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Roppongi: Tokyo's most controversial night spot
It's sleazy, and sometimes dangerous, but Roppongi remains immensely popular for drinkers and party goers, and is never far from the headlines
Roppongi is both loved and hated by foreigners and the Japanese in equal measure for its raucousness.
And yet, it remains one of Tokyo’s most popular night spots and pulls in huge amounts of money from interested investors.
As well as featuring swanky modern building complexes such as Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, the area also offers top class dining and good nightlife.
Perhaps this goes some way to explaining Roppongi’s position in local news in recent years.
In 2009, pop star and ubiquitous TV host Tsuyoshi Kusanagi was caught dancing naked in the gardens of Tokyo Midtown. A few weeks later, musician Manabu Oshio was found guilty of supplying drugs to a woman in a Roppongi Hills apartment, leading to her death.
Sumo wrestlers have also been busted for using marijuana that they claimed they bought in the area. The list goes on.
A night out in Roppongi is unlikely to leave one surprised at the reasons some foreign locals and Japanese sneer at the place. Step into the wrong bar and expect to see a balding British executive sleazing over a barely legal Japanese girl gyrating to hard dance music.
Make the same mistake again down the road and you’ll see the same, only with an American version of the salaryman grinding to Tom Jones’ "Sex Bomb."
Drinks and threats
One Japan resident’s story presents an even darker side to the area. John, who wishes to remain anonymous, was drugged and then robbed at a bar, and was lucky to escape without also having money taken from his credit card.
Two years ago, during drinks at a well-know bar in Roppongi, a group of girls latched on to John and his friend. Soon after, he lost awareness of where he was and ended up in a bar with just the girls, separated from his friend.
“The next thing I know, the girl is telling me I have to pay my bill, so I reach for my wallet thinking that the ¥40,000 I had in there would be more than enough -- but no, the barman is presenting me with a bill for ¥90,000 and says I've been buying drinks for all three girls,” John recalls.
A narrow escape
A scuffle ensued in which the girl grabbed John’s wallet and passed it to the barman. He was told he could have the wallet back once they had his credit card details.
“After several minutes, my wallet does come back minus the cash, and the barman is telling me to sign a credit card slip for the ¥90,000,” John says.
“I sign a fake signature and think that I'll just cancel the card when I get out. Trying to look like nothing is up, I stay and finish my beer, but when I get up to leave, the barman is presenting me with yet another credit card slip for another ¥90,000 to sign,” he goes on.
“I say ‘no way’ and make for the door, but then one of the Africans is blocking my way. There's another scuffle that lasts some time ... it's all a very hazy memory but I do remember being punched in the chest with something soft like a cushion or coat being held against me -- the next day, I had cracked ribs but no significant bruising,” he says.
John remembers nothing else until he woke up the next day. Once he realized the cash was missing and remembered a little about the night, he attempted to get any credit card transactions cancelled.
After lengthy negotiations, John managed to avoid paying any more than the cash he lost on the night to the bar.
“The police wouldn't give me a report 'because nothing was stolen.' I still had my cards,” John says.
“And one card company said I would have to pay the bills even though the 'signatures' on the slips are totally unrecognizable -- they put an English-speaking woman on to me who just accused me of being too drunk to sign. It's was a long battle, but in the end I got out of paying,” he says.
His thoughts after going through this ordeal?
“Well it sounds stupid, but I was already well aware that this sort of thing happened. A guy at work had his drink spiked followed by a similar episode -- twice. As have three more friends,” John says.
A place of prominence
At the same time, however, the place remains a venue for film premieres, world-class art exhibitions and exclusive shopping.
A place for singles
Tokyo-based freelance writer Mike Burke also sees the place as serving a role: “If I had a mentality similar to the one I had in my university days, I'd probably be partying there two or three times a week -- I don't think there would be anything wrong with that.
"Most single people do that sort of thing, and good luck to them,” he says.
“If you're single and you want to have a good night out drinking and chasing members of the opposite (or if so inclined, same) sex, then I'm sure Roppongi is an absolutely fantastic place to be at night,” Burke adds.
For John also, the area still has good points, as long as you are careful there: “Do keep going to Roppongi but never take your credit cards there.
"Stick to drinking bottled beer and take the bottle with you to the toilet,” he advises.