By Yukiko Tanaka
One day, in late 2013, I ventured into Kabuki-chō. Leaving the east entrance of Shinjuku Station and crossing Shinjuku-dōri, I saw a huge discount store, Don Quixote, by which was a colorful arch with “Kabuki-chō Ichiban-gai” on it. Entering Kabuki-chō, I soon spotted a koban police box, in front of which stood a young policeman looking bored a bit. “Are there any scary incidents here these days?” I asked the policeman, and the answer was: “No, only pon-biki.” Then I asked him if there were complaints from foreign tourists about it and his answer was negative. Most of the victims of this extortion are Japanese men.
“Pon-biki” is an act of forcibly enticing people–say, passersby–to particular bars, nightclubs, etc. and making them pay extravagant amounts for what they get as they leave the premise. According to the police, there are foreigners who engage in “pon-biki” activity. I also found an advertisement by the door to a place that said: ”This is your spot, no further looking.” The act of “pon-biki” is illegal now.
Further into Kabuki-chō, I spotted a few small hotels, the type at which one spends not a night but a few hours, for whatever reasons. It is not always easy to distinguish different types of “hotels” for those unfamiliar to Japanese systems. I was concerned when I saw a young Korean couple, each pulling a large suitcase and walking ahead of me, go into one of those hotels. I followed them into the hotel.
Having somehow managed to communicate at the front desk and looking unconcerned, the couple walked toward the elevator as I watched. There is nothing wrong with their use of this type of hotel, I said to myself; they may end up not spending the night there. If they do, they would have to pay more than they would for regular hotels. There was nothing I could do, however.
Walking around Kabuki-chō in the daytime, I realized, does not make sense. Except for the high concentration of bars, restaurants, and other businesses, the neighborhood is not so different from other entertainment spots.
I was looking for a place to have lunch when I spotted a group of young men, all in sleek black suits, in the middle of a street. What are they doing here in broad daylight, I wondered. “What do you think I should I eat around here?” I asked the guys. “Lots of ramen restaurants here,” was the answer that came after a few minutes. They were not friendly, but they did not look menacing either. I eventually found a restaurant and had lunch there. The noodle dish was authentic at a very reasonable price.
[Editor’s Note] This series introduces a historical view of various sites in Tokyo. The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.