I was one hamburger away from spending three months in a Japanese prison

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I loved my time in Japan, and had heaps of unreal experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s a strange country full of strange people who do even stranger things, but it’s also an exciting land that must be explored. There are mountains and beaches and temples and cities that spread out forever. But as interesting as Japan is, after three weeks in The Land of the Rising Sun, I wanted to head back to Australia. However, I went very, very close to not being able to do that. I was one drunken decision away from spending months in a brutal Japanese prison. I’m writing this from my balcony in Australia, safe and free, but the other people in this story aren’t so lucky. I sometimes exaggerate in order to create a better story, but everything you’ll read here is 100 per cent true.

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It all started as I was walking back to my capsule after spending a half an hour in a communal bath with a dozen middle-aged Japanese businessmen. I know, it’s a cliche way to begin a story, but it’s the truth. I was climbing back into my coffin after a long day of exploring Tokyo when a young bloke poked his head out of the next capsule and gave me a cheeky smile. His mate poked his head out of a capsule opposite us. It was like something out of The Brady Bunch.
“How the fuck are ya, mate?” one of them asked. It was the first Australian accent I’d heard in a month. Ten minutes later, me, Jimmy and Joey were out on the street, drinking Chu-Hais in Shinjuku, while businessmen and people dressed as robots streamed past us.

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The wild start of the night was an indication of to come. We won stuffed toys from grabby machines, struck out at a baseball batting range, and rampaged through 7-Elevens and Family Marts to buy Chu-Hai, beer, and meat on sticks. Outside one of the stores, Jimmy found the hat he’d been wearing three nights earlier when he’d been picked up by police. It was crusted in vomit. He dusted it off and popped it on his head. We had another Chu-Hai.

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Showing poorer judgement than any of my ex-girlfriends, I followed the boys into a backstreet strip club. We barely made it out alive, after the titty bar turned out to be a cockroach-infested apartment full of huge black men who wanted to rob us. We stumbled through restaurants staffed by robots, danced with homeless men in poorly-lit parks, and tried to pick up beautiful Japanese women with our slurred Australian accents. After weeks alone, it was good to be with people who knew how to have a good time. It was good to be with friends, even if I’d just met them.

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We ended up at a karaoke bar in the notorious Golden Gai district, a clutch of narrow alleyways full of bars and nightclubs. I can only remember snatches of what happened in there – I sang with Tokyo businessmen, bought shots, tried to pick up women. One of my new best friends – either Jimmy or Joey, who knows? – passed out in the street outside. More drinks were poured, more songs were sang, time slid past, songs were sang, drinks were sang, poured, passed out in the songs, drinks. The world spun around me. I was happy to be alive, happy to be in Japan, happy to be going home in a few days. I wanted to go paragliding and sit on the beach. I wanted to kiss that pretty German girl in the corner, and did. I wanted another shot. I wanted another shot after that. Jimmy (or Joey) was tongue-deep in a French girl. I fell and knocked over a tableful of glasses, pulled some Yen out of my pocket and thrust it at the owners. Everything slipped away into a blur of neon and bad singing. I needed a burger, so I fell out the door, telling Jimmy (or Joey, or both) that I would be back.

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I don’t remember buying the burger. I don’t remember if I stopped to talk to people, or to piss in a doorway, or to play pachinko. I just know that I got that burger from some God-awful convenience store and carried it back to the bar, ready to down more shots and drape myself over more best friends. But when I got back to the bar, it was surrounded by 40 police officers and hundreds of onlookers. Jimmy and Joey were struggling in the middle of a sea of blue. They looked up and called for me. I’ll never forget the look of terror and confusion in their eyes. When I saw them, I dropped the burger. I was immediately sober. Well, as sober as I could after 12 hours of drinking.

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Stupidly, I tried to get near them, but was pushed back by a cop. The boys were yelling out for me to help them, asking what was happening. I was helpless, and so I told them to go with the police and that everything would be alright. I thought it would be, I really did. But I was wrong. They were bundled into one of a dozen cop cars and taken away. I could only watch. I bought another Chu-Hai and drank it while the crowd dispersed and the dark sky started bleeding red.

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A Canadian guy told me what had happened. One, or both, of the boys had hit one of the Nigerian hawkers who plague the Shinjuku area. He knew nothing more than that, but told me that they’d probably be locked up for a few weeks, or a few months. I told him he was talking shit, and took another swig of my drink. I didn’t realise that they wouldn’t be back at the hotel the next morning. I certainly didn’t realise how close I’d gone to having the life that I know taken away from me forever.
“You were with them?” asked the Canadian. “Shit, you’re lucky you weren’t arrested, too. The cops here aren’t exactly careful when it comes to arresting gaijins.”
If I hadn’t gone for that burger, and had instead stayed at the bar, I would’ve been arrested, even if I hadn’t done anything. Guilt by association is a real thing in Japan. I wandered the streets for a while and then passed out in my cubicle. It was small, but at least it wasn’t prison. I thought it was the end of the story, but it was only the beginning. Things were about to get much, much worse.

To be continued…

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