Seventy-seven surveillance cameras are being installed around the new Tokyo Sky Tree in Sumida Ward, compared with 55 in the Kabukicho entertainment district of Shinjuku Ward, drawing criticism of overkill and potential invasions of privacy.
Officials say the extra security is needed for the huge numbers of people expected to descend on the area when the world’s tallest tower opens to the public on May 22.
Residents near the new landmark welcome the economic benefits from the increase in tourism, but they are concerned that their “ordinary downtown,” where traditional houses and stores line the streets, will be forever changed.
“The world’s highest broadcasting tower suddenly appeared in a traditional neighborhood,” said Shinichi Kitamura, 76, who heads a Tokyo Sky Tree neighborhood council to promote security and safety. “Our town cannot stay the same.”
Of the 77 cameras, 66 are within an 800-meter radius of Tokyo Sky Tree, including on utility poles and street lights. They were set up by 17 neighborhood associations in the area and the Sumida Ward government. Subsidies from the Tokyo metropolitan government brought the cost of each camera down to 150,000 yen ($1,880), a quarter of the original price.
The remaining 11 security cameras will be set up in the Azumabashi district, located to the west of Tokyo Sky Tree and near the popular tourist area of Asakusa in neighboring Taito Ward. The cameras will begin operating in mid-May.
“The number of cameras is indeed a little too excessive,” said a member of a local store owners association.
In comparison, 47 surveillance cameras are operating in the Kinshicho district, 45 in Ikebukuro and 34 in Akihabara. These cameras were set up with financial support from the metropolitan government.
Discussions on surveillance cameras around Tokyo Sky Tree started last year, after the president of a neighborhood association expressed concerns.
“I am worried that public safety will worsen,” he said. “We had better take effective measures as early as possible.”
Tokyo Sky Tree is expected to attract about 32 million visitors in its first fiscal year and 200,000 on the first holiday after its opening.
An additional safety measure taken was to relocate the Oshiage Ekimae Koban police box to the foot of the tower.
“Does the police box serve Tokyo Sky Tree but not the residents?” a resident said.
In response, Sumida Ward set up a crime prevention center in April at the former location of the police box. A retired Tokyo police officer will be stationed there and make the rounds.
There have already been security incidents at Tokyo Sky Tree.
In April, a man who was arrested for trespassing at the site later said he wanted to see the night view from the tower.
Residents have also complained about noisy young people and litter in the area.
Neighborhood associations have come up with guidelines to prevent the extra security measures from invading privacy or being used for nefarious purposes.
According to the guidelines, the surveillance cameras will not be connected to monitors so that footage cannot be seen in real time. An association will keep the recorded material in a locked storage room. If police want to view the recordings, they must submit a request under the name of the police station chief.
“Some are worried about the privacy of residents and tourists,” said Kitamura, of the Tokyo Sky Tree neighborhood council. “But I hope people will understand that the locals are enhancing crime prevention so people will feel safe about visiting the Tree.”
Yoshikazu Nagai, a professor of urban sociology at Kansai University, said that if residents are actually worried about deteriorating security, the installation of security cameras would seem inevitable.
“A huge project tends to cause friction with a local community because the economic effects are limited,” Nagai said. “Operators and the government should be watchful and careful so that the project will not badly affect the local community.”
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