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Published:October 6th, 2009 21:40 EST
Japan's Illegal Golfing Epidemic

Japan's Illegal Golfing Epidemic

By Geoff Dean

 As you may imagine, in Japan, space is at a premium. Especially in Tokyo, there is no such thing as an abandoned lot, a wasted space, an unused corner. In a related matter, golf courses are rare, remote, an very expensive since they use up more space than just about any other sports facility.

 According to a recent report on Fuji Television in Japan, this has led to a disturbing, if almost comical phenomenon of "illegal golfing." That is to say, people who like to practice golf but cannot afford to spend the time and money to get on the links, have taken to playing golf wherever they can find a little space.

 The report mentioned the banks of the Arakawa river in Saitama-prefecture (suburban Tokyo) as a hotbed of this "crime". The riverside is a popular spot for walking, jogging, and walking dogs. In the tiny space between the river and the walking path, the local government has installed soccer grounds, a baseball diamond, but no golf course. Local golfers have responded by practicing driving the ball here, there, and everywhere. Joggers have complained of nearly being hit by balls. Soccer players have complained that before each match, they have to clear the pitch of golf balls. Fishermen have reported balls crashing into the river, scaring away the fish. Still, the "rogue golfers" keep up their illegal golfing.

 The local government responded, in pure Japanese-style, by posting signs all along the riverside, declaring that "Golf is strictly prohibited!" and by fencing off the most popular hotbeds of golfing crime. As an undercover Fuji reporter discovered, however, this only succeeded in moving the golfers, not deterring them.

 The reporter challenged some of the golfers he discovered and their reactions were varied. Some apologized and promised never to do it again. Others were disingenious. One man, club in hand, claimed he always walked with a golf club, to ward off snakes, but that he never golfed illegally. Another claimed, that he only played from 3-5AM, when no one was around, despite the fact that it was 8AM and he was still playing. Another claimed that this was the first time he had ever golfed and did not know there was any rule about it, despite the presence of huge signs forbidding the practice all around the area where he was.

 Some golfers were defiant. One claimed that he had been given the run around by city hall and they were "persecuting" him. After all, there were public gyms and pools, he reasoned; why didn`t they build a public golf course? I suppose he never considered the space difference. Another said that he paid his taxes so why shouldn`t he able to golf wherever he liked.

 In response, the local government did what Japanese local governments do. It passed a new rule, forbidding, among other things, fast bicycle riding, late night fireworks, bonfires on the riverside, and riverside golfing. Wasn`t it already banned? This was the first time the rule was officially "codified" replied the city official. What was the punishment for breaking the rule? A hefty fine? Jail time? There is no penalty, replied the official. We will rely on the morals of the people. After all, the riverside is a public space and belongs to the people. A new rule that already existed? A rule with no penalty for disobedience? If you understand, please explain this one to me.

 In one case, the intrepid reporter with too much time on his hands, discovered a group of eight illegal golfers playing golf in a rice field next to an actual golf course. When challenged, one responded, "Don`t you have anything better to do than to report on something like this?"

 The report finished and the broadcast returned to the studio where a panel of "experts", if there is such a thing as an illegal golf expert, discussed the implications of the "crime spree". One panelist summed up the feelings of the group, when he said, "How can teacher tell students not to run in the halls if adults don`t even follow the rules? This is crime against morality!"

 I don`t mean to make fun of what for some people is probably a serious issue, but I am glad to live in a country where so little is happening that "illegal golfing" can be considered a threat and a great deal of time can be spent on it. Fore!