Japan is famous for being one of the safest countries in the world, but one place locals and guidebooks will warn you about is Tokyo’s Kabukicho. While the area itself isn’t particularly dangerous, especially when compared to other nightlife areas around the world, it’s known for being home to a number of unscrupulous bar and restaurant owners, who will do anything to drain your wallet as soon as you step inside their premises.
The practice is so rife that some hotspots even have loudspeakers that play warnings in various languages, asking people to be wary of spruikers — staff who cajole passersby into entering their premises with seemingly good deals.
Despite the warnings, these spruikers are often so good at what they do that it can be easy to fall into their trap. That’s what happened to one Japanese passerby in Kabukicho, and they’d like to share their story as a cautionary tale so that others don’t fall prey to similar scams in the area.
According to this passerby, who has asked to remain anonymous, they were with a companion and looking for a place to eat when they were approached by someone who said “Are you looking for Torikizoku?” Torikizoku is a popular yakitori chain in Japan, and so our passerby, whom we’ll call A-san, thought this was a genuinely helpful person who would take them to a branch of the chain.
Yakitori was exactly what A-san and their dining companion felt like eating, so when the person who stopped them told them that Torikazu was always full but they knew a similar yakitori joint, they figured it might be worthwhile to take this person up on their suggestion.
A-san is from the Japanese countryside, so they were grateful for the assistance, and after the individual guided them down the street with some lighthearted banter, they arrived at their destination. Their friendly guide managed to distract A-san and their companion until they were inside and seated, so it was only once they were looking at the hidden charges on the menu that they got a sense that they may have walked into a scam.
The two diners became worried as they tried to work out what to do next. They’d heard stories about customers getting into physical altercations when attempting to leave unscrupulous joints in Kabukicho, so they figured the best option would be to just order the bare minimum — two alcoholic drinks and a tray of yakitori — and then get up and leave.
So that’s what they did. However, when they went to pay, the bill came to a whopping 8,554 yen. How did two drinks and some yakitori manage to cost so much? Well, let’s take a look at the breakdown of the bill below.
The first item on the bill is the charge for two otoshi, priced at 990 yen. Otoshi is a side dish that’s served with a drink order and added as an extra charge on the bill — a standard practice for bars and izakayas in Japan. It’s commonly viewed as something similar to a seating charge, so there was nothing wrong with seeing the otoshi on the bill here, but the following items are where the costs begin to stack up.
The second item is a 1,000-yen seating charge, and the third item is a 1,000 yen “year-end charge“. Some places that deal with big year-end bonenkai parties might tack this on as an additional fee when a lot of setup is required, but there was definitely no party going on here. The fourth item on the list is a 1,000-yen “weekend charge“, and then there’s a charge of 1,440 yen for eight chicken breast yakitori.
At the bottom of the bill is a beer, an apple sour, and two oolong teas, the latter of which A-san thought was free, like it is in many restaurants, but here they were charged 760 yen for them, which is pricey for oolong tea.
To top it all off, there’s a service charge of 526 yen and tax of 768 yen, which brings the order for two drinks and some chicken sticks to a total of 8,554 yen.
The entire experience left a bad taste in A-san’s mouth, but rather than add more drama to the evening by complaining, they just wanted to get out of there and forget the whole thing had ever happened, so they simply paid the bill and left, feeling utterly depressed.
It was an expensive lesson to learn, but now that they’ve learnt it, they won’t ever fall for a trap like this again. The one silver lining for them is that if they can save one other person from falling into a similar trap in future, their experience will have been worth it. So next time you’re in Kabukicho and a friendly individual offers to help you out with a dining recommendation, kindly refuse and be on your way.
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