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Tokyo Nightlife

Love it, hate it, loathe it, leave it. Roppongi is a people magnet. Perhaps it doesn’t attract the most savory of characters, but all walks of life rub elbows and more in the nightlife of Roppongi, unlike anywhere else in Japan.

Roppongi is Tokyo’s little den of sin for ready-to-go gaijins and adventurous Japanese. Its humble origins date back to the Edo period 400 years ago when it was a quiet little temple town with nary a vice to its name. Tragedy seems to be in Roppongi’s blood. It has faced ravaging fires, WW2 bombs and drunken foreigners puking all over its long, questionable past. Its party reputation began a hundred years or so ago, when Japanese soldiers were quartered there and, as it usually happens around young men with money and testerone to spare, a sordid nightlife sprang up. The U.S. military continued this fine tradition after the war.

These days, a night in Roppongi can be spent fending off the lusty advances of horny Nigerians, frustrated sailors and pent-up marines. For the young male out on the prowl, he has to run the alluring but annoying gamut of the massage girls. Shouting: “Massagee! Massagee!” they rush out to grab any passing single male, not letting go until their victims have either given in or brutally fought them off.

Night is a friend to Roppongi and to its inhabitants of party-goers and pleasure-seekers. The streets are filled with beautiful people stumbling about in a haze as they hop from club to club. In rich, rolling Nigerian accents, club hawkers call out to the passing crowds inviting them with promises of fun and people. Perhaps it’s the blinding flashing lights, the blaring music or the alcohol, but the insides of the popular clubs do boast a population of the most incredibly good-looking, charismatic people who personify the word “cool.” It’s the type of place that any trendy groupie with low self esteem would aspire to become part of.

Some nights, however, aren’t a good time to visit – a few sour critics would say that there is never a good night to visit Roppongi. I went for the first time on New Year’s Eve 2001. Nearly the entire crew contingent of the USS Kittyhawk aircraft carrier was there to meet, compete, and throw-up on me – a good place to go if you were female or gay, but not both.

The danger is staying too long. If you don’t find your special someone to fill your emotional void within a few hours or you miss your last train, you will see the horror of Roppongi in the morning. Morning is not a friend to Roppongi. It’s cruel. Daylight hits Roppongi with the gentleness of a sledgehammer wrapped in barbed wire. Morning shatters the glamour, the egos and the illusions given by the night.

When a club’s flashing lights switch to a stagnant piercing glare, the beautiful cool people you were just grooving with are suddenly replaced by a bunch of haggard hung-over hags and trolls. Rushing out into the streets doesn’t save you either as the streets are choked with packs of shambling, stumbling walking dead. In the shadows, pale party-goers avoid sunlight like quaking vampires by seeking the darker recesses of the subways lest they explode in a noxious cloud of bone and dust.

In the bowels of the subway station, the survivors of the night huddle like war-weary, third-world refugees as they await the train that will carry them away from this hell. Very few are capable of standing. Most pass out in their or somebody else’s filth. The few who are conscious stare into the void with bleary, blood-shot eyes like shell-shocked war veterans who have been too long up at the Front.

You tell yourself: “Never Again!” as you lurch for the train along with the rest of the wretched masses yearning for escape. You know deep down, however, you will be out here again and again.

David Weber

David Weber is a historian who lives in Japan.