In the last year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department have made major crackdowns on clubs the city, including raids without warning. Part of the reason these raids are taking place dates back to the brawl between famous Kabuki actor Ebizono and a member of the Kanto Rengo-kai, a non-designated organized crime group that is loosely structured and has been amassing serious power in Tokyo.
For many years, the Azabu and Daikanyama areas were considered off-limits to the drug squads because of the high-end clientele. In a sense, there was a tacit understanding that recreational drug use amongst the wealthy was different than that of the low-life meth users. The distinction appears to no longer being made.
If you’re a clubber, be prepared to run into a drug raid sooner or later. Avoid doing heavy drugs and make sure to carry your gaijin card with you when you go. One young man who was caught in a recent raid shared his experiences with us:
Around 2:50am on Monday, July 18, Saloon nightclub in Daikanyama was raided by the Harajuku police. Saloon is a small club in the basement of larger club UNIT, located down the street from JR Ebisu Station.
That night Saloon was hosting a Freebase party, a minimal techno event held every few months. Freebase was a typical club event: people dancing, drinking and socializing. DJ Yoshida had begun his set at 2:30. About 20 minutes later a few large Japanese men entered the club and descended the stairs. At first I noticed that they didn’t look like typical clubbers: they wore simple, casual clothes and had a rough demeanor. It was possible they were salary men who were coming to enjoy a rare Sunday night party on the three-day weekend. But more and more of them came down the stairs and the police badges around their necks stood out. Approximately 15 police had rushed into the club. The music was shut down and the lights turned on. A large, authoritative officer shouted aggressively that they were going to search for drugs and that people should cooperate. He said that if people had drugs they should cooperate, and that if you knew anything about it, you should tell them immediately. He kept repeating “Yakubutsu?” (As in, “Yakubutsu motteiru no ka?” Are you carrying drugs?).
By then it was clear to everyone that it was a real raid and many of the Japanese responded shockingly with “Eeeehhhhh!?” The officers then put on latex gloves and asked to search everyone and their bags. An officer politely asked me in English if he could search my belongings. He searched every part of my bag and all of my pockets. Everyone around me was searched. A woman nearby was so thoroughly searched that even the inside of her boots were examined. A few Japanese clubbers were taken out alone, apparently arrested but not handcuffed.
Nothing was found on my friends and I, but the officers told us that we would have to go to the police station. We asked why, and one replied that we needed to have a urine test to check for drugs. My friend whispered to me that urine tests seem illegal without an arrest. But we both agreed that refusing to be tested could be considered “obstructing justice”. We tried looking through our cellphone contacts for anyone we could call asking for guidance, but the officer told us not to use our phones during the search.
Our group of foreigners and Japanese were lead outside to waiting police cars. The minivan that we traveled in was unmarked. Once we arrived at the Meguro police station, we were lead into a large room with wooden tables. They separated us into groups of twos and threes and had us sit separately. Two translators were provided for the foreigners.
The officers asked to see our alien registration cards, which were photocopied, and our basic information like jobs and addresses written in profiles. They brought out plastic containers for the urine samples, and small sealed bags that read “MDMA Test.” One by one we were taken to the bathroom to do urine tests. Two officers accompanied each person. One explained the intricate process; the other took photos of each step. First, the container and lid had to be rinsed in the sink. Then the container had to held up, facing down. Then the officer photographed the person urinating (only the men in the group). And then the closed container had to be rinsed again and held up – also photographed.
When one person returned with the samples an officer sat down with him/her and began the test. The MDMA Test kit resembled a pregnancy test. Seven drops of urine were taken from the container and dropped onto a small paper slit in the kit. After 7 minutes, it was explained; small coloured bars would show up on the paper. 4 bars indicated a negative result. 2 bars indicated a positive test for stimulants. All of our results revealed 4 bars: negative.
They then gave us three sheets to fill out, sign and fingerprint, and my friend asked one of the officers to read it aloud and explain the kanji meanings. One of the forms was to verify that we had taken the test and knew its purpose, another one was to waive ownership of our urine–we were basically giving it to the police–and it asked us to write a reason so we all wrote “Iranai” – I don’t need it. The last one said that we had taken a test and that there was not a positive result. Not wanting to be there all day, we signed them. After that they said that they would send our samples to the lab and would contact us if they found anything.
It was stressful and frightening to be held without charge, urine-tested and questioned. In most Western countries, I think this procedure would be of dubious legality. But despite the unpleasantness the police officers were polite and even made jokes. One officer was amused at the word “pee” and wondered how it was connected to “urine”. An older officer asked me point blank, “Did you do drugs at Saloon? How many times have you been to the club? Have you ever seen drugs being sold or taken there? Why did you go there and who invited you?” But his manner was less confrontational than curious.
My friend didn’t have to urinate when we arrived at the station, so he did the test last. He asked if he could have some water to speed things up. The officers said no, “Komaru koto”, that’s troublesome–it would mess with the results of the test. My friend shrugged. Over the course of the next hour the officer kept asking if he could urinate yet. “Sumimasen, mada dekimasen.” Sorry, I can’t go yet, he replied. At one point the officer asked in English, “Do you have some special reason why?” implying he had something to hide.
The officers finally let my friend have some water. As one handed him a cup he asked him to rinse it out first, and added in broken English, smiling, “Don’t worry, we didn’t put any drugs in the cup.” He drank several cups of tap water. Shortly after, nature called. He gave the urine sample, was tested, and his result was negative.
Before we could leave the police took individual photos of us. After that an officer saw us out of the building, and said “Thank you” in English. We walked out into the sunny Tokyo morning, just in time to catch the first train.
I have been clubbing in Japan since 2005 and the other night at Saloon was the first time I’ve ever experienced a raid, or even seen a cop at a club. Was the raid a fluke or the sign of a larger scale crackdown?
The answer is that the raid is part of a larger crackdown. Drug use among Japanese celebrities has certainly risen within the last year and there is fear amongst the Japanese police that allowing the situation to go unchecked will make drug abuse a socially acceptable or even “cool” phenomenon. There has also been a corresponding police crackdown on unlicensed hostess clubs in the area . Any club is operating past midnight that is technically against the law.
The other major problem is that the building where many clubs are located are now under the protection of the Kanto Rengo-kai (関東連合会). They are a loosely bound federation of youth gangs in Tokyo that are extremely violent, adept at blackmail and extortion but yet don’t meet the criteria to be “a designated crime group” thus evading many of the laws that have been created to crack down on organized crime. The faction of Kanto Rengo in charge of the Daikanyama are is allegedly Miyamae-gurentai (宮前愚連隊). In the past they had the backing of the Sumiyoshikai, but recently have become increasingly independent and almost hostile towards their backers. According to TMPD sources, in the attack on the Kabuki actor, Ebizono, it was the Sumiyoshi-kai that actually tipped the TMPD 1st Investigative Division off as to where Ito Lion (the assailant) could be found.
The police are increasingly having trouble with the Kanto Rengokai (関東連合会) which has taken over most drug distribution in Tokyo. The organization is not vertical and more like a networked number of crime groups. There is no top dog that could take down the organization. The group currently has over 5,000 affiliated members. Not only are they selling drugs, they are moving the marketing of synthetic drugs that do not violate current Japanese law.
The drug raids are a part of the TMPD plan to deprive the Kanto Rengokai of revenue and reduce their influence. Doing drugs in Japan, because of the severe criminal penalties is never a good idea, but these days it’s an extremely bad idea.