National / Crime & Legal

How one Kabukicho bar allegedly ripped off its drinkers

by Atsushi Kodera

Staff Writer

A promise of a fun night out with drinks and hostesses for just ¥4,000 in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district led to a tab totaling ¥2.6 million — and a death threat.

Police said Tuesday they had arrested 11 individuals suspected of overcharging at clubs in the Shinjuku Ward district, including two owners, one staffer and a hostess at Hasta la Vista, a kyabakura nightclub.

Kyabakura, a combination of “cabaret” and “club,” refers to establishments where hostesses chat with drinkers and may accompany them out on a date.

The four are held on suspicion of soliciting a passing group of people with a low-priced offer and then demanding a disproportionately large payment, according to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.

The arrests, on Saturday and Sunday, were part of a Tokyo police crackdown on bottakuri rip-off scams often enforced with threats at bars and nightclubs. Bottakuri is rife in Kabukicho.

As the district is increasingly attracting foreign tourists, authorities have stepped up a drive against the problem in an effort to shed its sleazy image ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The efforts include the police, the Shinjuku Ward office and local proprietors’ associations, a ward spokesman said Wednesday.

The U.S. Embassy has also warned that Americans could be the target of similar scams in Tokyo.

Local residents are increasingly aware of the problem, too.

The case of Hasta la Vista is a typical, if extreme, example of how the scams operate.

“Don’t worry, it’s just ¥4,000, everything included,” is how the touts lured a passing group of nine people on Dec. 13 last year, said a metropolitan police spokesman.

He added that 21-year-old manager Kenta Namiki, who is under arrest, and other staff members allegedly colluded to shake down patrons.

Once the group was inside the club, hostesses purportedly consumed 172 drinks on the customers’ tab and, after about an hour, presented the visitors with a bill totaling ¥2,663,000.

When the customers refused to pay, staff members attempted to coerce them with a threat: “If this wasn’t a legitimate business, you would be dead. It’s not a big deal if I’m arrested for forcing payment,” police quoted a staff member as saying.

They did not attribute the comment to any specific individual, and did not disclose whether the customers paid any money.

Bottakuri in Kabukicho has been on the rise since last fall, including a tenfold increase in the first four months of this year, to 1,052 reported cases from 106 last year, according to the ward spokesman.

As Kabukicho is growing as a tourist destination, the ward office has placed Korean- and Chinese-language flyers in hotels and restaurants warning visitors about bottakuri.

“Victims are mainly Chinese and Koreans, and there are few incidents involving Westerners” the spokesman said on Wednesday. “The hawkers include Chinese and South Koreans and they target their compatriots, so Chinese and South Korean people need to be alerted.”

Starting next Wednesday, the ward office will team up with police and local proprietors associations to dispatch about 30 individuals in Kabukicho to hand out packs of tissue paper and flyers bearing warnings against bottakuri in Korean, Chinese, Thai, Nepalese and Burmese, the ward spokesman said.

While the ward spokesman cites Chinese and Korean tourists as the main bottakuri victims, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo nonetheless warned U.S. citizens in an email on June 1 that they could become the target of similar scams in some of Tokyo’s nightlife districts, particularly Roppongi and Kabukicho.

“Complaints of robberies committed after a victim has been drugged from a spiked drink are increasing,” the message said, adding that credit card fraud, extortion and assault are also among the incidents that have been reported to the embassy.

“If you believe you have been a victim of a crime, contact the police right away. In cases of credit card fraud you must file a police report at the nearest police station before you leave Japan” in order to get your claim verified, the message said.