Once the sun has set and the neon signs are switched on, it's hard to walk down Gaien Higashi Dori in Roppongi without being solicited by a street tout -- despite posted signs and patrols to discourage the practice.
Over a 50-meter section of the street in Roppongi 3-chome can be found three shops selling Turkey's national snack, Doner kebab, and Shukan Bunshun (July 6) reports that on June 21, two Turkish nationals employed at a shop were arrested by Tokyo Metropolitan Police. The charge was pitching their products to passers by in an overly aggressive manner, thereby creating a public nuisance.
A reporter who covers the police beat for a newspaper tells the magazine, "I heard that two Turkish brothers working at one of the shops, ages 24 and 20, were working the street late at night accosting customers in Japanese, saying things like 'Oh, dai sempai!'(Hey, big boss) and 'Kebabu tabeyo!'(Let's eat kebab). They would actually grab the arms of passersby and try to pull them toward the shop."
"The Turks told the police, 'We were just trying to be friendly, we had no malicious intent.' But what they were doing sounded pretty malicious to me."
The three shops on the so-called "Kebab street" compete fiercely for business both during daylight hours and late into the night. The shop where the above-mentioned two brothers are employed is referred to as "Red Kebab," so named after the color of its signboard. Further down the street is a rival shop called "Blue Kebab."
"It's not just a question of business rivalry," said the reporter. "The brothers at the red shop are ethnic Kurds -- a group totaling several tens of millions that form large minorities not only in Turkey but Iraq, Syria and Iran. They've been seeking independence for about a century, since the Ottoman Empire began collapsing. The police think the heated rivalry of the shops is due to bad feelings between ethnic Turks and Kurds."
Interestingly, when the police arrested the two brothers, they invoked the act that regulates Businesses Affecting Public Morals, which is normally only applied to violations by operators of cabarets and sex businesses. In fact, the arrest of the two under the public morals act for aggressive customer soliciting appears to be the first time the law was ever invoked for such a purpose. Up to now, violations involving solicitation by food and beverage businesses were dealt with by less strict ordinances covering creating a public nuisance, with punishments typically limited to fines.
The public morals law, on the other hand, can sentence violators to up to six months incarceration.
An unnamed police source told Shukan Bunshun, "Over the past two years, we've received 27 phone calls from passersby complaining they were hassled by people at the kebab shops. So we had no choice but to take action. But there have been previous cases before this, and we might boost our enforcement against aggressive soliciting by other types of food and beverage establishments too."
Will the Kebab Street vendors call for a truce? Or, might we soon see more determined efforts by authorities to sweep Roppongi's sidewalks clean of nocturnal nuisances?© Japan Today