Monday, April 07, 2008

Is Kabukichō Dying?

If you’re not familiar with the Kabukichō neighborhood, chances are, you won’t be interested in this post. There’s a fairly lengthy English-language Wikipedia entry on the place, though, and I’ve used it to append a sidebar (underbar?).

I pass through Kabukichō once in a while, but it’s only this winter that I first noticed information centers cropping up there. The gaudy, brightly-lit information centers - they resemble game arcades more than anything else - do not have any attendants to assist you; instead, they have computer terminals where you can browse (I assume) the Kabukichō commercial cooperative’s database for cabarets, host clubs and other (I assume) legal forms of entertainment.

Over time, there appeared to be more and more of these information centers. Now, each small block of buildings is more likely than not to have one of these unmanned information centers on one or more of its sides. Last week, I even found two information centers sitting right next door to each other. I also realized that the information centers now had noren-like curtains hanging down to waist level. Not that you ever see anyone in there, though, so there’s no one to appreciate the Kabukichō cooperative’s concern for the browser’s privacy.

As if.

These are all ground-level, street-front locations. Can you imagine what the vacancy rates must be in the upper stories and basements? The Internet is a killer.

Wikipedia begins its entry on Kabukichō with the following paragraph:

Kabukichō (歌舞伎町) is an entertainment and red-light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Kabukichō is the location of many hostess bars, host bars, love hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, and is often called the "Sleepless Town" (眠らない街). The district's name comes from late-1940s plans to build a kabuki theater: although the theater was never built, the name stuck.

Seems about right to me. One of the three substantive entries is on “Crime”. That, too.

The article goes on to say:

Recently, tourism from China and Korea are on the rise, and so, many tourists can be seen in Kabukichō even during daytime.

You may also catch glimpses of beefy men in black with cropped hair getting in and out of large black cars, with and without their women, slightly intoxicated, “even during daytime”. It’s that kind of place. But very few Caucasian or black tourists (or residents, for that matter), though you still may have seen the place in the gritty, realistic work of photographers like Nobuyoshi Araki and Daido Moriyama.

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