Today was the first day in a series of workshops being held every Sunday throughout out September and October attempting to connect everyday, unconcious customs and rules with seemingly more distant levels of national law and economics. Today a small group of us came together to consider the meaning of a "Safe and Secure Town". Safety is a concern for any Tokyo, however it is important to question, especially around this time, what freedom is sacrificed for safety and whether the dominant modes of controlling public order are in fact protecting us.
We began with a reflection upon just how filled our everyday urban environments are with written rules and regulations, enforcing a sense that these spaces are goverened by a higher authority which we must be obedient to. Jay Koh introduced this under the term of "Public Transcript", authorship upon public spaces by authorities which enforce a certain standard of behavior. This is to be contrasted with the "Private Transcript", private actions and attidues which may contradict the standard and which may only be revealed to another on a level of trust. It is this Private Transcript which Jay Koh wishes to touch in Zempukuji.
We examined the social conditioning which occurs from a young age and how we are brought up to fear certain areas of our own districts through implements such as the 危険マップ danger map which is often distributed to school children designating certain parts of the town as "off limits" due to certain conditions such as low visibility, traffic and sightings of 不審者 strange people. Jay talks of this in psychological terms of "priming", encouraging a certain acceptance of a given value and order.
We touched upon the issues of CCTV and police presence and whether we feel these as implements of security or figures of threat. The removal of freedoms in order to enforce safety in public space may be seen in such examples as the Akihabara incident of 2008, where the mass killing perpatrated by one man led to the temporary removal of the famed pedestrian zone, and then its highly restricted re-establishment several years later with bans on performance, music, bicycles and street sellers, a ban which has thrwated some of dislocate's past actions in this area in the past too. This of course returns us to the age old method of using fear (the need for protection) as a means of control.
We discussed different methods of resisting such public transcripts and powers of control and here it was interesting to note Jay's emphasis on humour. He claimed the necessity of making a joke as a method of thoughtful provocation, explaining that agressive intervention only backfires and creates further obstacles between oneself and the surrounding society/community. Through humor we may send a critical message but also soften this and open it to a wider audience.
After a lengthy dialogue we went out in teams to research the local area and the daily plethora of instructions that the streets throw at us. We found an interesting array of signs, from road signs to thieves beware signs, from the environmentally aware "recycle" to highly detailed explainations on dog keeping. In the local park signs had been designed by local school children reflecting a certain cohersion into the public transcript from a young age. We were suprised at just how prevalent these signs were, and how obvious some of their content appeared to be, questioning if we really need signs telling us not to jump on the roof of a shed for example. Yet we were suprised to see very limited information on emergency conditions for example earthquakes, with no directions on what to do or where to go in such a situation.
Finally we each proposed a series of signs and information which we would like to create in the surrounding public space. Jay proposed the need for a public release of tension, for example a box set in various locations in which people can shout their anger, or a punch bag which could be whacked to release frustrations. Other suggestions included signs asking people to smile or dance, designated "child escape zones" for stressed parents, communication benches where you must talk to strangers, a free wifi map, a local point card to be used for local businesses, a long list of YESs to counter the NOs and a mapping of the neighborhood through the perspective of children.
As we ran out of time on this occaision we will try out some of these suggestions in the next workshop.