Okinawa sees return of ‘road sleeper’ problem amid warm summer nights

Authorities in Okinawa have appealed to residents to avoid the practice of rojo-ne – which translates as “sleeping on the road” and was blamed for at least three deaths last year.
Temperatures have soared across Japan, heightening concerns among police that cases, often fuelled by alcohol consumption, could increase from more than 7,200 incidents last year.
“It is a big problem and obviously it’s very dangerous, so we are concerned there will be more cases this year and, possibly, some serious accidents,” said Ken Kane, a spokesman for the main police station on the outlying island of Ishigaki.
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The island has a population of about 47,000 that swells during summer. To highlight the problem on Ishigaki, the police station presented photos of rojo-ne incidents, including shots of police cars alongside men – with their faces obscured – found sleeping on roads.
Okinawa is the only police force in Japan that compiles statistics on rojo-ne cases, although there have been cases in other parts of the country.
“It happens for a number of reasons, we believe,” Kane said. “The biggest factor is people who go out drinking, maybe drink a little too much and then are disoriented when they leave a bar or restaurant.”
Okinawa’s potent and popular local liquor, awamori, can leave drinkers confused, particularly when combined with warm nights.
Police regularly find people sleeping in the middle of a road or using the kerb as a pillow. Officers have been called to deal with women who have taken their clothes off and laid down, thinking they have returned home.
Police responding to reports of rojo-ne are instructed to wake the person and send them on their way, although anyone too drunk is usually taken into temporary custody until they are sober enough to get home.
According to the prefectural police, there were 16 incidents last year involving people sleeping on a road or pavement being injured by vehicles or bicycles. Three men were killed in rojo-ne accidents.
Police said there were at least two cases of people sleeping outdoors being struck by cars in the first six months of 2020.
Authorities quoted in the Mainichi newspaper said police have tried to eradicate the problem with warnings on local radio stations and an education programme but it has had little effect. The next phase of the campaign is likely to include more forceful legal measures. Sleeping on a public road is a violation of Article 76 of the Road Traffic Act and can incur a fine up to 50,000 yen (US$474).
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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