How to Stay Safe in Roppongi

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  • Roppongi has grown to become the most diversified district for nightlife in all Tokyo. The mixture of all the luxury apartments surrounding the area, offices, shopping centers, boutiques, restaurants, bars, clubs, and a thriving expat community have shaped Roppongi’s character and largely influence how Tokyoites feel about this district. It’s elegant. It’s expensive. It’s entertaining. Roppongi has its own very-well deserved cache.

    However, Roppongi is also associated with something a neighborhood of that allure should have: crime. Locals think Roppongi can be a shady and dangerous place at night, ranking below places like Kabukicho but still high enough to make people extra cautious at night.

    Roppongi is actually not the same now as it was years ago since it has seen a positive change in the last decade after locals and politicians decided to clean up the mess that was happening there. Despite this, the district is still largely associated with crime.

    Is Roppongi Truly Unsafe?

    As it’s the case with many place in Japan regarded as dangerous, foreigners visiting Roppongi might end up giggling or even guffawing at the thought of this place being considered as one of the most dangerous ones in Tokyo. Truth being told, you can walk around Roppongi past midnight without feeling that your safety is at risk. Ergo, and in a nutshell, Roppongi would never be considered a scary place if it were located in any other place on the planet.

    Nevertheless, Roppongi is still a center for nightlife, and the district is not immune to the types of crimes affecting such areas. Because of this, it is very important to exercise precaution, and to know what things to be aware of when partying till morning in Roppongi.

    Hawks/Hustlers

    The very first thing you’ll notice at night is the number of hawks on the streets that have become an eyesore. These hustlers, particularly the Nigerian ones, will target foreigners so as to persuade them to go to shady bars and clubs. Once there, one of the criminal activities they conduct is spiking people’s drinks, and then taking them to a nearby ATM to make them withdraw large sums of money that the victims then hand to the the people who walked them to the ATM. The biggest problems is that, since surveillance cameras will show the victims willingly withdrawing the money and giving it to the criminals, the chances of recovering what was stolen is very low.

    Another tactic is to take people to one of the aforementioned shady bars and then overcharge them outrageous amounts of money for the table charge and drinks that were consumed, which the victim is then forced to pay. Additionally, there is always the risk of having one’s credit card information stolen.

    A good idea is to leave your credit and debit cards at your hotel or home. Doing this significantly decreases the chances of being scammed. Bring cash, just as much as you plan to spend during that night while having enough balance on your PASMO or SUICA card to leave Roppongi.

    Sexual Assault

    Sexual assault can also be a big problem in Roppongi. As it is sadly common, there are people who will take advantage of someone who looks drunk, and since hawks can spike people’s drinks inside their dubious bars, talking to these strangers can end up leading to bigger problems. As a precaution, never accept drinks you didn’t order, and always keep an eye on your drink. Leaving your beverages unattended for half a second is all it takes for someone to spike the drink, so maintain an eye as precise as a hawk’s if you plan to drink. Whatsmore, the best option would be if you can request to see the bartender open the can or bottle in front of you before pouring you a drink.

    Profiling

    This one might be something you hadn’t considered when thinking of the dangers of partying in Roppongi, but it is very important to consider it. Being the center of the expat community and a very important place for foreigners who want to enjoy Tokyo’s nightlife, you will not see more non-nationals in any other district when going to a bar or club. Because of the large number of foreigners that frequent Roppongi, and how violent and rude some people can get after drinking, many locals have come to link Roppongi with ill-mannered foreigners. This is one of the reasons scammers and hawks tend to target people who clearly seem to come from other countries. Furthermore, and because of this reputation you can bet criminals will exploit this to pin the blame on foreigners.

    As a precaution, try to stay with a large group of friends when going to clubs and bars; and if one of you is become more annoying or aggressive due to all that alcohol consumption, send them home before they attract unnecessary attention.

    Massages

    See those women and men walking towards male passersby and saying, “massage?” very delicately? Yeah… don’t talk to them. Same as the hawks that will try to persuade you into going to their sketchy clubs, the “massage?” people, as we will call them, want to make sure you go to their massage parlor. Thing is, massage shops don’t open that late, which by now should be the second red flag (after there being solicitors on the streets). These places are the illegally run massage parlors will offer some additional services once you are inside, which can include a happy ending massage, a blowjob, and sex. The buildings are usually run down and the facilities terrifying; and while the police might not seem to care if the “massage?” people approach you, they can always raid the establishment at any time. Surely, you don’t want to end up arrested and kicked out of the country because you wanted a shady massage. To make things sadder, many of these places are involved in human trafficking, the owners forcing the masseuses live inside the massage parlors.

    When it comes to these types of massages, don’t be a giggling little Pinocchio strolling down Roppongi-dori. Read the red flags, and don’t fall for the traps.

    The Case of the Beautiful Stranger

    A random stranger approaches you at a bar. They are charming, attractive, and want to go with you to go to another club or bar afterwards. It seems quite harmless, perhaps even charming like a scene of a romantic movie. You might be thinking that you just got lucky, or that you are about to have a beautiful experience that sees two souls that don’t know anything about one another bond and have a meaningful night that could lead to something else the next morning. Well, to put it simply, no. That’s likely not what’s happening. In fact, some bars and clubs are known for sending beautiful women to other establishments to look for easy prey they can then bring to a bar that will then overcharge them. It’s the same for random friendly people who suddenly one to hang out with you, asking what in the sourface looks like nothing more than normal small-talk, but which is slowly fitting right into their fraudulent scheme. The moral of the story is that you shouldn’t trust anyone. The world is an awful place. The end.

    What About the Yakuza?

    Ah! Of course you would ask about the yakuza. After all, Roppongi was the scene of the very talked about murder of Ryoichi Sugiura, a kanbu or director of the Sumiyoshi-kai yakuza. The perpetrators belonged to the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza, making apparent that Roppongi was an area both criminal organizations desired. There was a lot of talk about a “Yakuza War” that would change Tokyo’s landscape as crime and violence spilled into the streets. However, the “Yakuza War” never materialized. This is actually something that defines the yakuza, and which differentiates them from other criminal organizations. Unlike the Italian mafia or Mexico’s drug cartels, the yakuza operate behind closed doors, leaving Japan and its citizens intact. That’s why while the Japanese mafia has been immortalized multiple times in media, sparkling Westerners’ imagination. In reality you are not going to see Lucy Liu face Uma Thurman at a restaurant while the rest of the yakuza engage in a bloody fight. The assassination of Ryoichi Sugiura in broad light was the exception, not the norm.

    Conclusion

    While Roppongi has definitely see a change for the better over the past years, it is still important to establish caution when deciding to spend a whole night enjoying its exceptional nightlife. After all, and despite its rise as an affluent residential neighborhood and an important business center, there are still many dishonest and downright fraudulent establishments waiting for their next victim. Generally, you should not feel scared to go clubbing or drinking in Roppongi, but exercise the same level of precautions you would at home.

    We are curious, what are your thoughts on Roppongi? Have you had any bad experiences there? Don’t forget to comment to let us know.

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