Were foreign visitors' wild brawls at Shinjuku's Golden Gai a taste of the Olympics to come?

"This enclave, with its 70 years of proud history, is being by wasted by foreign tourists," claims Friday (Nov 6).
Shinjuku's "Golden Gai" (gai can refer to a street, or a town built around a street), despite its glitzy name, is a rabbit's warren of over 100 tiny two-story drinking establishments, which date back to around 1950, when occupation authorities decided to remove the horde of disorderly black market pushcarts that had congregated adjacent to the Shinjuku rail station. The vendors were relocated to the other side of Yasukuni-dori, in a small city block wedged between the Hanazono Shrine and the Kabukicho entertainment district.
These tiny drinking establishments, which do business in spaces measuring from 10 to 15 square meters, remain much unchanged from their early postwar heyday. While they occupy some of the most valuable real estate in the city, the residents have for decades successfully held out against developers' efforts.
Some people may regard the bars of Golden Gai as firetraps and claustrophobe's nightmares, but from the 1970s onward they became something of a cultural nexus that offered writers, artists, musicians and middle-aged nostalgia seekers a cozy and quiet place at which to imbibe and converse into the late-night hours. 
More recently, however, the place has become jammed with foreign tourists, who are attracted to the cheap prices and Bohemian atmosphere.
Unfortunately, as Friday's headline puts it, "As shown by security cameras, the crush of foreigners has led to increased crimes!" 
As shown in several accompanying photos, two large men in rugby shirts faced off in an alley. One tackled the other, sending him sprawling, knocking down an air conditioning unit and shop sign. The fight continued for about two minutes, until police from the nearby koban arrived. Worried the situation might even worsen, they called for backup.
It appears that the large number of foreign visitors in Japan for the Rugby World Cup appears to have led to numerous acts of lawlessness. What sort of lawlessness? Well, according to Fumiaki Tobayama, head of the Golden Gai Merchants' Association, they included eating without paying, pickpocketing, theft, damage to property and so on. Members have sought means of prevention, but up to now nothing has worked. 
"Since the World Cup began, crimes by foreigners have exploded," Tobayama tells the magazine. "It's driven away our long-time regulars, and overall, business is way down." 
"All of a sudden there was a loud noise, and I saw two foreigners going at it," an employee at a shop that was damaged tells Friday's reporter. "The air conditioner unit was knocked over and a gas cable torn off. As soon as the fight began, the whole shop emptied out and the other customers took off in a rush. It was too much for them." 
"This area is under the jurisdiction of the Yotsuya police station, and their response up to now has been next to useless," a shop operator in the district complained, in a bitter tone. "If something happens, they come to investigate, but perhaps because they're short of manpower these days they don't patrol. Sometimes there's nobody posted in the koban either. 
"It might be difficult to investigate because the suspects are foreigners, but unless they deal with the crime problem, nobody feels safe any more." 
The Rugby World Cup is over, Friday warns, but just beyond the horizon is next year's Olympics. If foreign tourists are not discouraged from rowdy behavior, their rumbles and tumbles might even get worse.

© Japan Today
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