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Bad table manners: Police enraged after Kyoto pranksters 'dine' on busy road

A group of young people gather around a heated "kotatsu" table at the Hyakumanben intersection near Kyoto University in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward on Feb. 25, 2018. (Photo courtesy of a pedestrian)

KYOTO -- In the middle of a busy intersection here late last month, several young people were sighted sitting at a heated "kotatsu" table placed on the road, it has been learned.

    There were no injuries reported from the unusual traffic disruption at the "Hyakumanben" intersection in Kyoto's Sakyo Ward. However, prefectural police have leveled heavy criticism at the people involved, saying that their actions "could have led to a serious accident," and are investigating the street gathering as a suspected violation of the Road Traffic Act.

    The Hyakumanben intersection is located east of the Kamogawa River and the crowded crossroads of the north-south Higashioji-dori street and the east-west running Imadegawa-dori street. The name comes from the nickname of the nearby Chionji Temple to the northeast, and Kyoto University facilities are located nearby.

    According to investigative sources and witnesses, at around 5 p.m. on Feb. 25, at least one passerby reported to police that several young people were sitting under the blanket of the heated low "kotatsu" table in the middle of the road. Some were wearing helmets, and there was even one individual with a megaphone giving a speech. The group apparently occupied the road for at least 10 minutes, and there was even a hot pot sitting on the table.

    When given a warning by officers from the Kyoto Prefectural Police Shimogamo Police Station dispatched to the intersection, the road settlers carried the kotatsu away on a heavy-duty hand cart in the direction of Kyoto University grounds. There were reports of another group with a kotatsu set up in the same location the following night, but they left before police arrived on the scene. On the days of Feb. 25 and 26 when the kotatsu appeared, the second round of undergraduate entrance exams for the university were being held.

    "We are currently investigating if these events are linked to Kyoto University students," a representative from the Shimogamo Police Station said. "We would like them to bring these dangerous activities that threaten lives to a complete halt."

    The area around the Hyakumanben intersection became the stage for an intense Molotov cocktail battle during the university student movements in the late 1960s, and was even deemed a "lawless zone" at one time. In 2005, in protest against a university plan to demolish a stone wall on one corner of the intersection where billboards and other items were lined up, students made news setting up an open-air cafe on top of the wall -- complete with a kotatsu.

    "There have been Kyoto University students setting up kotatsu tables on roads on campus for a long time," said a nearby resident, who offered his guess that it was a student performance. However, another man commented, "It's just too dangerous. Did they forget how to express their opinions or something?"

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