I turn to look. This is the first bit of English I’ve heard all evening, and sure enough it’s directed at me, the blue-eyed, red-brown-haired, bearded ‘Merican who couldn’t blend into the crowd if I had a human-size Cuisinart.
“Come check it out,” says the speaker, a sharply-dressed guy in his 30s, gesturing toward a drinking establishment just off one of Shinjuku’s busiest streets. “I’ve got the girl of your dreams inside. You like Japanese women?”
“We’re good,” my brother says.
The salesman ignores him, singing his pitch like an R&B ballad.
“You like Japanese women, man? I know you do. We got Japanese women waiting to meet American guys.”
My trust in my brother is absolute, this bar dude is acting sketchy as hell, and I’m not that much of an idiot, so I take my bro’s cue and follow him toward the intersection.
“What was that all about?”
The guy who approached us was an extortionist, my brother explained. They’ll invite you into the club, let you order a few drinks but neglect to tell you the drinks are 10,000 yen each, or about $90 USD. If you refuse to pay they’ll call Tokyo police, who will take the word of a local business owner over the word of a tourist in what they see as a legitimate dispute.
“Or they’ll spike your drink,” my brother said, “take all your cash and run your credit cards to the limit.”
Japan’s not the kind of place where you worry about pickpockets or getting jumped by local thugs, but it’s a mistake to assume crime doesn’t exist here.
Tokyo may be one of the world’s safest cities, a place where you can leave your door unlocked or leave your bike unattended while confident no one will steal it, yet tourists are universal easy prey.
While walking through Shinjuku’s busy streets I was reminded of an interview with the great novelist David Mitchell, who spent several years in Japan teaching English before returning to the UK.
Moving through Tokyo as a westerner unable to decipher Japanese writing, Mitchell noted, is like being cocooned in your own personal anti-advertising buffer. All that hiragana and katakana written in neon might as well be mood lighting — it’s there, but if you can’t understand it, it can’t invade your headspace.
Mitchell said he found that obliviousness calming and conducive to keeping to his own thoughts on writing. Being there in person and experiencing it for myself, I could appreciate his point.
Another famous feature of Shinjuku is the giant Godzilla head, which looks like the King of Monsters is looming just behind a pair of buildings overlooking the neighborhood’s central crossing.