Tag Archives: Shinjuku

Escape From Tokyo

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There was a loud knock outside my capsule, and when I poked my head out I almost headbutted a policeman. He was crouched down in front of where I’d been sleeping, thrusting his Tokyo Police badge in my face. Behind him stood two other men, dressed in suits, arms crossed, stern looks across their faces. It was not the best way to wake up on my final day in Japan.

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Three days had passed since my friends were arrested for assaulting a Nigerian conman, and I’d spent that time exploring Yokosuka and traipsing around Mount Fuji’s suicide forest. As interesting as those places were the fate of the two Aussie backpackers I’d met on my first night in Tokyo was never far from my mind. I’d been reading up on Japanese prisons, and the reality of incarceration is shocking. For starters, simply being arrested leads to a mandatory three-day evaluation period. It doesn’t matter if you’re innocent, if the cops take you in, you won’t be seeing daylight for 72 hours. In reality, however, this three-day period is almost always extended to 23 days, which is how long the police can detain a suspect for without charge. If I hadn’t gone for that burger, and had been taken in when my new-found friends had been arrested, I would have almost certainly been kept in for the full 23 days, even though I’d done nothing wrong.

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The 23 days are supposedly used for investigating the case, and the police must be bloody good at their job, because they have a 99% conviction rate. In Japan, the police can’t be seen to make mistakes, so pretty much everyone who is arrested is found guilty. To achieve this, cruel mental torture is used to attain confessions. Inmates are kept awake for days at a time, screamed at, mentally abused, and shaken like Mount Druitt babies. Basically, any abuse that doesn’t leave physical scars is used. Westerners are only allowed to speak when a translator is around (you guessed it, they’re never around), the menu consists of one handful of plain rice a day, and the sleeping arrangements involve a rug on the floor and some sawdust for a pillow. It would be a horrendous situation to find yourself in.

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While Japanese prisons are almost completely devoid of bashings, shankings, murders and inmate-on-inmate bum sex (that last one might be a negative or a positive, depending on your outlook on life), the conditions are more like a concentration camp than a western prison. No contact with the outside world is allowed, and officials from foreign embassies find it hard to even visit. Through the entire investigation, the prisoner remains guilty until proven innocent (yeah right, like that’s gonna happen!).

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And things don’t get better at the end of the 23 days. After being found guilty, foreigners are sent to an immigration processing centre until all the necessary details have been sorted out and fines paid. This usually takes another four to eight weeks. Before finally being deported, most westerners lose between 15 and 20kg. With the way I’ve been going at touch footy lately, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, but I get the feeling that foreign inmates in Japanese prison lose a lot more than a few kilograms. I didn’t know those boys very well, but they seemed like fun-loving, free-spirited dudes. I’m not sure they’ll be the same people when they get out. The Japanese penal system is designed to break people.

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I crawled out of my capsule wearing only my undies, while three cops looked me up and down. Around us, businessmen and hungover travellers stopped and stared at me, perhaps wondering whether they were witnessing my last moments as a free man. My mind raced and spun; I was pretty sure that the police were here to ask about Jimmy and Joey, but I wasn’t certain. Maybe they were here to arrest me for something I’d done while drunk, or had me confused with someone else? After what I’d read, I knew that even if they just wanted to take me to the station, I was in for a bad time and probably wouldn’t be going home that night. The three men spoke in Japanese and then the one in the middle, obviously the interpreter, spoke to me in English.

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After confirming my name and details, they started asking about the events of that evening. While the interpreter was pleasant, and the cops weren’t intimidating, I was under no illusions that it was anything other than an interrogation. They asked the same questions over and over again – which bars did we go to, what were we drinking, who did we meet – and I found it difficult to answer because I barely remembered a thing about the night because I was so smashed. They seemed surprised that I hadn’t been there to witness the fight. Maybe that fact was the only reason they didn’t arrest me on the spot, I don’t know.

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I was doing everything I could to answer their questions, but they kept asking me about Jimmy’s wallet. I told them I knew nothing about it, but it was a topic that kept coming up. After a while, I found out the reason; apparently Jimmy’s wallet had gone missing, and it had been found in my locker at reception. Of course I knew nothing about it, and to this day I’m not sure if they’d made that up to give them a reason to arrest me if they felt like it, or if it had simply been a misunderstanding downstairs. Either way, that could’ve so easily led to me being locked up.

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When they had everything they needed, the cops took a photo of my passport and then took a number of photos of me. They now had the means to prevent me from leaving the country, but I feel that their reasons for photographing me were more sinister. I get the impression that they probably took the photos of me back to Jimmy and Joey and lied about what I’d said, in order to get them to confess. Whatever the story, I was happy when the police left. I spent the rest of the day just killing the hours until my flight back home at midnight. I couldn’t enjoy the day at all, because I was still worried that I might be stopped at customs, and felt bad knowing that those boys were going through hell. Even a visit to the world’s smallest Godzilla barely put a smile on my face. Bloody hell, the real Godzilla is 50m tall and this bastard’s the size of a moderately-sized dwarf.

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I did make it through customs and I did make it home, but the experience gave me plenty to think about. I put myself in a stupid position by getting so drunk in a country with an aggressive police force who rely on WW2-era interrogation methods to abuse foreigners who flout the law. My life as I know it went very close to ending and, while I did nothing wrong, it was my poor decisions that placed me in that position. Being Drunk and Jobless is fantastic, but maybe it’s time for me to stop being Completely Fuckin’ Shitfaced and Jobless when travelling through countries that are looking for excuses to use and abuse me for three or so months. But now, reliving these events has me fanging for a beer. And that, my friends, was my trip to Bali, South Korea and Japan.

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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…

The Tokyo Brave

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When I came to Japan, I never thought about going to Tokyo, because it got destroyed by Godzilla. But then I got talking to some idiot in a park while I getting to drunk and he told me it was only a movie, and Tokyo’s still there, so I headed over to check it out. Fortunately, the drunk was right, otherwise I would’ve had my head bitten off by a giant lizard. Although, honestly, sleeping in a capsule hotel was probably just as bad.

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You’d be checking out early if you saw that crawling towards you

I wanted to get a good view of the city and see if I could see any hot chicks wandering around, so I headed up the top of the Metropolitan Government Building, which is only a short walk from where I was staying in Shinjuku. It has twin viewing platforms at 202 metres above the ground, and the best thing is that they’re absolutely free. Seeing as every other attraction in Japan requires a mortgage extension before even getting close to it, that was a deal I couldn’t pass up. The view turned out to be pretty bloody good, too.

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A shitload of earthquakes have left Tokyo tilted as fuck

I’ve got great vision (so what they say about wankin’ ain’t true) and I saw a good sort catching some sun in Yoyogi Park. I figured that, at best, I’d score a root, and, at worst, I’d get to explore a park with a really funny name, so I headed over there. It’s full of trees and is a nice break from the city, but Yoyogi Park is also crawling with people, and I got into trouble for sitting on a rock, so it’s not exactly the greatest place in the world (that would be the space between Shion Fujimoto’s legs). Oh, and when I got down there the ‘good sort’ turned out to be a 90-year-old Japanese dude in his undies. Maybe what they say about wankin’ is true.

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My Cleo Cosmo Bachelor of the Year nomination photo

Shortly after escaping the park, I was pleased to bump into one of my favourite Japanese pop groups, the Sushi Dolls – BANG! The BANG! bit is part of their name, by the way. I wasn’t saying that I went up and shot them. I had a brief dalliance with the lead singer, Yuki, a number of years ago whilst we were both working as erotic dancers on Pacific cruise. She ended up leaving me for Pablo, a heavily-tattooed South American billionaire with an impressive collection of designer hats, and I was left heart-broken. I waved at Yuki, but she just turned to a large security and five seconds later I was being escorted out of there. Call me, Yuki!

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Just to be clear, I didn’t bang any of the trannies or the ugly ones

With my arm possibly broken and my nose bleeding, I blindly staggered towards Shibuya, an overwhelming mixing pot of hip teenagers, techno music, never-ending traffic jams, gigantic video screen, lost tourists, and street dancing. The blinding lights and deafening sounds further disoriented me, and I found myself in a dead-end lane, accosted by a street-wise youth gang. They started pushing me around, hassling me in Japanese. I feared for my life, and did the only thing I could think of – I danced. I busted out some really special moves and did a few handstands, and it was obvious that the toughs were very impressed. They started cheering and clapping, and when I finished, covered in sweat, they called me a legend in broken English and offered to buy me lunch. I pointed at Godzilla behind them and got the fuck out of there.

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Facial hair is stringently regulated here

I ran so fast that I made it out to the site of the 1964 Olympics which, unlike Sydney, is actually pretty close to the city. I looked around for the stadium, hoping to get a photo in front of it, but all I could see was some fat bloke in a tractor.
“Hey, Shigeru!” I yelled, taking a swig from my beer. “Where’s the fuckin’ stadium?”
The bloke stopped the tractor and climbed down, throwing his helmet to the dirt. “My name no Shigeru,” he fumed. “My name Ryu, like popular Street Fighter II character.”
“How do you do, Ken?” I asked, but the joke went over his head. “Where’s the bloody stadium at?”
“Up you arse,” he snarled, then spat at me and climbed back into his tractor. Well, that was rude.

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I win the gold medal for sexiness

Turns out the original stadium got knocked over so that they can build the new one on the same spot. Well, they could’ve told me that before I travelled 10,000 kilometres to see the bloody thing. I’ll be writing a very strongly-worded email to the boss of the Nipponese Tourism Council. Prepare yourself for that, Gilbert Yamanoke!

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The crab has three major segments to its life cycle

The sun goes down quicker than any of my last six girlfriends in Tokyo, and by five in the arvo the sky was dark and the streets were ablaze with neon. I wandered into the streets of Shinjuku, swept along by the tidal wave of people, accosted by dozens of Nigerian touts, assaulted by sights and sounds that can’t be seen or heard anywhere else. Tokyo really is as over-the-top as it seems in movies, and Shinjuku seems more like a carnival funhouse than a place that could actually exist in the real world. It’s insane.

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More lights than a bloke with an anorexia fetish

I bumped into a couple of Aussie blokes and we got smashed on Chu-hai in the streets, played baseball, escaped from brothels, sang kareoke and tried to pick up women. Then it got weird and violent and scary. It was a night that left two men stuck in a Japanese prison for the next three months, and me wondering whether I’d be able to go home. But that’s a story for another time. Trust me, I’ll tell it.

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