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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Locals lament host of CCTV cameras around Skytree


Municipal authorities in Sumida Ward, which hosts the newly opened Tokyo Skytree, have started operating some of the 77 security cameras around the capital's latest landmark, although some local residents feel bewildered by the extent of surveillance.

News photo
Eyesore: One of the 77 new security cameras set up around Tokyo Skytree in Sumida Ward monitors the area recently. KYODO

More CCTV cameras have been set up in the area than in the Kabukicho area, the crime-prone hub of Japan's sex industry in Shinjuku Ward, where 55 cameras are currently in operation.

The move was intended to ease residents' anxieties about the massive sudden influx of tourists visiting the world's tallest broadcasting tower, which drew major domestic and global coverage long before it was opened to the public May 22.

For the time being, authorities are prioritizing surveillance of Tokyo Skytree Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line, as well as shopping districts, but the ward is considering installing more cameras.

The cost of installing the devices, about ¥500,000 to ¥700,000 per camera, was covered by subsidies from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, as well as funding by the ward and 19 local neighborhood organizations.

Known for its tradition of craftsmanship dating back to the Edo Period, the neighborhood around Skytree has an old world feel, with traditional stores and homes lining the narrow streets. Members of the close-knit community have a reputation for looking out for each other.

"In the past, this was the kind of place where people would go out to close their neighbors' windows when it started raining," said Etsuko Kurusu, 62, who runs a local ramen restaurant with her husband.

"It feels sad that this has become the kind of area where you now need to put up security cameras," she lamented.

The cameras are jointly operated by Sumida Ward and the neighborhood groups. They record around the clock but the footage is not monitored by full-time workers to protect the privacy of locals.

Whenever police need to view certain images, the head of a police station is required to file an application.

"Our goal is for the residents to feel safe with the presence of the cameras, not that their entire lives are under constant surveillance," a ward official said.

Still, to ensure the cameras serve as a deterrent and that tourists are aware of their presence, many have been installed in easy-to-spot locations, such as utility poles at crossings.

"Having the cameras makes me feel safe because a growing number of the elderly leave their homes unattended when they visit hospitals," said 82-year-old Mitsuo Akimoto, who lives near the tower.

"But the charm of the old neighborhood is slowly fading."

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