The friendly side of Kabukicho: Losing things where the Yakuza and the Japanese sex trade live

Kabukicho Tokyo

Tokyo’s Kabukicho – Photo credit

Kabukicho , if you ask Tokyoites, is the most dangerous neighbourhood in the city. Stereotyped as home to the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) and Japans underground sex trade the likely hood of finding my forgotten backpack was next to zero.

It was a Friday night in Shinjuku, while hanging out with some friends, when my bag was misplaced and forgotten. Inside was my iPhone, iPod, and SLR camera; all my travel and blogging comforts that help bring the world to Borderless Travels.

Now, I’m not under any illusions. When you lose a bag in a place where soapy baths are offered at discount prices and strange looking gaijin (foreigners) ask you if you want to see students naked at 11am on a Saturday morning it’s not hard to get your hopes up.

I spent the better part of three days and a combined total of close to 6 hours searching the streets of Kabukicho looking for the restaurant where my bag was left. The only problem was that the neighbourhood is a maze of alleyways and pedestrian thoroughfares, the likes of which look like they came out of a scene from the movie Tron.

Picture hundreds of signs with blaring lights, several stories high, and all in writing that you can’t understand. As you walk down the streets and alleyways, crowded like the early morning Japanese computer train stuffed like a sardine can, all you can hear are Japanese girls yelling out in a high pitched Minnie mouse like voice trying to coax passersby into their establishments.

While all this is going on around you every Japanese, South Asian, African, and Western foreigner you make eye contact with walks up to you asking if you’re interested in strip clubs, soapy baths, hostess clubs, and/or sex. Needless to say, finding a restaurant that looks like 2000 others in a neighbourhood you’ve only been to once or twice before, with a look that changes like a chameleon as soon as the sun goes down, is a challenge.

It’s insane and utterly hopeless if you’re trying to find, as the saying goes, a needle in a haystack. But out of the chaos the friendly disposition of the locals shone through. As I grew weary and the search more hopeless I met some great people who really wanted to help me out.

Now, I can’t be sure of their jobs but the first help came Sunday evening when a friendly Thai guy asked, “what are you looking for?” Turning around understanding the insinuation of the question, I hit him with the truth. I told him that I was looking for my lost bag and that after two days of searching I still couldn’t find the restaurant I left it in. He told me to follow him and as we discussed my situation he led me to the police station where he spent 20 min translating for me.

The next evening I met Oj de Villager who after discussing my problem spent a half hour walking me through the maze of kabukicho in search of the restaurant. Oj’s memorized the streets and shared with me his knowledge of the area as we weaved from place to place. And when we finally said goodbye he offered me some advice. He said, “ it’s probably gone, that maybe this was a lesson, and I should be happy. He told me not to give up and that life is good; I have my health and my family so be happy and don’t worry about the material things.”

I wasn’t worried about the material things although it was a loss. I’m hopeful that I’ll still find them although I think my personal search is over, but most of all I’m glad I met Oj because he taught me that there are great people everywhere and someone is always willing to help you out.

So thanks again Oj and the most dangerous people from the most dangerous neighbourhood in Tokyo you guys showed me how cool Kabukicho is and that it’s not actually as dangerous as Tokyoites say (Tokyo being one of the safest cities in the world dangerous is a relative term).

Just like any other neighbourhood anywhere else in the world you have to be careful, but you don’t always have to judge a book by its cover. Kabukicho is an interesting neighbourhood with lots of great restaurants and bars. As long as your cautious and don’t stay out until the wee hours of the morning I would highly recommend touring around because there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in the world and of course, there are some really nice people too  🙂



Ian Yacobucci

Traveling the Trans-Siberian, mountaineering the Himalayas, or teaching in Tokyo, I'm always trying something new. As a someone who's worked, studied, and traveled to 40+ countries around the world, I'm here to share my experiences so you can do the same.

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