Tokyo’s Kabukicho district to get cleaned up and desexed like Times Square?

from The Guardian (UK):

As the sun dips behind the skyscrapers on a bitterly cold evening, hordes of shoppers swarm towards subway entrances, a blaze of neon flickering in their wake. Within an hour the streets reverberate to the banter of the inhabitants of Tokyo’s hedonistic milieu: hosts and hostesses, hawkers, touts, prostitutes and carousing salarymen. Kabukicho, the Japanese capital’s red light district, has come out to play.

But for how much longer? With Japan eager to host the 2016 Olympics and the city’s proselytising governor keen to clean away sleaze and crime, the ramshackle collection of ageing buildings housing bars and clubs catering to every sexual proclivity is in the authorities’ firing line. Armed with this political mandate, police are zealously enforcing a new law requiring sex clubs and hostess bars to close their doors at midnight and turf out their last customer by 1am.

A handful of clubs flout the law by dimming their lights and paying protection money to yakuza crime syndicates, but law-abiding owners say takings have plunged. “The police crackdown has halved the number of customers here, and the recession isn’t helping,” says Hiroshi Iwamoto, a doorman at the topless Glamorous Lovers’ Cafe. “I’ve been in Kabukicho a long time and I’d hate to see it change. This is where people come to make something of themselves.”

The facelift is being led by Renaissance Kabukicho, a network of public and private bodies. “We don’t necessarily want to get rid of all of the local colour,” says Mitsuo Hirai, who leads the project at Shinjuku city hall. “Of course we want to preserve the character of the place and strike a balance. If we can do that then it’s not going to do the Olympic bid any harm, although we were always determined to clean up Kabukicho and make it a place where people can walk around in safe and pleasant surroundings.”


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