 2008 at 02:21 | #2

    Perhaps they are worried about a slowdown in the economy (people go out and shop less), and this will counter act that. Perhaps the ecomony will speed up (more shopping, more gnp) due to the road opening up, prompted by the attacker. I wonder if police are going to increase the weapons that they carry due to this?

  3. Geoff
    June 16th, 2008 at 09:32 | #3

    Yeah, the other knee-jerk response to this has been to ban daggers and “assault knives”. Now, I don’t see a real need for these knives, but as a preventive measure it’s ridiculous. You can do just as much damage with a regular kitchen knife–probably more if it’s one of those razor-sharp sushi numbers.

    They’re doing the trashcan thing again too. Because of the July 8 G8 conference in Hokkaido, trashcans have been removed from all Tokyo subways for a month (from 6/10-7/10). Take that Al Quaida!

  4. Stuart
    June 17th, 2008 at 04:32 | #4

    There’s only been one terrorist attack on Japanese trains anyway, and it was perpretrated by Japanese nationals, and they didn’t use trash cans for it either.

  5. Luis
    June 17th, 2008 at 10:14 | #5

    Stuart: bingo.

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