The fourth and final stop on Mr. Sato’s look at Kabukicho, the real-world Kamurocho.

When last we left our intrepid reporter Mr. Sato, he was still in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s biggest host/hostess bar neighborhood. Kabukicho is so famous/infamous that when Sega developed its Yakuza/Ryu ga Gotoku/Like a Dragon franchise, it made no secret about basing the video games’ primary setting, Kamurocho, on Kabukicho.

Mr. Sato has been pounding the pavement of Kabukicho, talking with the people who know it best in order to find out if how the reality of the neighborhood compares to the danger of the video game setting. After completing Chapter 1 of his investigation, The Fate of the Drunkards, as well as Chapter 2: Towards the Gray Darkness and Chapter 3: Crazy Town, it was time for him to start the fourth and final part.

▼ Final Chapter: Not Like a Dragon

Following the prompt he’d been given by host club manager Takumi Saito, Mr. Sato’s fourth and final stop of the night was the Kabukicho host club Bond, where he’d been told to seek out a man named Minami to learn about the new style of hosts that are in vogue in Kabukicho these days.

Making his way into the building and through Bond’s front door, Mr. Sato told the club’s staff, “I’m here to see Minami.” “Ah, you must be Mr. Sato,” they replied. “Please, have a seat. He’ll be with you in a moment”, directing him to the latest of many spotless leather couches he’d sat on this night.

Before long, he heard a man’s voice address him. “Ah, Mr. Sato, we’ve been expecting you. I’m Minami.”

▼ Host Club Bond
Ryo Minami

Minami has been working in Kabukicho for more than a decade, and he’s risen to a position of authority as Bond’s “representative,” as his management role is officially titled.

Minami: “I heard from Naruse that you had a lot of questions for him about Kabukicho in the old days.”

Mr. Sato: “Yeah, I did, and now I know just how dangerous a place this neighborhood used to be.”

Minami: “Hahaha, yeah, I guess you could say that. I’ve been in this line of work for 13 years now, and I’ve had my share of experiences too.”

Mr. Sato: “What kind of experiences? ”

Minami: “Well, for example, one time during shift two…”

Mr. Sato: “Sorry, shift two?”

Minami: “Ah, in the host industry we call the club’s operations until midnight shift one. Shift two is what we call operations from when the sun comes up until mid-day.”

Mr. Sato: “I see. So…”

Minami: “One time, during shift two, the customers bought 20 bottles of champagne for us to drink together. All of the hosts were totally trashed, but some of them started getting upset and singling each other out and saying ‘Hey, that guy’s not drinking!’ Things got more and more heated, and one guy ended up grabbing a kitchen knife and started swinging it around.”

Mr. Sato: “Whoa, that’d sober me up right away.”

Minami: “I think hosts used to be a really hotheaded bunch. Like if a host from another club came to drink as a customer, sometimes the hosts would start fighting with him.”

Mr. Sato: “The other Kabukicho veterans I’ve been talking to have been telling me the same thing, that there used to be way more fights in the neighborhood.”

Minami: “Yeah, there were. And a lot of hosts in those days also practiced martial arts.”

Mr. Sato: “But how about now?”

Minami: “Now a lot of hosts are calm and mature. Our customer base has changed quite a bit, and part of that is because of the pandemic.”

Mr. Sato: “The pandemic? So, like, your core customers are still coming in, but you’re not seeing any new faces?”

Minami: “Just the opposite, actually. When we were closed down during the pandemic, a lot of hosts put extra effort into livestreaming and social media, and with people working from home, a lot of them had extra time, and they spent it watching those streams. That gave them a sense of kinship with the hosts, and when things started opening back up again, a lot of those people started coming to host clubs to see the hosts they’d found out about through their streams.”

Mr. Sato: “Wow, so the stay-home lifestyle ended up being a kind of promotion for you guys.”

Minami: “Yeah, exactly. A lot of women started liking their favorite host and wanting to support him, like oshikatsu where they want to support their favorite idol singer or anime character. And for the hosts, some of them are able to earn a lot from those customers even without having to drink any alcohol themselves.”

Mr. Sato: “So there’s less need to knock the booze back, huh?”

Minami: “More hosts than before are boosting their earnings as an effect of their social media activities. Whether you’re a tough guy or can drink a lot doesn’t matter anymore, and so being good in a fight isn’t something for them to brag about. If anything, acting like he could beat people up is going to make a host unpopular these days.”

Mr. Sato: “So, you’re saying Kabukicho isn’t like Like a Dragon these days?”

Minami: “That’s right.”

Mr. Sato: “The atmosphere of the games’ setting is a work of fiction?”

Minami: “Pretty much.”

Mr. Sato thanked Minami for his time, and started walking towards Shinjuku Station. Sure enough, he didn’t meet with a single random encounter fistfight, and no NPCs approached him to beg for his help with a problem he could solve in 15 minutes that would change their whole life.

In all of the conversations he’d had this night, the recurring theme is that Kabukicho isn’t as dangerous a place as it used to be. The glitz and the booze are still there, for those with the yen to pay for it, but the fistfights and seething, simmering beefs are getting less and less frequent.

There’s a new Yakuza/Like a Dragon game coming in 2024, and once again it’s set in Kamurocho. Mr. Sato is curious as to how both the video game location and the real-world neighborhood that inspired it will continue to change.

But that’s all in the future, so all we can do is wait and see.

▼ The end

Related: Bond
Address: Tokyo-to,Shinjuku-ku, Kabukicho 2-25-2 5th floor
Open 8 p.m.-midnight

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