In its heyday, the section of Sotobori Dori running from Akasaka-Mitsuke to Toranomon once resembled the Las Vegas Strip, with glittering signs promoting cabarets and nightclubs with names like Mikado, Crazy Horse, Copacabana and Mugen. All of which are long gone.
While Shukan Bunshun (June 18) acknowledged their passing it seems that Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced on June 3 that the government was considering allowing "cabarets and other food and beverage establishments that engage in entertainment to restart their operations."
Suga's use of the word "cabarets" was ironic, because there's not a single cabaret in the Tokyo metropolitan area. In fact, these once glamorous establishments are teetering on the verge of extinction.
"Cabarets were places where customers could drink with hostesses, and where singing and dancing were accompanied by a live band," explains veteran editor Kyoichi Tsuzuki. "At some places you could also watch singers and other artists perform on stage. They got their start just after the end of the Pacific War, when they were set up by the RAA (Recreation and Amusement Association, also referred to as the Special Comfort Facility Association), to provide recreation for the military occupation.
"They were spacious, with a dance floor and brightly lit since dimness was discouraged."
By the 1950s, Tokyo is believed to have boasted several hundred such establishments.
"There's a famous story about how 'Beat' Takeshi Kitano used to perform at such places before he became famous," said a source in the entertainment trade. "Actually lots of vocalists and other show business people got their start there as apprentices. Part of the appeal of cabarets in the beginning was that they charged customers by time spent, so customers knew how much they'd be billed; but with the opening of discos and so-called cabaret clubs, the appeal of cabarets declined and they began closing down."
The Akabane branch of "Hollywood," located in Tokyo's Kita Ward, once attracted the patronage of such diverse personalities as Mino Monta, enka (Japanese ballad) singer Shinichi Mori and former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. Its founder passed away and it closed its doors for good in December 2018. Then in February of this year, "Rotary" in Shinjuku's Kabukicho shut down after 53 years of operation, marking the finale of cabarets in Tokyo.
"As far as I know, the only 'pure' cabaret left in Japan, with a live band performing, is Hakuba (White Horse), in Yatsushiro City, Kumamoto," says the aforementioned Tsuzuki. Opened in 1958, it is also known as the venue where popular female vocalist Aki Yashiro began her career. (She takes her professional name Yashiro from the name of her hometown.)
Shukan Bunshun thinks it ironic that when issuing precautionary warnings over the spread of the coronavirus, the Tokyo metropolitan government mentioned cabarets by name, when it's obvious they have ceased to exist in the city. Likewise for Suga's comments.
In response to a query from the magazine, a member of the special group organized by the cabinet to deal with the spread of infections remarked, "We did not go so far as to investigate how many or which kind of places exist, and are aware there are not a large number. 'Cabarets and so on' would include cabaret clubs, hostess clubs and similar types of businesses. Since their definitions are not fixed, we just cited cabarets as an example."
With such a degree of unfamiliarity with the actual situation, it seems a bit impertinent for the government to be appealing to members of the public on where they shouldn't be going, the magazine concludes.© Japan Today