Kick out the touts who rule Roppongi


The 1964 Olympics saw Tokyo embark on major improvements to show its best face to foreign visitors. We are told similar efforts are under way for the 2020 games. Or are they? A recent visit to that mecca for many foreign visitors, Roppongi, raised a few doubts.

True, a rebuilding rush has helped remove some of the grotty bars and cheap eateries that used to cluster in slum-like existence near the Roppongi intersection area, the main tourist hangout. But little has been done about the blight of the mostly African touts that infest the area. Those of us who have to live here accept this state of affairs grudgingly. But what would a foreign visitor feel as he or she tries to pass through that nightly nightmare of arrogant contempt for civilized behavior?

The police have put up notices in the area warning against touting. We are even asked to report any such incidents. But if you think this is going to make things better then think again. Most of those former touts now simply group by the roadside or lurk in entrances and passageways.

And if some touting continues, do not waste your time reporting it. You will be in for a very humiliating experience, as I discovered recently.

I had assumed that the request to report touting was a police device not just to clean up the area but also to give them a chance to do something about other illegal activities in the area. So when recently I was rather unpleasantly touted, I not only had words with the offender, but also said I would be reporting the incident to the police. Immediately a horde of his friends descended on me with the usual offensive racist slurs and insults handed out to anyone who challenges their right to rule the Roppongi intersection area.

Leaving the pandemonium behind me, I managed to reach the safety of the second floor in the large and well-staffed Azabu police station, which is responsible for keeping order in Roppongi. Two youngish plainclothes officers heard me out, made sympathetic noises and even checked the videos wired in from the overhead cameras they had in the area. Sure enough, they had a picture of the villain doing his thing. They said they would go with me back to the scene of the incident, armed with pistols and handcuffs, and get me to identify him.

But when we got there my two police escorts did nothing. They agreed there were the warnings against touting — one was posted to a lamppost right beside the offender — but touting was not a legal offense, they said. All they could do was reprimand the offender and tell him to behave better in the future. But before they could even do that, another ugly crowd had descended on us, hurling even worse insults, including one advising me to go off and die. Was that not a crime, I asked?

Once again, my escorts said no. There was nothing they could do to prevent those people from saying whatever they liked to passers-by, provided they did not block their way.

Well, I suggested, why not at least check their identities? That might serve as some kind of warning.

But once again my brave escorts declined. The hecklers almost certainly would all have valid visas, they said.

So there is no point making the standard foreigner registration checks that we normal foreign residents in Japan have to suffer if anything untoward occurs? I asked. And with that, the two escorts returned to base.

At this point I decided that I’d had enough. Japan has a system whereby if anyone lodges what is called a higai todoke — a report of injury suffered — the police are in theory obliged to accept the report and take appropriate action.

In my case the “suffering” (higai) had been the insults my companion and I had had to endure. And I knew from past news reports that telling people to die (shine), a term often used in ijime (bullying) or extortion offenses, was seen as especially serious. So back to the Azabu station I went, this time to make my formal complaint.

I explained carefully my purpose. Obviously I myself had not “suffered” greatly from the clamoring and insults of the horde (though my companion had); for me it was just an escalation of the usual unpleasantness we all suffer when we pass through that intersection area. My purpose was other: I assumed the police were as anxious as all of us to clean up the mess around the intersection, but could not move unless they had formal complaints or evidence. So I was making the formal complaint that would give them the excuse to move. What’s more, I could identify the worst offender: He was wearing a conspicuous baseball cap. I would be happy to go back there and find “baseball cap.”

For a moment the mood in Azabu police station turned serious (up till then there had been much smirking and muttering all around). They would go and consult with their legal expert on the third floor, they said.

But after a long wait I was told no: The expert (whom I never got to meet) had said there was no legal basis for them to receive my higai todoke. But if I wished, we could all go back and find baseball cap to give him a formal dressing down.

Sure enough, by the time we got back to the scene, baseball cap had disappeared. But his friends were still there, and even noisier than before. Nor were they impressed by the pistols and handcuffs my two plainclothes escorts were still carrying.

Eventually, a tall Nigerian appeared, towering over my pint-sized escorts. They assured me the giant meant no harm; indeed, because he spoke reasonable Japanese, the police often relied on him to keep order. And, sure enough, the riot did gradually begin to die down.

Peace restored, my two escorts shook the Nigerian warmly by the hand and once again headed back to base.

So there we had it. Not only were the police not interested in cleaning up this blot on Japan’s reputation, but they were even relying on one of the blot-makers to do their job for them.

What to do? Perhaps one idea would be to assign more senior officers to that Azabu station. And make sure they can at least match the height and bulk of those hecklers. And keep them in uniforms. Some counter-intimidation seems needed.

Long-term Japan resident Gregory Clark is a former university president turned commentator on Japanese affairs. Foreign Agenda offers a forum for opinion about life in Japan. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • SR400

    “Long-term Japan resident Gregory Clark”

    And you’ve only just realised how apathetic the Japanese police really are?
    Proactive policing? Forget about it; even reactive policing is only done begrudgingly.
    The only time you’ll see a JPol actually enforcing the law is when it’s “Noruma” time. They can’t seem to grasp that if they actually do their jobs the rest of the time rather than sitting in the Koban waiting for someone to hand in a lost purse, or driving around with the red lights flashing to let every reckless driver within 500m know that they are there, (thus meaning that said drivers’ driving will only change for the brief time they’re in view) the Noruma wouldn’t be necessary.

    • rossdorn

      I am not saying that they are doing a perfect job.
      Which country’s police did you have in mind, the one that does not just a better job, but actually a good one?
      You know, like working for the people?

      I have been to Roppongi only once, years ago. What I saw simply convinced me not to go again, so I have no problem with Roppongi. The touts are there, because YOU go there. So, please, keep on going there, yes?

      • SR400

        I too have only been once; I don’t even live in Tokyo. I was speaking very generally about the JPol.
        I live in one of the two Japanese cities at the top of the “most drink drivers” league(?). I’ve lived here for 6 years, but have only once seen a police stop & check, and, as I said before, they had the lights on so you could see it from hundreds of metres away, so if you were drunk, you could have detoured around it anyway…

      • rossdorn

        I can confirm that from own experience.

        There is a stretch of straight road about one and a half kms along the beach, where without crossings, still there are only 40 allowed. So the police with their motorcycles lit up like blue and red christmas trees stand behing houses watching the traffic… Basically when you see them in the mirror while driving 60 or 70, all you need to do take your foot off the pedal. Unless you drive an insane speed, you will always be done to 45 before the radar measure finishes.
        Works every time….
        They actually did stop me, by now must have been 5 times in 8 years, but ALWAYS did let me go. I have yet to meet one policeman in this country, who is anything like a US or European policeman
        In the rest of the world its hard to meet one you would not call a p**, here its even harder to find one, who actually is. Amazing…

  • Iain Macpherson

    Grumpy Gregory Clark!

  • K T

    I thought “G. Clark” became a citizen of the empire?
    Why would he erroneously be describing himself as “long-term Japan resident”?

    Well, whatever your status, “G. Clark”, this is how the empire works:
    The local police are largely for show.
    As 2020 approaches, the powers that be will determine that certain activities must be cleaned up, and THEN those Nigerians will find themselves on a plane, or in a detention center.

    This is the top-down, un-democratic empire that you immigrated to.

    PS: You are aware that the Yakuza have been involved in misc. illegal activities for centuries, right? They just don’t usually do it out in the open.

    • zer0_0zor0

      Japan is not an empire, it’s a Constitutional Monarchy, first of all.
      Second, you don’t seem to know much about the history of the yakuza.

  • Toolonggone

    > “The hecklers almost certainly would all have valid visas, they said.”

    Nice try, Gregory Clark. Your attempt to paint yourself as a hapless victim of NJ in this heckling thing has seriously undermined your integrity, due to your habitual tendency to stigmatize foreigners as a potential criminal.

  • anoninjapan

    Oh dear oh dear…his bubble has been burst, and he doesn’t like what the rest of us see/experience daily. Yet he’s had the audacity to treat such comments from others with the same/similar experience with contempt because it did/does not align with his myopic view of Japan.

    Shoe on the other foot mate…may be now you’ll listen to those you ignore and attempt to portray as unworthy and disrespectful!

  • All the King’s Horses

    What an absolute racist arsehole. Have you ever walked through Kabukicho or Ikebukuro at night? The streets are full of Japanese touts vying for customers. That’s the way things are done here. In fact, you can’t go past any brightly lit block of restaurants at night without people trying to get you in their izakaya with flyers and discount coupons. And you go and report the Nigerians, you filthy racist. Just because you feel intimidated by some black guy doing it, doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the right to ply his trade the way everyone else here does. I don’t like it either but I just say no and walk on because I’m not a frightened little man like you.

    I’ve got a lot of complaints about the Japanese police but in this case I’m totally on their side. I’m glad they laughed at you.. it wasn’t incompetence, it’s them recognising some twit who just doesn’t get it.

  • Jim Jimson

    TL;DR A wealthy white man is angry that black foreigners haven’t been gentrified out of his sight. He verbally harasses them, then non-ironically accuses them of racism and “rioting.” The white man then gets angrier because the police won’t initiate force against the blacks, to whom who ascribes superhuman prowess.

    • phu

      Cute. Either you haven’t been around these touts much or you’re just more interested in turning everything into racism than actually addressing issues, but yes, they are incredibly obnoxious, and no, they are not some kind of innocent minority being assaulted by the delicate sensibilities of angry rich white guys.

      But hey, go ahead, make everything a white person says about a black person into instant racism. That’s the popular thing to do right now anyway.

    • Steve Jackman

      I have to say that I’m surprised at the negative reaction to this article, since I do not believe this is about race. The African touts in Roppongi can be green, purple or white, and their aggressive tactics would still be equally offensive. Yes, Tokyo is full of Japanese touts too, but they are not nearly as aggressive or intrusive as these guys. The problem with the touts in Roppongi is not their race, it is that they act like thugs who seem to think they own the sidewalks in the area.

      I am often very critical of institutionalized racism, xenophobia, racial discrimination and the violation of foreigners’ civil and human rights by Japanese institutions, including the police and judiciary. However, in this case, I cannot find fault with the way either Mr. Clark or the Japanese police dealt with the situation.

      In fact, the police need to take a tougher stance against these touts, since they are more than just a nuisance and are often involved in criminal activity. The American Embassy in Tokyo has been receiving an increasing number of complaints from Americans who were tricked by these touts to go to bars, where their drinks were spiked and they were robbed or physically threatened to make large payments.

  • Yosemite_Steve

    Wow, Professor Clark is actually trying to solve a problem by calling for more illegal police harassment of NJ for being NJ? For a guy of GC’s stature this is pretty shocking. I totally get that it must be extremely unpleasant to have such aggressive touts disturbing your neighborhood. But with GC’s language skills and social experience, I would think that surely he has more resources and common sense available than to think he just needs to push the police into better illegal harassment and they can and should do whatever they want, and the law be damned?

    In any case Professor Clark, I would love it if you found the time to put a bit more thought and effort into this and see what other official avenues there are to pursue to solve this problem. You are rumored to be a Japanese citizen. What can you do to work the system in other ways than your direct approach to try to move the police? It might be highly instructive if you were to try to pursue some avenues and report back on what results you get or fail to get on this situation. And by the way, how is this different from the legal point of view from the issues of harassment of the Zainichi Korean community who have recently been severely harassed? That could be a very interesting tie-in for TJT readers, although it would be understandable if you would not want to touch anything politically sensitive and only want to discuss dealing with the Nigerians who very obviously have no powerful friends.

    • zer0_0zor0

      No powerful friends except for the organized crimes groups behind the scenes…

  • Frank C

    Are you really surprised the police do nothing? Being new to Japan I was first stunned at their lackadaisical attitude. Dozens of police line Telibi Asasi Dori, but they never do anything about aggressive speeding drivers. They would rather sit in their idling vans around the Chinese Embassy. Japan does not have low crime b/c policing. Japan has low crime b/c of societal attitudes against such. Sadly this has allowed the police to become the laziest bunch of government bureaucrats on this lovely island.

  • Ned Kelly

    Gregory Clark has written a reasonable, thoughtful article and offered some suggestions. Why the hysterical reaction? If more people complained of the tout problem perhaps something will be done.


      Wrong. Gregory Clark released an arguably racist rant, because he expected the Japanese police to do as they are instructed by him or share in his prejudices. Upset that he didn’t get what he wanted with either, he unleashed his White priviledge upon the Japan Times.

  • At Times Mistaken

    “White man vexed Japanese cops won’t follow his orders to harass black man,” could have been the headline for this basically racist rant. If it were though, I might not have read it and discovered the lesson in civility these Japanese police officers could offer law enforcement in New York City and other places where a gun toting constabulary might be all too willing to follow Clarke’s charge against unarmed black men not doing anything illegal.

  • Vince Stagbaugh

    Welcome to my world where King Obama waves his magic wand and gives defacto “amnesty” to millions of people who are KNOWN to have broken the law by entering the U.S.A. illegally.

  • All the King’s Horses

    I guess my last comment was removed due to some strong language. I’ve just realised the professor is an older man and deserving of a bit more respect, despite his behaviour. I’ll reword it a little in the hope that it doesn’t get taken down again.

    Basically touting is the way things are done here. If you go to Kabukicho or Ikebukuro, the Japanese touts are out in force every single night trying to get people into their bars and izakayas. In fact, no matter where you go in Japan, outside any lit up block you will find people handing you flyers, discount vouchers and menus. To suggest that the Nigerians shouldn’t be allowed to ply their trade the same way the Japanese do is grossly racist. If you genuinely want to change things, try to change the entire system, don’t target the black people because they offend your racist sensibilities.

    And I applaud the police for the way they dealt with the matter.

    • J.P. Bunny

      Agreed. Mr. C. could have just ignored them and continued on his way, the same as everyone else. A confrontation was not needed.

  • MM333

    Your presumption that touting in the manner you describe (the details are conspicuously absent) automatically amounts to a criminal offence is wholly misconceived. The restraint shown by the police, particularly in refusing your demand to check IDs when no crime was suspected of being committed, is reassuring.

    I can to some extent sympathize with your feeling of indignation in believing that you were the victim of what you perceived, albeit incorrectly, to be a crime. The sign encouraging people to report touts may have led you to jump to a misguided conclusion about the legality of the act.

    It is however unfortunate that rather than educating yourself on the law and informing others, you instead chose to spend your time writing an article that seems only to pacify your own impotent rage at not being successful in intimidating others with implicit threats of violence and deprivation of liberty. I too would not be impressed by pistols and handcuffs if I were engaged in a perfectly legal, but perhaps annoying, activity.

  • zer0_0zor0

    Touts are a blight on the sidewalks, but it is up to the municipalities to make touting illegal–which some have done, as I understand the situation.

    They are even more annoying when found in areas that are not populated with drinking establishments.

    Apparently it’s only illegal if they block your way in Roppongi, and they have cameras monitoring the scenario.

    What they need is stricter laws against touting.

    Perhaps Japanese organized crime groups have resorted to employing Nigerians in Roppongi to deflect attention from themselves, and make it look like a race-related issue when there are complaints. The clientele is more foreigner in Roppongi than in Kabukicho for example, where the touting problem is just as bad.

  • KenjiAd

    Usually, a place like Roppongi is a territory of a Yakuza syndicate running racketeering operation. The fact that those Africans are touting in the area without getting… um… reprimanded by the Yakuza, suggests to me that they are either directly hired by the Yakuza or paying a certain percentage to them.

    If so, the police of course knows this, and that might explain why they can’t act.


    Is this angry White man in Japan going to make such reports about the Japanese touts in Shinjuku or Shibuya? Or is this anger just reserved for the Blacks? Maybe there are no Blacks in his home country, where he can return.

  • david

    I don’t understand how Gregory Clark is being racist here? He has just described the events of what took place, and the touts involved happened to be of the African race. I’m sure he would have complained if it was a bunch of white touts doing the same thing.

    Also, have any of you people actually experianced the agressive touting methods used in Roppongi, Kabukicho, Ikebukuro and other such commercial areas? Most of the touting methods used would be considered, in my country (England), as an invasion of personal space or even harassment. These people aren’t your ordinary karaoke / izakaya touts just pushing flyers on passers by, no, these are often agressive and won’t take no for an answer!

    The first time I went to Roppongi was back in 2007, the first time was enough to put me off going back for a good few years! Pratically every step I took, I was confronted by touts of the African black description. Most used agressive methods of trying to get me into their club / bar. Many wouldn’t take no for an answer and many would also try to block my path and stand in front of me and bring me to a stop, which to me is an invasion of space and a form of intimidation. The final straw was when some would actually grab at me or put their arm around my shoulder and guide me in to their club / bar, most, I would actually have to literally fight off as when I tried to pull away, their grip on my shoulder got tighter! They have no right to touch me or block my path and bring me to a halt, most would consider it to be harassment.

    Anyone of any race has the right to tout in Japan as long as they do so within the law and do not use agressive methods. Unfortunately, the majority of bad experiances I have in Japan with touts have been with those of the African race. I’m not saying that every African in Tokyo or Japan is like this, because they’re not. Am I racist? No! Its not racism if you tell your experiances how they happen. I would still complain if it was a bunch of white touts doing this and I’m white. White touts in Tokyo are basically non exsitent, apart from one sleazeball I know in Kabukicho. And to add, I’ve never really met many pushy Japanese touts. One of my best friends in Japan is African American, and even he sees a lot of these touts in Roppongi and other such commercial areas as agressive and a nuisance.