Popular Tokyo Ward to Expand Ban on Street Drinking to Year-Round; Complaints of Noise, Littering against Foreigners Increasing

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Security guards patrol an area of Shibuya on the lookout for street drinking on Oct. 18, 2023.

A local ordinance forbidding nighttime drinking on the streets around Shibuya Station and in parks during Halloween and the New Year holidays may become implemented year-round, and expanded to a wider area.

The Shibuya ward government is considering expanding the scope of the prohibition in response to worsening manners being exhibited by visitors and tourists coming to the popular area.

A draft amendment to the ordinance will be submitted to the ward assembly in June and the ward hopes it will go into effect Oct. 1. It is unusual for a section of a city to restrict street drinking beyond a specific period of enforcement.

According to the ward office, the prohibition period that is currently set at late October and the days around the New Year will be changed to year-round. The revision does not include penalties for violators.

The area of enforcement will be expanded beyond the north side of Shibuya Station that includes the busy Shibuya Center-gai street. It will cover the areas around the ward office and Miyashita Park, and in the Maruyamacho nightclub district. The prohibition hours will likely be set from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m.

The issue stems from a spate of alcohol-related incidences that occurred by Halloween revelers in 2018, prompting the ward to enact the ordinance in June 2019 that specifies the time and area where street drinking would be prohibited. A security company was contracted to dispatch security guards to patrol the area.

However, people who found drinking establishments closed or restricted during the pandemic turned to drinking on the streets and the trend continued. Recently, it has not been limited to young people; foreign tourists influenced by social media have been following the fad, leading to many complaints of obstructing traffic, littering and excessive noise.

In response, the ward started having security guards make nine-hour patrols every night from September last year. Even so, a ward survey showed the average number of people issued warnings for drinking on Center-gai on Fridays, Saturdays and days before holidays increased from 107.5 in March to 158.4 in April.

Foreigners accounted for more than 70% of the total. As such, the ward has hired foreign guards who can speak English or Spanish, and plans to expand the nightly patrols to 11 hours starting in October.

“The revision of the ordinance should have a certain effect on such problems as littering and noise,” a ward official said. “We hope it will become known well enough to help curb street drinking.”

There are examples of year-round prohibitions on street drinking, most notably in Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture, and Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture. But it is believed that Shibuya will be the first urban area to have taken such a measure.

“The revision is inevitable considering how the street drinking that diverges from the rules causes such a commotion in Shibuya,” said Shinji Shimizu, professor emeritus at Nara Women’s University.

“We must take this as a message that the cost of displaying a lack of manners will be restrictions on how we spend time in communal spaces such as festivals that are supposed to be fun.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun