High-rent Ginza kills rats for a glamorous $150 each

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

April 20, 1993|By John E. Woodruff | John E. Woodruff,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Underneath all the glamour, the world's most expensive real estate has at least one thing in common with some of the world's worst neighborhoods -- rats.

That's no surprise to the man in charge of fighting rats in Tokyo's Ginza, home of the world's highest tax assessments and many of its grandest boutiques, department stores and nightclubs.

"Ginza is a glorious place with every amenity, and hundreds of thousands of people come here to enjoy tons of food and beverages every day," Keiichi Suzuki said. "Almost anything that adds to human comfort and pleasure also makes rats thrive, so a place like Ginza is going to have them."

As head of the environmental and sanitation bureau's anti-pest work in Chuo (Central) Ward, Mr. Suzuki is the man to see about rats, mosquitoes and flies in the heart of Tokyo.

After a round of complaints from residents and politicians, Mr. Suzuki is organizing his first-ever concentrated assault on rats in Ginza.

For one week in June, 144 volunteers will be split into one-day shifts of 24 each and marshaled by the four full-time Chuo Ward staffers who fight rats year-around.

Their main weapon comes from Lititz, Pa., and looks a bit old-fashioned compared with Ginza's high-tech advertising and entertainment gadgetry. It has an unfinished wooden base about five inches long, a copper-wire spring and a triangular spike.

What will go on the spike? Mr. Suzuki reached for his recipe book. Mix flour, sugar and oil with shredded tuna, cut into 2-inch cubes and stir-fry. One member of Chuo Ward's rat-fighting team doubles as rat-bait chef. He cooks up a batch every few weeks, to be set out on the 700 or so Victor-brand traps from Lititz that go into central Tokyo's sewers every month from November to April.

The Ginza attack is more ambitious.

In a single week, the staff-led volunteers will put 1,800 of the spring-operated traps in sewers and other "rat highways" under Ginza. They also will give away flypaper-like cardboard traps to shop owners and residents, clean out rat breeding places and give lessons on keeping alleys and garbage areas rat free.

Like Ginza real estate, Ginza rats may be Tokyo's most expensive.

If the one-week campaign yields the usual success rates -- two kills for every 10 spring-operated traps put out -- Ginza rats will be going down for about 17,000 yen apiece ($150), even with most of the work being done by volunteers.

With a bemused grin, Mr. Suzuki looked up from his calculator to say the 500 rats done in annually by his less intensive efforts cost a mere 5,800 yen ($51) apiece.

Neither figure includes salaries and benefits for Mr. Suzuki and -- his staff, which would greatly increase both. If they weren't fighting rats, there would be plenty of other work to keep them busy, so the ward government would still be paying them, he explained.

"We believe it's worth the cost, because in Tokyo nobody suffers these days from diseases associated with rats," Mr. Suzuki said.

Yuuji Ishimaru begs to differ.

"I think there may be as many as 100 residents still living in all of Ginza, compared with about 10,000 corporations, and apparently one of the residents complained to politicians about rats," Mr. Ishimaru said.

He is secretary-general of the Ginza Street Association, the neighborhood's equivalent of a chamber of commerce. His members are prickly about the publicity since the anti-rat campaign was announced.

"The number of rats in Ginza is extremely small, so I suppose these days if somebody sees one he gets upset and demands that the city do something," he said. "But even if you killed all of them, the whole city is interconnected underground and more will move in when the campaign is over."

Ginza's nearest neighbor, Tsukiji Market, is home to the world's biggest wholesale fish and seafood auction, he pointed out. Being Japanese, he stopped just short of saying his neighbor actually has a rat problem.

Such talk does not affect Mr. Suzuki's sense of urgency.

"One pair of rats produces 10 offspring every two months, and the offspring begin to have babies after 50 to 90 days," he said. "A female lives three years and is fertile for about 1.8 years. You can do the arithmetic yourself -- if you let up, you can lose ground very quickly."

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