One of the most famous aspects of Akihabara for a long time was the Sunday only “Hokousha tengoku”, a temporary pedestrian zone established in the heart of Akihabara to stop traffic and allow people to flow onto the streets. It was cancelled for several years but is now up and running again, this time with a quite visible increase in security as police block of the streets leading into the pedestrian zone with large metal vehicle guards. The practice of officially sanctioned “Hokousha tengoku” (which translates a “pedestrian heaven”) started in Tokyo in August 1970, in Ginza, which remains the most famous hokusha tengoku in Japan. Currently there are three of them in official practice, Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara (detailed map on the metropolitan police website here), all on Sundays and some public holidays. During the time and area specified, all sorts of public performance, money raising, handing out promotional tissue paper or flyers, demos etc., is prohibited, making it a very unreal experience, peaceful and quiet. It makes me happy and sad at the same time: happy because of unusual break from the everyday hell of urban traffic and sad because it should make it painfully obvious to everyone how absurd our present day reliance on cars and traffic in our city centers really is. The fact that we devote so much public space (85%? 90%?) of prime real estate in our most important cities to traffic is just absurd. Surely there must be better ways of doing things.
There is a very high quality live webcam of one famous Akihabara street crossing, log in on Sundays to see the Hokousha tengoku for yourself! Apart from Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara there are other “unofficial” hokousha tengoku spots appearing around Tokyo, for example Kagurazaka street between Iidabashi and Kagurazaka stations in Shinjuku Ward. If you have a favorite Sunday hokousha tengoku spot, let us know in the comments!
One of the things I always get asked when taking foreigners on their first trip around Tokyo is the numbers and figures put up on all police boxes around the city. I am sure you have seen them if you have been in Tokyo, the traffic accident reports of the previous day. Here is a larger “monument” in Hibiya showing the number of fatalities in traffic accidents in the metropolitan area the day before, zero. The last photo is from the side of a police box (a koban) in Omotesando, showing the fairly average numbers of zero fatalities and 120 injuries. Not bad considering that the city has almost 13 million residents and twice that again during the daytime. Japanese are big on reducing traffic accidents and several times a year they have special traffic accident awareness weeks where volunteers do their best to make people act more safely in traffic.