Daylight gang hits in narrow streets. Aggressive pimps in low-ceilinged bars. Orbiting nogoodniks angling to slip sailors and greenhorns the mickey. If it sounds like the Big Apple of old, the Manhattan of the Bowery Boys and “Gangs of New York”, you’re right and you’re wrong. According to an article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times, the economic slowdown, which has hit Japan early and hard, has hit the Tokyo neighborhood of Roppongi with such force that its smacked the bustling shopping district back to its mid-90s gangster-flick roots and, surprisingly, something resembling dirty, old New York.
In the late ’90s, an uptick in investment and development saw massive, modern shopping centers transform the tight clutch of streets in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills district into a bisected neighborhood—massive malls, public art, and towers that compete with Dubai in their luxury splendor and the same old winding streets that attracted sailors to dens of ill repute after World War II. But now, thanks to globalization and a down market, the pimps, dealers, and dopers are back in full force. Just like old New York or the Roppongi of Takashi Ishii’s “Gonin”, the streets are now filled with gangsters and “bar touts” (less-than-credible young men guiding visitors into less-than-safe gin joints where they will find smiling women and spiked drinks). Granted, in the London, Shanghai, or Manhattan of the past, being slipped the mickey probably meant you’d wake up on a steamer ship headed for parts unknown. Today’s victims wake with a headache and tens of thousands of dollars charged to their credit cards.
Just like the State Department, we offer this as a warning for those headed to Japan. But if you’re anything like us, the hint of danger and the memory of old-style lures and snares actually have you longing for a night in Roppongi all the more. For a safer tour of the city, snatch yourself a copy of “Film + Travel Asia, Oceania, Africa”, which offers a moviegoer’s look into Tokyo. Just watch your back, ok?
“Trying to Tame Tokyo’s Adult Playground” [LAT]