“Hey, let’s play a game,” she said, but maybe it was our reporter who got played.

Our Japanese-language reporter Hirazi is one of a handful of eligible bachelors on the SoraNews24 team, and like most modern singles, he uses dating apps in his search for love. While checking his notifications one day he was happy to see that he had a match with a woman who we’ll call “A-ko.”

According to her profile, A-ko is in her early 20s, and from her photos she appeared to have a slender build and a sweet smile. To get the ball rolling, Hirazi sent her a message saying he’d like to get to know her better, and A-ko replied that she felt the same way. As they exchanged pleasantries and self-introductions by text, Hirazi got the impression that A-ko was a little on the shy side, and maybe not the most worldly person, but still had a friendly and demure aura. A-ko had a favorable impression of Hirazi too, and the two of them decided to get together in real life for dinner and drinks after work.

They agreed to meet at 7 o’clock in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood underneath the giant video screen of the Alta shopping center, one of the city’s most popular meeting spots. Hirazi offered to make a restaurant reservation, but A-ko said that she might be a little late if she got caught up with something at work, and that it’d be better to pick a place after she arrived. Hirazi agreed, but being the well-prepared gentleman he is, he scouted out a few different restaurants in the area, so that they could slide right into whichever one they both liked the look of and had a table available.

▼ For anyone wondering, here’s what Hirazi looks like.

Sure enough, A-ko didn’t make it by 7. As Hirazi was waiting, though, his phone started to buzz. “It’s me, A-ko. I’m here” the voice said when he answered, but looking around he couldn’t spot her in the crowd. “Here” came the voice again, and this time Hirazi spotted a woman holding a phone up to her head…but she didn’t look anything like the woman whose picture he’d seen on the dating app.

Okay, maybe she looked, like, 10-percent like her photo, but still, most people wouldn’t guess in-real-life A-ko and in-photo A-ko were the same person at a glance. She was also dressed quite differently than the shy girl vibe Hirazi had gotten from her texts. This date was taking place back in January, but A-ko had shown up in a low-cut top, skimpy skirt, and with her hair and makeup done in a flashy gyaru style.

Still, she didn’t look bad by any means, and Hirazi’s gotten used to dating profile photos not always being completely accurate representations. “So I checked out a couple restaurants near here, and…” Hirazi began, but A-ko stopped him right there, saying:

“Yeah, I hate places that are close to the station. I like Kabukicho better.”

This was a double-dose of head-scratchers. First, just about anyone would say that a location close to the station is a plus because of the convenience, especially on a date where a woman might be wearing stylish but uncomfortable shoes. And second, while Kabukicho, a neighborhood a few blocks away from Shinjuku Station, is full of dive bars, hostess clubs, and smoky pubs, it doesn’t really have a reputation as a romantic date spot.

▼ Kabukicho

But hey, far be it for Hirazi to reject a young lady’s request out of hand, so off to Kabukicho they went. Once they got there, Hirazi started scanning around for date-appropriate restaurants, but each and every time A-ko shot down the suggestion for some vague only half-expressed reason.

Hirazi was just about to throw in the towel and say he was heading home when suddenly A-ko had an idea:

“Hey, I just remembered, there’s a bar around here I’ve been wanting to check out!”

A-ko then started leading the way, taking Hirazi off the main streets of Kabukicho and further into its back alleys. Eventually, they came to one of those Japanese bar district buildings with a dozen or so watering holes crammed into it. After taking the elevator up several floors, Hirazi followed A-ko to the end of the hallway and through the entrance of the bar she said she’d been interested in, and once again our reporter thought something didn’t quite add up.

The place was what’s called a “snack” in Japan, a small bar that serves drinks and a few token food dishes. It wasn’t elegant, it wasn’t retro kitsch, and it didn’t offer a view of anything other than its own four nondescript walls. It was the kind of place a thirsty salaryman who didn’t have any friends to go to an izakaya pub with might spend a night getting quietly soused, while engaging in a few short sentences’ worth of conversation with the bartender.

Aside from one other couple there weren’t any other customers in the place, and Hirazi wondered how A-ko had even known about the place to begin with, since it definitely didn’t look like there was any word-of-mouth about it. But as they sat down and looked at the drink menu, with its startlingly high prices, Hirazi thought he might have figured it all out. Maybe this wasn’t really a date at all. Maybe A-ko was in cahoots with the bar’s owner, and in exchange for bringing in a customer and running up a big bill, a cut of it was going to be going into her pocket.

So Hirazi did his first ungentlemanly thing of the night and, before A-ko had a chance to speak up, quickly ordered for both of them. “Two all-you-can-drink plans” he told the server, since those were priced at 5,000 yen (US$45) a person for an hour, meaning that he could at least put a cap on how high the bill would go.

“I feel like drinking a lot today!” Hirazi told A-ko, trying to play off his defensive strategy as simple enthusiasm. Unfortunately for our reporter, though, his plan wasn’t as foolproof as he’d thought. See, the all-you-can-drink plan isn’t a self-serve deal, so you still have to put in your order with the server, but while Hirazi asked for a beer, A-ko asked for a cocktail, and not just any cocktail, but a fancy, presumably pricy mixed drink that wasn’t included on the all-you-can-drink menu.

But hey, maybe she just wanted to start the night off with something extra-special, and was going to slowly sip before switching to the cheaper stuff. As Hirazi was considering the plausibility of such a scenario, A-ko had another idea:

“Hey, let’s play a game.”

There was a deck of cards at the bar, and A-ko proposed that she and Hirazi test their luck against one another. “Oh, and the loser has to chug their drink,” she added as she shuffled.

Hirazi ended up winning the first hand, so that expensive cocktail? Down the hatch…and then A-ko immediately ordered another extravagant, not on the all-you-can-drink menu replacement. What followed was a strange battle of wits in which Hirazi was doing everything he could to lose, so that he could knock back his beer and get a free refill in order to block A-ko from indulging in her top-shelf tastes. However, A-ko turned out to be really bad at cards…or maybe really good, as if she too was trying to lose? In any case, Hirazi ended up winning a lot of hands, which kept the extra-charge cocktails coming.

After an hour, it was time to pay the bill, and Hirazi suddenly felt a little guilty. While he usually pats for first dates, that’s not something every guy does in Japan, and maybe A-ko had been so uninhibitedly chugging cocktails because she’d intended to pay her share from the start. Maybe she just has a thing for old-fashioned “snack” bars. And might he have been unfairly prejudging her, mentally connecting her revealing attire to some sort of lack of scruples?

But Hirazi’s thinking switched again, and he thought his suspicions might be justified after all when A-ko said:

“Oh, guess I should have checked if they take credit cards before we started. Oops!”

Oops indeed. Of course the bar did not take credit cards, and of course A-ko didn’t have cash on her. So in the end, Hirazi ended up paying for both of them, in cash, with the bill coming to just under 40,000 yen (US$365)…for one hour of drinks together.

In the end, Hirazi doesn’t know for sure if A-ko and the bar’s owner conned him, but he does know that it was one of the worst dates he’s ever been on, and that he never, ever wants to go out with A-ko again. So remember, all you lonely-heart singles, if something smells fishy on your first date with someone you met online, there’s no shame in bailing out. Trust your gut, and if online dating isn’t working for you, maybe consider looking for a job where your company will find a spouse for you.

Top image: Pakutaso (edited by SoraNews24)
Insert images: SoraNews24, Pakutaso (1, 2, 3, 4)
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