“How would I describe Kabukicho? Frankly, I’m not sure,” popular author Hirokatsu Azuma was quoted as saying in the now-defunct monthly Gendai magazine back in January 1999. “If you say it’s a scary place, you could be right; and if you say it’s a place where you can have fun, well, that’s right too.”
The writer of that Gendai piece, Tsukasa Yoshida, had investigated “Asia’s largest adult entertainment district,” and pondered the reasons why so many Japanese novelists were cranking out lurid tales of the supposedly crime-infested 360,000 sq.-meter area, which, some writers suggested, was on the verge of being usurped by foreign crime syndicates.
“I think the stuff people are writing about it is grossly exaggerated,” countered the then-No. 2 cop at Shinjuku’s main police station, Moriyoshi Oguchi. “This is a place where young girls can walk the streets alone, even late at night. It’s neither a ‘sinister city’ nor a high-crime zone.”
In recent years, nevertheless, tabloid magazines have regularly featured two-page spreads of candid street photos from Kabukicho showing people passed out drunk, engaging in fist fights and being led away bleeding, sometimes in handcuffs, by uniformed police officers.
So when mainstream magazine Nikkei Business (May 11) ran a “special report” titled “Kabukicho: So long, dangerous streets,” I rushed to procure a copy.
Kabukicho, formerly a residential area known as Tsunohazu Kita 1-chome, was leveled by a B-29 raid in May 1945. After the war, developers saw potential in transforming it into a nexus of popular culture. Although they failed to persuade the Kabuki-za theater in Ginza to build a branch in Shinjuku, they eventually attracted cinemas like the Milano-za and the Koma Theater, popular for its live matinee performances by enka singers.
But with the profusion of home videos, theater attendance declined, as did the popularity of enka. The slack was picked up by game arcades and discos, whose late-night operation was banned by city ordinances. source