shinwakai

Begonias draw attention to surveillance cameras

あなたは監視されている。監視カメラと花のコンビは、公道を安全で楽しくするけれど、見張られているのはあまり好きじゃないです。

You are being watched. Surveillance paired with flowers keep streets attractive and safe. Still, I am not sure I like being watched.

I noticed these lovely hanging begonias on the utility poles leading out from the southeast exit of Shinjuku’s JR station. I was admiring the unexpected late fall color they provide, when I realized that each flower pot is paired with a banner explaining that “security cameras in use.”  Sure enough, above the banner and below the spikes to keep birds off, is a surveillance camera.

The banner is ominous, from the spooky greyscale graphic of two human figures in shadow to the logo with a man and his briefcase crossing the threshold of the kanji for exit in the six kanji that state “Southeast Exit Association.” Isn’t shinwakai (association) normally a volunteer group? The more I think about the Tounanguchi Shinwakai (東南口親和会), the less clear it is who is doing the watching.

Often I fool myself into thinking that Tokyo’s super-respectful public behavior is cultural and comes from positive socialization. I forgot how pride is also reinforced by peer shaming and legal enforcement. Tokyo has minimal public litter and no municipal garbage cans. It can also boast minimal street crime and an enormous number of police on the street.