As with most nights out on the town, It started out with a little innocent, touristy fun.
Walking through the neon light filled back streets of the Tokyo Red Light District in Shinjuku can leave you feeling a mix of happiness, confusion and overwhelm.
People are trying to pull me into little sex shops with cute girls out front. Others trying to give me free drinks to come into their “bars” which are almost always strip clubs or “companion bars” where you can basically pay someone to hang out with you if you buy them drinks all night.
I purchased a ticket to Tokyo’s biggest tourist attraction “The Robot restaurant” which is home to easily the most ridiculous entertainment show on earth.
I really have a hard time describing what it even is. Just think: hundreds of lasers, giant fake monsters/robots, singing and dancing girls in tiny outfits and really loud battles with hard to understand story lines. Basically it’s like being inside of a video game on five tabs of LSD.
I had a few beers during the show and introduced myself to a group of guys right behind me who were American as well. They were college football players who all just graduated from Boise State and looking for a party.
We all went into a few tiny bars and took a shot or two before finding a little Karaoke bar on the fifth floor of a random building. The bar had a big jar on top with half of it full of a big brown snake. The other half filled with grain alcohol. A cute girl behind the bar who had been joining us in a few American songs on Karaoke explained that it was the deadliest snake in Japan caught off the coast of Okinawa.
I was a hard “Fuck no” on that one until somehow it was brought up that she is a semi-pro poker player. Now we have something in common and something to bet on. We decide that we would play four hands. If I won, we would kiss. If she won, I would drink the snake shot. I have never wanted to win at poker more than in that moment. Death or a kiss…
A few lucky hands later, I win. We make out for a bit with all the Americans cheering in the background and she says “Ok we play again!”
A few more good poker hands and I win again. She says that because I won, she will give me a free shot. With everyone saying “Fuck that dude”, and my slightly drunken and very swollen pride said “Let’s do it, we’ve got a cute girl and a crowd to watch.”
The snake was staring me in the face as she took the ladle and poured me a double shot. After building up the suspense a bit, I took it down like a champ with everybody in the bar with that “holy shit” kinda look on their face. The bartender told me “It’s a Japanese Viagra”.
Well I guess I know what kind of a night this is going to be.
We all decided we wanted to explore Tokyo a bit more and we left the tiny bar that I couldn’t find again if I tried.
Drunkenly stepping out into the street I see their group a little ahead of me and I decide to fall back. It was fun to hang with Americans but I wanted to explore solo tonight.
The next bar had a big buff Nigerian dude out front (This is super common in Tokyo bars, apparently the word spread to Nigeria that there is a lot of work as security in Tokyo and they all came) who told me it was $40 for all you can drink for two hours. I had snake juice flowing at that point and all you can drink sounded perfect.
I paid the $40 and went inside. Immediately an older lady in a red dress with massive boobs came and sat down next to me and asks if I’d buy her a drink. I knew that this was a “companion” and I was not in the mood to pay for other peoples drinks all night.
I order myself a drink and the bartender asks for $12. I tell him I got the $40 all you can drink pass and he looks at me with confusion. I hate that look.
The manager comes over in a black suit with a red silk shirt underneath with sunglasses in his chest pocket. After I tell him the situation, he let’s me know that the $40 was an entrance fee.
This is code for “You’re fucked you drunk American.”
I got real serious at this point and tell him to get the bouncer who let me in. After he refuses, I get angry (which is pretty hard to do honestly but I had the snake juice flowing). I tell him that I demand my $40 back because I was lied to. I am not leaving until I get it and I want to speak to that bouncer. The manager gives me a look like he knows something I don’t know and says “Let’s go outside.”
We walk to an alley behind the bar where the Nigerian bouncer is. Next to him is a man in an all black suit and black sunglasses, only allowing the top line of tattoos show on his neck and where his hands met his wrists. He tells me that he owns all three of the bars on that street and I need to talk to him. The situation is very tense but I explain as clearly as possible that I was being screwed over. I told them that it’s not about the money at this point, it’s about the principle of the bouncer telling me a lie to get my money.
That’s when the bouncer got angry and got really close to my face. He was about 8 inches shorter than me but pure muscle. He said “Do you know where the fuck you are right now? Do you know whats about to happen to you?”
I smiled calmly and looked him in the eyes; “Do you know who the fuck I am? (That snake juice was pumping at full throttle at this point) I am a professional fighter. This is what I do, I deal with people like you.” I looked him in the eyes with 100 percent pure confidence.
DISCLAIMER: I had been in one Mixed Martial Arts fight at that point and I had about 10 percent of the skills I was fronting that I had at this point.
I saw hesitation after I reacted like that. He shut up and took a step back. I then tuned to the Yakusa guy and told him once again that this is no longer about money, it’s about respect and I told him that he knew I was being screwed over and should just give me my $40 back and move on.
We all sat in silence for a moment keeping eye contact before he said “Let’s go into my bar and you can drink free tonight.” A part of me was saying “I want that $40, not more beers” but I felt the energy in that circle and it was a reasonable offer.
The manager and the bouncer walked back to the bar. The owner and I go to the bar next door. It’s a small bar with a stripper pole and a couple of prostitutes talking to locals. We start sharing beers and he tells me “We share this together” as he holds a little gold pen out with a bump of cocaine on the end. I told him “It’s like 4am and I need to go back to my place soon so I shouldn’t.
He then put it to his nose and snorted, dipped his shiny gold pen-like “coke grabber” into a metal box full of cocaine and lifted it to my face and looked at me real serious and said “We share”.
I had been pushing my luck with this guy all night so I didn’t feel like pissing him off again. Also, If you’re going to do a drug, it should be in a shitty bar in the Tokyo Red Light District with a Yakusa.
After that he told me that he is actually from a small town in the south. His whole family is dead including his two brothers and sister so he decided on the gang life. They were a better family to him than his family ever had been.
I could see he was in a lot of pain still and he told me that he hadn’t told anybody about his past in years. I told him that there was a safety in telling secrets to strangers.
A prostitute came over to me and sat on my lap. After flirting she asks if I’m looking for company tonight. I decided I would have some fun by acting as if I was a male gigolo.
I said “Are you looking for company tonight? I think you’re pretty cute so I’ll give you a good price.” She looked confused and said $120 for an hour for me.
I responded with, “No, I only charge $80 an hour. I’m busy tonight so I need to know if you’d like to buy me for the night.”
She said “Wait, you’re working too?”
“Yes, I’m a prostitute too. Do you want have a fun time? Only $80, good price, just for you!”
She was not amused by my joke and walked away. I looked at my new friend and kind of did a 90’s sitcom shoulder shrugging “What did I do wrong?” He wasn’t amused either but I don’t think silliness is his strong suit.
After a couple hours of throwing beers back and telling stories, I realize it’s somehow seven in the morning.
We had been in that tiny bar all morning. I was done with getting harassed by prostitutes and I was still about 30 minutes by train to my hostel. I told him I was heading out and he told me to stay. I was confused because I was just a random tourist, why would he care to hang out with me. So I assumed he was trying to get something from me because he was persistent on me staying. I didn’t know exactly why, but he was pretty serious when he was telling me to stay and I felt a little worried.
So without saying anything else I turned around and walked away. Everyone in the bar got silent and watched me walk out. It was really creepy and I felt a little uneasy, like something bad was about to happen. I took the stairs instead of the elevator and went through an emergency exit to a side street.
It was Sunday Morning and I was trashed. Everyone was with their families and I was still drunk trying to keep it together and find the right subway station. I remember sitting on the subway with tons of everyday people in suits and nice clothes and I looked like a lost wreck.
Even as I approached my hostel I still had people asking me to come into their massage parlors for a “happy time massage”.
People were already up having breakfast and I was dead on my feet. The Snake juice and coke mixture was a little too intense, even for a night in The red Light District of Tokyo.
It was wild, stupid, crazy and fun. Just a little more than most nights out on the town. This was likely one of the craziest nights of my life. Although I don’t think doing drugs or hanging around with prostitutes and gang bangers, it sure does make for a good story as long as you don’t make a habit of it.
Everything in moderation right?