Drugged and Kidnapped in Tokyo
When I asked my brother what advice he had for me for my trip to Japan I expected him to suggest an ornate shrine, a steaming bowl of particularly delicious ramen or a chilled onsen to visit. Instead, I got a slightly alarming account of a casual kidnapping. Here’s the gist of what he told me.
It was 3AM and I was with my friends kicking on from a wedding reception in a bar somewhere in Shibuya. It was warm, stuffy and overcrowded. I couldn’t wrap my head around the Japanese need to heat every room as if it is a sauna, but I guess they just really like to soak in the atmosphere.
I stumbled outside to escape from the heat. I was hammered and needed some cold air to clear my head. As I leant against the cool bricks of the building outside, a man approached me from the street. He was foreign – about six-foot-four and huge. In this climate, he stuck out like a dad at an Ariana Grande concert. He started to make mindless chitchat with me, asking me how my night was going. I was so wasted I didn’t think too much of it and gave him polite mindless responses. Then, mid-conversation he suddenly grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me down a nearby alleyway. It was dark and I couldn’t see the end.
He pulled me further into the alley and further away from the bar. I need to get out of this, I thought to myself. I don’t want to be this far from the bar.
I tried to turn and pull away, but his grip tightened on my wrist. It was clear he wasn’t going to let me turn back. Another man of similar appearance seemed to materalise out of thin air behind us. He didn’t say anything; rather he acted as a presence to make it clear I wasn’t going anywhere.
I began to panic as they took me across the road and into a grey building that looked like an empty bar. The lights were dim and there was an old rusted clock on the wall with a loud tick that sent a shiver down my spine with every strike. They pushed me into a lift and one of them got in with me. My mind began to race.
Shit. How am I going to get out of this? This is going to be much harder than I first thought.
The man pressed a button and took me to the third floor.
“Come on brother, you have good time,” he said in heavily accented English.
At this point, I really doubted that. He led me out of the lift and into a room with a bar, a lounge area and a couple of unmarked doors. The bar was old and had visible signs of muck and grease all over it. On the red leather sofa sat three girls who were clearly sex workers. The man forced me to sit on the worn couch between them and left the room, closing the door behind him.
What have I got myself into?
The girls started to badger me to order a drink and waved a cocktail menu in my face. My eyes were flickering around the room from the bar to the closed doors to their skimpy clothing. I knew I was in trouble. They began to get very persistent and it was obvious they weren’t going to stop until I ordered something. I pointed to the ‘Salty Dog’ on the menu to buy myself some time, and my mind went into overdrive thinking of what I was going to do to get myself out of there. By now, my adrenaline had kicked in and sobered me up. All I could think was, Fuck.
I asked one of the girls where the bathroom was to see if I could make an escape in the process. She pointed to a on the other side of the room. On my way, I passed the bar area where one of the girls was making my drink. She was pouring something out of a grimy, unmarked white plastic bottle into my cup. There’s no way I’m drinking that, I thought.
I took a leak in the bathroom – I was in there so I figured I might as well – and came up with the plan that I was going to make a break for it as soon as I exited.
I was already running as I opened the door. When I reached one of the unmarked doors and yanked it open, I realised it was a broom closet. “Fuck!” I cursed.
The girls turned around and started yelling at me in Japanese. I sprinted to the next door and pulled that one open too. It lead to the corridor. Thank you, Jesus.
By now the girls were running after me, trying to get me back in the room. As I reached the corridor, I saw the man from before at the other end. He took in what was happening and moved to join in the chase too. My heart was beating so loudly that I could barely hear the screams filtering down the passage from behind me. The lift was close to the door, and by a stroke of luck, it opened on our level. From inside, I pressed the button for the bottom floor.
The girls and the man had caught up with me by this stage, and I began to kick and punch them to try and get them away from the doors. Somehow, I managed to get the lift closed without any of them inside. My body began to shake with the realisation that I might not be in the clear yet. I dreaded the doors opening to the second man waiting for me at the bottom.
When they slid open with no one in sight, I took off down the street, desperate to get back to the original bar. I spotted my friends outside and waved them down, relief filling my body.
“Where the hell have you been?” they demanded.
“Just making friends with the locals,” I shakily replied.
After hearing me recount what happened, my friends decided to finish their drinks and get the hell out of there. When it was time to head off, we realised another mate, Adrian, was missing.
We spent a good 20 minutes looking for him, but found no sign. In hindsight, we should have guessed that Adrian had been caught up in the same situation as me, but we were too exhausted and over it to give it proper thought. For another five minutes we deliberated, then optimistically came to the consensus that he was pretty hammered and had been ready to head off a while back, so must have caught a cab home to his pregnant wife. We then headed back to the hotel and I passed out straight away.
The next morning we awoke to a call from Adrian’s wife. She told us the Japanese police had called her and told her they had Adrian in custody. Turns out that, like me, he’d been taken by the men outside the bar, although unlike me, he’d drunk the drink the girls had made him and woke up to the men robbing him.
Somehow, he’d managed to escape the building with the men on his tail and had picked up a bike on the side of the street to try to lose them. Unfortunately, he’d been spotted by a policeman and was arrested for stealing the bike. Unable to communicate with them to explain what had happened, he spent the night in jail.
After hanging up the phone, the room filled with silence as the realisation sunk in that we left our friend to sit in jail all night after being drugged and robbed in a foreign country. I looked up at my friends.
“Well… lucky I didn’t drink the drink.”
Author’s Note: A simple Google search of ‘Drugging in Roppongi’ reveals that this is a pretty common scam that befalls drunk make tourists in certain parts of Tokyo. Pretty. Damn. Common. I guess my brother was one of the lucky ones who was able to get away without more than some mild trauma and a pretty good story to tell down at the pub.
Cover by Benjamin Hung