On April 15 during a visit to New York, Tokyo Gov Naoki Inose remarked that as a tentative first step to transforming Tokyo into a "24-hour city," he hoped to see round-the-clock bus services between Roppongi and Shibuya go into operation by the end of this year.
The moves to all-night transportation in Japan's major urban areas, some vernacular media have reported, might be seen as another aspect of deregulatory measures being mulled as part of the "Abenomics" stimulus.
This idea, concedes Weekly Playboy (May 20), may be worth consideration, but to do it right is going to take a lot more than just running buses between two frequently traveled points in the city.
"That news was incorrectly reported," says Eiji Hara, a former METI bureaucrat who is now a policy consultant. "The government is not considering 24-hour public transport for Tokyo. The notion of 'special strategic Abenomics districts' originated from a proposal from Diet member Heizo Takenaka -- but even that was no more than one line, suggesting '24-hour operation of the Toei subway lines,' that was incorporated in several dozen pages of materials."
Economic analyst Takuro Morinaga thinks even that would be a bad idea. "Trains running all night would spell disaster for the taxi companies," he said. "Drivers' livelihoods would be hit hard. And with 24-hour transportation available, companies would try to squeeze more unpaid overtime from their workers than they do now.
"Operating round the clock might have some economic benefits," Morinaga warns. "But it could possibly result in Tokyo metamorphosing into a city overrun by foreign multinationals. That might further widen income disparities among Tokyoites."
Yokohama National University professor Fumihiko Nakamura points out that unlike the subways in New York or London, Tokyo lacks parallel sets of tracks, which enable maintenance on one set while the other remains in use. Another problem would be the longer commuting distances.
"Tokyo commuters average about one hour to work," says Nakamura. "To get the workers home in the wee hours, bus lines would have to be extended to the distant suburbs. It's no wonder that ideas, which ignore these realities, are being criticized."
If the city is going to run late-night buses or trains, it might as well give people places to go. So Weekly Playboy also suggests dropping restrictions requiring clubs, cabarets and other forms of adult entertainment to close at midnight.
"It would be meaningless to only have 24-hour urban transport," remarks Takashi Kiso, CEO of the International Casino Institute. "The other city functions should also be expanded to 24 hours...I think it would be absolutely necessary to revise the current regulations restricting adult entertainment businesses that serve late-night customers."
Another possibility, Kiso suggests, would be to take advantage of the city's "unused" times, for example running late-night buses directly from Haneda Airport to hotel-casino complexes to be built around Shinagawa or Odaiba.
Asked if he wasn't concerned such moves might lead to a deterioration of law and order, Kiso replied, "It's quite the opposite. Since such businesses aren't permitted to operate at present, they've been forced underground; so if trouble breaks out, the police aren't summoned. But if, in conjunction with 24-hour transportation, the adult entertainment industry is allowed to operate legally, it will be possible to assign police patrols and the shops themselves will cooperate with the authorities to prevent crime. The streets would become safer."
The magazine closes with its own suggestions for transforming Tokyo into a "true" 24-hour city. These include not charging fares for driving the Metropolitan Expressway during late-night and early morning hours, thereby making crosstown bus runs more affordable; designating "special business zones" to be served by such buses, and allowing the businesses there to operate round the clock; permitting foreign tourist attractions such as Kabukiza or maid coffee shops and public baths to operate round the clock; and setting up special late-night bus terminals, adjacent to 24-hour shared office facilities, with the aim of facilitating currency traders and so on who can operate in synch with markets overseas.© Japan Today