‘been a very long time since I have posted anything about Tokyo’s most notorious pit hole… Time to fix this oversight!
Legend has it that, back in 1929, one of the few guys to make money off the market crash – Joseph Kennedy Sr., I believe it was, but the name hardly matters since this story is probably made-up anyway – was wise enough to take all his marbles off the playground before it sunk, when he overheard shoeshine boys in the street exchanging stock tips.
If 15-year old shoeshine boys start investing in the stock market, was his thinking, it’s high time to get the hell out and start selling short. He was right, and his clairvoyance pretty much built the Kennedy’s fortune and indirectly resulted in Jackie getting a very heavy dry-cleaning bill, thirty years later in Dallas.
Of course, while Economics 101 textbooks love to give you this fairy tale as an illustration of the danger of uninformed speculation, the truth more plausibly resides somewhere in Joseph Sr.’s arm-length records of insider trading and stock pulling. Hell, he might even have been one of the guys giving that last tip to a stock market teetering on the edge for months.
Then what is the moral of this story, I hear you ask. And more importantly, what the hell does it have to do with Roppongi?
Well, a modern day version could be thus: When you start bumping into pimply junior-high-schoolers while ordering drinks, it’s really time to get the hell out.
I am not really trying to go there. If you know me at all, you have probably heard me times and over express how much I loath Roppongi. And it is not some kind of affectation or a “too cool for thou”-kind of loathing. More like the way you loath inserting long shards of bamboo under your fingernails and set them on fire. I have nothing on principle, against excessive debauchery and vice-based mercantilism as entertainment guiding principle for a night out. It’s just that if I really wanted to be proposed by toothless hags and pushy Nigerian guys every 20 feet, I could just go to Kabukicho and do without the greasy congregation of obnoxious expats.
Problem is, I still have a lot of friends who, for more or less good reasons, insist on meeting there whenever we plan a night out. And I’m not so terminally jaded that I couldn’t have fun, even in the middle of Tokyo’s Public Sewer system… Truth is also that, I hardly spend a minute there without bumping into a familiar face or score free drinks from bartenders. Not for having spent years hogging the stool at any of these watering holes, mind you. There’s no such thing as a “regular customer” in a Roppongi establishment. You could go spend wads of yen every other day for a decade, they’ll still forget your name the second you come short with change.
As the age-old wisdom puts it: if you ever want to sleep with a stripper, don’t ever buy her a drink in a bar. All you have to do to become acquainted with half of the professional population of Roppongi, is to work there for any length of time you can manage before you run away gasping for air and clinging to the last remaining shreds of your soul… That place is a dysfunctional village. a small one. and its inhabitants don’t move once they find their niche. So even though it’s been 3 years I haven’t served a single drink there, and been avoiding to set a toe if I could help it, I still get a friendly nod from half the hostesses and the bartenders every time I show up anywhere in a one mile radius around the station. And since these are in fact very nice people, fun to hang out with when they are not trying to squeeze some cash out of your obnoxious stockbroker’s wallet, I’d be lying if I said I never had good times there.
But these days, no matter what amount of sex, drugs and shitty top-40 music you try to lure me with, I will, more often than not, politely decline and go back to getting drunk in some seedy Shinjuku oji-ya.
In fact, the only reason I changed my mind when M. called me for the fourth time in order to get me there, wasn’t her promises of the aforementioned elements in abundance, but rather the fact that I had already missed the last train and there was hardly a choice between the prospect of shelling out a 10,000¥ cab fare to my house or spending that money on getting even more plastered than I was (and believe me I was: the previous 3 hours having been spent stuffing myself with Antoine and another friend at an all you can eat/drink shabu-shabu place, followed by extensive experimentations at a place infamously known as the “300¥ Bar” among street connoisseurs).
So of course we went, and met up with M. and her friends, and a wide array of debauchery ensued whose detailed recount shall escape the scope of this entry.
What made some kind of impression on me that night was our repeated random encounters of western teenagers who had apparently escaped the care of their governante and were prowling the local hang-outs, trying to pull that sulking-rebel-kid look, in between two insistent attempts at scoring various illegal substances.
Now call me a prude, but I am not exactly used to see barely pubescent kids, be they the dispirited dejects of some well-off diplomatic family or otherwise, seated next to me when I’m ordering my 26th Gin&Tonic. And I would probably not care that much, to be honnest. I mean, a sad waste really, but it’s not like they have much grey matter left at this point, and natural cellular decay hasn’t even kicked in yet: not much you can do for them. I wouldn’t care that much, if not for the fact that it is pretty much the last and most glaring nail on the Roppongi coffin.
I have been droning for ages about how I think that neighbourhood is dying. And I’m not talking about whatever putrid crusty block of excrement for a soul this neighbourhood has: I mean dying, as in, pretty soon the Nigerians will be so desperate to get the few remaining passerby to their bars that they’ll probably offer free handjobs or shove a gun in your face to clear up any hesitation. No need to be a gaijinland expert to realize that the streets that used to fill-up with drunk fratboys, less than three years ago, are now quieter than your average residential area at 3 in the morning.
As for the exact reason, your guess is as good as mine. Probably something along the line of: bubble burst -> no more golden expat packages -> fat stockbroker’s wallets replaced by tight english teacher’s -> locals lose all lingering interest in going there, except for a handful 60-year old hags covered in enough rice powder to make mochis -> all but the most horny GIs realize that the place is a giant bratwurst-festival and odds are no longer in their favor.
Usually, that’s the point in a ‘party district’ where bars and clubs are desperate enough to stop giving two craps about any kind of illegal activities they would have usually tried to keep somewhat discreet. Drugs being one. Blatantly underage kids doing them on your premise being another. And no need to make you a drawing of the downward spiral from there on…
Don’t expect me to mourn either.