There are dive bars and there bars that are so much of a dive that they are practically a descent into hell. Tokyo’s gaijin Kabukicho, Roppongi (Six Trees), has many of these mini-Infernos.
Gas Panic is one such bar.
This legendary hellhole was long rumoured to have vanished in the netherlands of the gaijin ghetto. It was believed to have faded into the pavement like Heartland, Muse (?), Club Yello, Flower, and the McDonald’s on that corner. We all thought as much– including the authors of this history of Gas Panic (see below). But one of our intrepid correspondents, who would prefer not to be named (we think), discovered that the place still appears to live on—under an assumed name. If you can find the bar LINE, in the murky depths of Roppongi, you may see that there are still bouncers there wearing Gas Panic shirts, keeping rowdy customers in line, and getting drunk while doing it. And if you dare to venture to the restrooms—you’ll find this amazing sign on the wall.
The English translation below on the sign is adequate but it doesn’t quite capture the lyrical beauty of the Japanese phrasing. We’d suggest–“Let’s use the toilet beautifully. Thank you so much. If you happen to come across anything broken, stained or needing attention, please let the staff know.”
And for those who can’t read, some of the most expressive signage you’ll find in any bathroom in Japan. However, it’s open to interpretation so we have consulted several experts for what the images could be telling us.
No puking or dipping one’s long tongue into the toilet. No kicking men in the crotch. (Possibly no kicking women in the crotch as well. The woman in the illustration may actually be a man in drag. No one knows). No f*cking. This isn’t a prohibition of gay sex or having sex doggy style but is generally a blanket prohibition about having sex in the toilet stalls. No smashing the mirror (in a fit of self-loathing) or other objects in the bathroom.
Gas Panic–dead or alive—didn’t have much to really teach the foreigner about fitting into Japanese society. But it did teach us all what not to do in Japanese public restrooms—and as long as that sign remains up, its legend will live on. Kampai
The Mysterious Death (?) of Gas Panic
by Garrett DeOrio and Chris Bethea
The first thing you’d notice upon entering the gaudy three-story Gas Panic complex in Roppongi was the commandment: “Everyone Must Be Drinking to Remain In Gaspanic.” The rule was strictly enforced, and probably for the patrons’ good as much as the club’s, because the next thing you’d notice was the floors.
Oh God, the floors. Maybe high heels were the way to go, one thought at first – have as little contact with the sticky mess as possible.
But no, because the floors were somehow slippery, too. Big, chunky Goth girl boots, then. Stay up out of the muck and keep your footing.
Then you’d notice the music – because it was loud, not because the standard-fare big hits of dance and hip-hop stood out much.
About the same time, you’d notice the people. The sheer multiplicity of people who came to Gas Panic gave it a distinct flavor. An eclectic, international, mainly drunk-off-their ass crowd pressed up against you because damned near everyone who visited Tokyo passed through Gas Panic at one point. Some of them would proposition you not long after you walked in and were commanded to hurry up and order a drink. The rule in Roppongi was the same in Yokohama and at Gas Panic’s only extant location, on Center-Gai in Shibuya: “Dear Customers You Must Order a Drink When You Enter the Bar.”
You wouldn’t want to remain in Gas Panic for very long without a drink constantly in your hand anyway. (And, given the place’s reputation, you’d want to make sure any drink you had remained in your hand, too.)
So the guidebooks and magazine articles stretching from the heady Bubble days to today, the sociological treatises, the Internet comments, and the word of mouth were right: Gas Panic was sleazy.
There were fights, there was drink-spiking, there were drug sales, and there was theft. No one seemed to have a good word to say about it, yet it was always packed. Heaven for frotteurs, perhaps, but there were probably better places for them to go. GP Bar, the most notorious section of the Roppongi location, reportedly served over 100 customers a night, raking in roughly 20 million yen a month and as much at 300 million yen in the year leading up to July 2013.
Why did everyone go there?
When you ask, you notice that almost no one chooses to go there, they get dragged there by their friends. Just like nobody really likes McDonald’s, it’s just convenient or the only thing open. Or like that AKB48 video just happened to come on – you didn’t search for it and watch it. Of course not.
Well, it was in all the guidebooks. It was the club everyone knew. Beginning the in 1980s, the original, smaller Gas Panic was mentioned in just about every story on the Western expat life in Tokyo. When it expanded to its notorious three-story building with a view of a cemetery from some windows in the very early 1990s, its reputation as Roppongi’s relatively cheap, always bustling landmark was as firmly cemented as the gunk on the floors. Given the context of Roppongi at its post-bubble nadir, Gas Panic wasn’t the sketchiest place around. Except for the filth, culminating in the atrocious ladies’ room, and the occasional fight in the wee hours, the unsavory stuff was kept out of the public eye.
Some clubs are simply sleaze. Gas Panic was mediated sleaze. A meat market for the dabbler, but once you got there, you felt like you were stepping into Someplace Your Mother Would Not Approve Of. A place where you could go to feel like you were stepping into danger, without actually doing so (unless danger was what you wanted, in which case it was in fact yours for the taking).
It was exciting to what Lonely Planet called “unpredictable yahoos” and “sloppy amateurs”, but also to normal people looking for a good time. If you kept your hands to yourself (unless your hands were wanted elsewhere) and your mouth shut (unless you were kissing someone), you might have a relatively good time. You’d meet so many different people, from all over the world, and plenty of locals. Some, admittedly, who were just there to get laid, but some just wanted to get a bit sloppy and dance their asses off.
Drunken debauchery is fine in Tokyo; it was the dancing that ultimately brought on the end of an era for Gas Panic in Roppongi.
In its heyday, Gas Panic saw patrons dancing on tables – and was not alone in this. In recent years, though, Tokyo police have rather strictly enforced a 1946 law prohibiting dancing after midnight at unlicensed premises, originally designed to combat prostitution. These days, the law seems to be used as a way to temporarily close establishments where other illegalities allegedly occur. At Gas Panic Roppongi, there were 113 complaints of criminal activity in the first six months of 2013, theft and drug possession being the most common.
In late July 2013, police raided GP Bar, arresting its manager and DJ on charges of licensure violations arising from the old anti-dancing law. This followed similar raids of GP Bar and its upstairs neighbor, Club 99, in December 2009 and December 2011, after which the management had installed cameras to alert them of approaching police, but not heeded any of the warnings they’d received. The club everyone had loved to hate since the early ‘90s was no more.
Gas Panic, you wouldn’t want to rest in peace, so rest in ear-splitting music, sketchy pickups, jam-packed dance floors, and, above all, giving people a place to revel in naughtiness without feeling too guilty the next morning. Rest in cacophony, Gas Panic Roppongi.
—Editor’s note: Rest in peace, Gas Panic
Yes, we wish it would but like the zombie laws banning dancing after midnight, Gas Panic seems to slumber on. Before the police finally put it out of its misery, come see the legend of Roppongi, explore the night, and get a little ‘pissed’–but in an orderly and clean fashion.
Thank you for keeping our nightlife clean.