In Izumi Sano City, the municipality adjacent to Kansai International Airport, the streets since last September have been patrolled by pairs of elderly men wearing distinctive yellow jumpers. The lettering on their backs reads, "Hochi-fun G Men." "Hochi-fun" means droppings left behind, and the role of these G-Men -- for which an annual budget of 4.6 million yen has been allocated -- is to deal with residents' complaints over the the proliferating piles of poop befouling the city's streets.
"Our town welcomes visitors from all over the world, and many residents regard it as terribly rude for them to have to encounter dog poop on the streets," the municipal worker entrusted with the cleanup campaign tells Aera (May 6-13).
Last year the town passed a statute subjecting negligent dog owners to fines for not cleaning up after their pets went into force. Since no improvements resulted, the town imposed a "dog owners tax," and was subsequently besieged with complaints from infuriated pet owners, who claimed they were being forced to pay for the actions of a small number of inconsiderate people. The standoff led to the formation of the town's force of septuagenarian "G Men."
At first, the task of the G Men was to scoop up offending poop, but this had the opposite effect, as it encouraged even more dog owners to leave their dog's droppings on the street. So from last February the town put its "yellow card" policy into operation. Three mornings and evenings a week, the teams patrol sections of Izumi Sano where the problems are most numerous. They leave behind "yellow cards" to mark the offending spots.
The new strategy seems to be working. Compared with 1,736 trouble spots as of last January, the number shrank considerably, to 1,093 by March.
Then from April, the city council agreed to start slapping 1,000 yen fines on dog owners who walk away without cleaning up. If passed into law, this will take effect from July.
While Izumi Sano is by no means the only community with such laws on the books, the fact is that in Japan such laws are not actively enforced. Nor is poop the only problem. A man in his 60s, while strolling with his four-year-old grandson on a riverbank play area, the boy was set upon by an excitable small dog whose owner had allowed to run about unleashed.
"Sorry, he was just being playful," the owner said apologetically, scooping up the animal in his arms.
"Keep it on its leash!" the older man exclaimed angrily, while trying to mollify the terrified child. The dog owner beat a hasty retreat.
In this case the child was unhurt, but according to the Ministry of the Environment, during 2010 nearly 4,400 incidents of injuries from dog bites were reported nationwide.
"Many dog owners are only interested in things like popping their pups into bags and toting them around, or dressing them up like dolls. They treat them like living stuffed toys, and have no concerns for issues of morality," remarks Kazuya Nii, a Yokohama-based dog trainer who operates a site related to pets called D.I.N.G.O.. Nii added that excrement was just one aspect of a wider problem regarding self-centered pet owners.
"About half of dog owners don't even bother to register their pets," Nii tells the magazine. "I suppose the only way to deal with the problem is through low-key efforts aimed at enlightenment."© Japan Today