Been over two years coming, but Akihabara’s Pedestrian Paradise is back this Sunday. It will be held every Sunday from 13:00 to 17:00 until the end of March, and then from 13:00 to 18:00 until the end of June. It is on a trial basis, so expect lots of anxious police and surveillance. Rules explicitly stipulate 1) no selling stuff on the street, 2) no performances, 3) no bicycles and 4) no passing out tissues or fliers. Rule number two might be a little discouraging for some visitors, as it means no cosplay, no idols, no jugglers, etc. Street performances are officially regulated in Chiyoda Ward, where the Electric Town is located, so it can’t be helped. And there is the history of performances getting out of hand three years ago…The new rules are all in the name of keeping things “safe.” Local businesses and politicians know that Akihabara stands to benefit as a destination (and have said so at events intended to invigorate the area), but tensions are running high. Signs announcing the reopening of the Pedestrian Paradise are posted on every pillar out the Electric Town Exit of JR Akihabara Station, along with pamphlets explaining the new rules.
Not everyone is happy about them, as the defacing of some posters demonstrates. In this example, the “prohibited” (kinshi) before the actions has been crossed out and replaced with “bring it on” (joutou).
Outside the station towards the UDX Building, the familiar sign stating rules such as no street performances (on which the police mascot has been defaced) has been joined by a sign on every lamp post stating new rules and codes of conduct, imploring everyone to cooperate for the good of the area.
Over by the Akihabara Town Management offices, the English slogan “Akiba Smile! Akiba is Beautiful, Peaceful and Happy” is posted above the vending machines, with accompanying Japanese, “Connecting with a smile, city planning.”
I have to attend a conference in Oita Prefecture, and so unfortunately won’t be able to make it to the reopening. Though I have a conditioned aversion to systems of control and surveillance, I still hope everything turns out all right… Aside from just wanting an area I love to prosper, Akihabara is playing an increasingly major role in the global imagination of Japanese popular culture (not to mention otaku). This point was driven home for me when at the airport in Tokyo the other day I saw a bustling shop selling Japanese toys. The word “Akihabara” was prominently displayed over the checkout counter, a beacon drawing in curious passers-by who parted with their money under the neon glow (in the shadow of the iconic RX-78-2 from “Mobile Suit Gundam”). That pretty much says it all! Click on the first image in the article to see details.