Kabukicho, in Shinjuku is the most notorious red light district of the East. Glittering neon signs and suspicious shops stand out everywhere. People who live in the underworld have gathered in Kabukicho. There are movies, novels, and comics written about them, so let’s explore Kabukicho with these works and feel the dark side of Japan!
Nowadays, there are some swindlings at bars or suspicious shops, but if you don’t follow touts or go inside these shops, Kabukicho is mostly safe to walk around. Before large-scale crackdowns which were called the Kabukicho Purification Operation in 2004, it was a hotbed of crime, including murder cases.
Especially in the 1990s, mafias from Taiwan, Hong Kong (triad, 三合會), China, Korea and Colombia (Cartel) grew large and fighting among the mafias often happened. They did business like gambling, prostitution, illegal drugs, and guns.
There were some gunshots among the Taiwanese mafias (黑社会, 黑社會, 流氓) in 1987, but the most sensational case was when Bang-ju Wang (王邦駒) tried to kill Japanese policemen in 1992. He killed a boss in his mafia group (芳明館) in Taiwan and fled to Japan. When he was caught again in Taiwan because of illegal drugs in 2015, he was said that his plot to have his boss killed was similar to the movie Monga (艋舺). His face also looks like Ethan Juan (阮經天) who starred in this movie. Monga depicts Taiwanese gangster living in Taipei in the 1980s and was a huge hit in 2010.
In 1994, there were some murder cases among Chinese mafia groups. The most famous case was the Seiryuto Case (AKA, the Kaikatsurin Case). Members of a Shanghai mafia group murdered members of a Beijing mafia group with a seiryuto (a large Chinese knife) at Kaikatsurin restaurant. There were conflicts among yakuza (Japanese mafia) and Chinese mafia. In 2002, members of a northeast Chinese mafia group shot members of the Sumiyoshi yakuza group (住吉会) at Parisienne Cafe at the Furin Kaikan Building.
Fuyajo (不夜城, Sleepless Town), written by Seishu Hase, is a famous novel about these fightings among mafia groups. The movie Sleepless Town, based on this novel was directed by Chi-Ngai Lee (李志毅) and starred Takeshi Kaneshiro.
Shinjuku Incident (新宿インシデント, 新宿事件) also depcits these fightings among mafia groups. It is a Hong Kong film from 2009, starring Jackie Chan (成龍).
The Furin Kaikan Building, a leisure complex built by the Taiwanese, symbolizes Kabukicho and still exists.
Prisienne Cafe in this building is a notorious meeting spot for yakuza. After the Parisienne Case, the cafe was renovated, but even now is mostly frequented by yakuza, hosts, and women of the night. The cafe offers not only coffee or tea, but also meals like cutlets or steaks and is open until midnight, so it is filled with people working in Kabukicho.
To the south of Furin Kaikan Building, there are dubious and dim alleys, called “Omoide no nukemichi”, which means “memory loophole.” Things like snack pubs and mysterious shops are concentrated in these narrow alleys.
There is a famous Chinese restaurant called Shanghai Xiaochi. This area has been pictured in the movie Sleepless Town.
While fighting among mafia groups were playing up big, enjo-kosai (compensated dating) by school girls became a problem around 1996. Enjo-kosai (en-ko, for short) is dating in exchange for money, which is to say that it is prostitution. The background is that many people tended to have mobile phones and it became easy for people to make contact with each other.
In the Miso Soup (イン・ザ・ミソスープ), a novel by Ryu Murakami from 1997, portrays the atmospheres at this time in Kabukicho. Kenji, the narrator of this novel, gets money to guide foreigners to adult entertainment shops. The story begins with Frank from the U.S., who is Kenji’s guest. Kenji guides Frank to pubs and a peep show around Shinjuku Koma Theater.
Shinjuku Koma Theater (新宿コマ劇場) was a landmark for Kabukicho, and runaway girls stayed in front of this theater at night. Koma Theater closed in 2008 and the Shinjuku Toho Building, including a hotel, a theater, and restaurants, was built in 2015.
Ichi the Killer (殺し屋1) is a 2001 Japanese film directed by Takashi Miike and based on Hideo Yamamoto’s manga series of the same name. The story of this movie and comic is about a killer and yakuza in Kabukicho. It was extremely violent and appealed only to some people. In it, famous spots in Kabukicho are shown, such as L**** Mansion (famous for hang many yakuza offices), Shinjuku Batting Center, etc.
Through these works, you can explore Kabukicho deeply and feel the dark side of Japan. In these days there are few fighting and shooting cases in Kabukicho and it is said that Chinese gangsters scattered out of Kabukicho after the crackdowns. But even now, Kabukicho has about 150 yakuza offices and people in the underworld are engaged in secret activities.
yakuza (ヤクザ, 暴力団) : Japan’s organized crime syndicates, famous and big yakuza groups are Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, and Inagawa-kai
Sumiyoshi-kai (住吉会) : the biggest yakuza group of Tokyo
[How to go] a 10 minute walk from the East Exit of Shinjuku Station (新宿駅) on the JR
Parisienne Cafe (カフェ・パリジェンヌ), Furin Kaikan Building (風林会館ビル) : 2-23-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku (新宿区歌舞伎町2-23-1)
Shanghai Xiaochi (上海小吃) : 1-3-10 Kabukicho, Shinjuku (新宿区歌舞伎町1-3-10)
Shinjuku Toho Building (新宿東宝ビル), Shinjuku Koma Theater (新宿コマ劇場) : 1-19-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku (新宿区歌舞伎町1-19-1)
Shinjuku Batting Center (新宿バッティングセンター) : 1-21-13 Kabukicho, Shinjku (新宿区歌舞伎町1-21-13)
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