Stories of blood, cockroaches, and the old days of Kabukicho, Tokyo’s real-world Kamurocho.

Just about every big Japanese city has a bar district known for its host and hostess bars, but none of them can hold a candle to Tokyo’s Kabukicho. Located in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, Kabukicho is so synonymous with the host/hostess scene, and the sort of legally gray individuals and activities such establishments sometimes attract, that video game maker Sega openly modeled the Kamurocho setting of its Yakuza/Ryu ga Gotoku/Like a Dragon series on Kabukicho.

As a long-time fan of the game franchise, our crack reporter Mr. Sato has been making the rounds of Kabukicho and talking to the people who know it best to see whether the sort of craziness that happens in Kamurocho is pure fiction, or whether it has some basis in Kabukicho reality. Having completed Chapter 1: The Fate of Drunkards and Chapter 2: Towards the Gray Darkness, it was time for Mr. Sato to progress to the third part of his personal quest.

▼ Chapter 3: Crazy Town

Still wearing his Kiryu Kazama cosplay suit, Mr. Sato took a moment to review the last quest prompt, which he’d been given as part of his conversation with Naruse, manager of Kabukico host club Awake.

The walk to Saito’s host club wasn’t far, but the name of the place was: Smappa! Hans Axel von Ferson. If you’re saying it with the Japanese pronunciation, it becomes “Sumappa Hansu Akuseru fon Feruson,” with a whopping 16 syllables.

▼ “So long…” thought Mr. Sato, his self-narration leaving him out of breath.

“Is Saito here?” asked Mr. Sato as he entered the establishment. “Ah, Mr. Sato, we’ve been expecting you,” the doorman replied. “Please have a seat, and I’ll go get him for you.”

“Ah, Mr. Sato, it’s been a while,” a friendly voice said to him soon after. Turning towards it, Mr. Sato was greeted by a familiar face. “It’s me, Takumi Saito.”

▼ Smappa! Hans Axel von Ferson
Assistant Manager
Takumi Saito

“It’s you! Saito, from our article about how hosts get their working names,” Mr. Sato recalled, as the Kabukicho veteran took a seat.

Saito: “I hear you’ve been asking around about how Kabukicho used to be in the old days. I’ve been working in Kabukicho bars for more than 20 years, so I can probably be of some assistance.”

Mr. Sato: “Yes, please, I’d really like to hear about it.”

Saito: “Nowadays, Kabukico has earned a reputation as a relatively safe place. But when I was a younger man, there were dangerous people all over the neighborhood, and our line of work, host/hostess clubs, made us frequent targets.”

Mr. Sato: “When did things start to feel safer?”

Saito: “I can’t really recall exactly when, but I think it was probably around 2012, when the Shinjuku Ward Organized Crime Expulsion went into effect. Before that, you still had a lot of gangsters who would come in and throw their weight around, harassing the club and trying to get a payoff.”

Mr. Sato: “What kind of things would they do?”

Saito: “At a bar I worked at a long time ago, these three thug-type guys came in. I don’t know where they got it from, but they had a cockroach with them and they put it into their glass and started bellowing about it.”

Mr. Sato: “Like, ‘How are you gonna make this right?’ and hoping to scam some money out of you?”

Saito: “Right. But the manager on duty was a total badass. He kept a totally calm expression and just said “This? Don’t worry, it’s drinkable,” and chugged the drink, cockroach and all. It was so cool.”

Mr. Sato: “Whoa, he must have had nerves of steel!”

Saito: “Wasn’t anything the three guys could say after that, so they didn’t cause any more trouble.”

Mr. Sato: “So they came in trying to scare you, but they were the ones who ended up getting intimidated. Kabukicho really was a crazy town.”

Saito: “Yeah, it sure was. Here’s another one: I forget exactly what year it was, but late one night I took a break to go to the convenience store. So I got out onto the street and started walking to the shop, but then I saw this big van pull up, and about five guys wearing masks and carrying billy clubs hopped out.”

Mr. Sato: “What?!?”

Saito: “They all went into a bar near where they’d parked, and a few moments later, I started hearing pounding and crashing sounds coming from inside the building. Then they all came back out, hopped in their car, and drove off. After that, some other guy came stumbling out of the bar, bleeding, and said “Call the police.’

Mr. Sato: “Whoa, things like that happen in real life? Even more than the Yakuza games, it’s like something out of the Judgment games with Takuya Kimura. I’m amazed you’ve been able to survive in this town for so long.”

Saito: “Well, usually when there was trouble, I wasn’t directly involved. And in any case, that’s how things used to be, but stuff like that definitely wouldn’t happen nowadays. Even the type of people working as hosts are different now. They used to all be former gangbangers or delinquents, and a lot of them were pretty shady. Host clubs didn’t even used to open until around 1 a.m.”

Mr. Sato: “Now do you have to follow the new regulations and close down at midnight?”

Saito: “Yeah, and it’s made the industry easier to work in. The type of hosts that customers want to drink with is different now too, and a lot of them are highly educated guys. If you want to know more about how hosts are now, Minami at the bar Bond knows a thing or two.”

With his next quest prompt having appeared, Mr. Sato thanked Saito for his time and headed back out onto the street, bound for Bond and Chapter 4: Not Like a Dragon.

Related: Smappa! Hans Axel von Ferson
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-28-15, basement level 1
Open 7 p.m.-midnight

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