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Roppongi Nights, Roppongi Mornings
Tokyo's well-worn nightspot attracts all comers
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Print Article 
Published 2006-01-06 14:44 (KST)   
Three Roppongi-ites ring in the New Year
©2006 D.Weber
Love it, hate it, loathe it, leave it: Roppongi is undeniably a people magnet. Perhaps it doesn't attract the most savory of characters, but it cannot be denied that all walks of life rub elbows and more in Roppongi, unlike anywhere else in Japan.

One of Roppongi's ubiquitous doner kebab stand
©2006 D.Weber
Roppongi is Tokyo's little den of sin for ready-to-go gaijins (foreigners) and adventurous Japanese. Its humble origins date back to the Edo period 400 years ago when it was a quiet little temple town with nary a vice to its name. Tragedy seems to be in Roppongi's blood as it has faced ravaging fires, World War II bombs, and drunken foreigners puking all over it during its long questionable past.

Its party reputation began a hundred years or so ago, when Japanese soldiers were stationed there and, as it usually happens around young men with money and testosterone to spare, a sordid night-life sprung slowly into life. The U.S. military continued this fine tradition in Roppongi after WWII.

King of Roppongi
Gangster Nick Zappetti got the ball rolling

"Tokyo Underworld" by Robert Whiting
Much of today's Roppongi nightlife can reportably be traced back to one man: an American, Nick Zappetti. Zappetti came to Japan as a member of the U.S. Occupation Force at the end of World War II. With black marketing, racketeering, and a host of other illegal activities abounding, this native from Mafia country, USA, found Japan much to his liking.

After being pulled in by the police for his tenuous involvement in a bungled but notorious diamond heist, Zappetti went legit by starting a pizza place in Roppongi. Roppongi's nightlife was still in its infancy at the time. The most excitement to have back then was the occasional Yakuza sword battles as gangs etched out their territories. Nick's place became so famous that Hollywood actors and even the Imperial Crown Prince Akihito patronized his restaurant. And of course, there were plenty of Yakuza employees to be found sampling the wares.

Zappetti's topsy-turvy life in Japan is detailed in Robert Whiting's wild and intriguing book: "Tokyo Underworld." / David M Weber
These days, a night in Roppongi can be spent fending off the lusty advances of horny English teachers, frustrated sailors, and pent up marines if you are a girl or look similar to one. For the young male out on the prowl, he has to run the alluring, but annoying gauntlet of the massage girls. Shouting -- "Massagee? Massagee?" -- they love to rush out to grab any passing single male and not let go until their victims have either given in, or brutally fought them off.

The notorious meatmarket: Gaspanic
©2006 D.Weber
The night is a friend to Roppongi and its inhabitants of party-goers and pleasure-seekers. The streets are seemingly filled with beautiful people stumbling about in a wonderful haze as they hop from club to club. In rich, rolling Nigerian accents, club hawkers call out to the passing crowds inviting them to clubs that promise to be packed with fun and people.

Maybe it's the blinding flashing lights, the blaring music, or the vast amount of consumed alcohol, but the insides of the popular clubs do seem to boast a population of the most incredibly good-looking charismatic people who simply personify the word "cool." It's the type of group that any trendy groupie with low self-esteem would aspire to join.

A jam-packed club
©2006 D.Weber
Some nights, however, just aren't a good time to visit -- though some sour critics would say that there is never a good night to visit Roppongi. I went there for the first time on New Year's Eve 2001. Nearly the entire crew contingent of the USS Kitty Hawk aircraft carrier was there to meet, compete, and throw-up on me. It was wall-to-wall testosterone. Roppongi on that particular New Year's Eve would have been a lovely place to go if you were female or gay, but not if you were both.

Tokyo's finest looking to keep things civil in Roppongi
©2006 D.Weber
The danger of Roppongi -- and there are many -- is staying too long. If you don't find that special someone to fill your emotional void for the next few hours, or you miss your last train home, you will be in danger of seeing the horror that is Roppongi in the morning.

Some Halloween Hanky Panky - just an average night in Roppongi
©2006 D.Weber
The morning is not a friend to Roppongi. In fact, it's downright cruel. Daylight hits Roppongi with all the gentleness of a sledgehammer wrapped in barbed wire. Morning shatters all the glamour, egos, and illusions created by the night.

When a club's flashing lights switch to a stagnate piercing glare, the beautiful, cool people you were just grooving with are suddenly transformed into a bunch of haggard hung-over hags and trolls.

Rushing out into the streets doesn't save you either, as the streets are choked with packs of shambling, stumbling, walking dead. Swarms of menacing crows with their mocking cries swoop in with the dawn's light to pick apart the ravages of the night before and to finish off the weakened. In the shadows, pale partygoers scurry off to avoid the sunlight like quaking vampires by seeking the darker recesses of the subways lest they explode in a noxious cloud of bone and dust.

Naughty Roppongi girls out on the prowl
©2006 D.Weber
In the bowels of the subway station, the survivors of the night are huddled like war-weary third world refugees as they await the train that will carry them away from this hell. Very few are capable of standing. Most are passed out in their own or somebody else's filth. Those few who are conscious stare into the void with bleary, blood-shot eyes like shell-shock war veterans who have been up at the frontlines for far too long.

A New Year's Eve street bar dispensing liquid encouragement
©2006 D.Weber
You tell yourself: "Never Again!" as you lurch for the train along with the rest of the wretched masses yearning for escape. You know deep down, however, you will be back out here again and again.

A trio of Roppongi Nightlife casualties
©2006 D.Weber

- New Years Party in a Roppongi Bar (.MOV) 
- Happy New Years from a dark smoky Roppongi Bar (.MOV) 

©2006 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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