Roppongi Crossing: The Demise of a Tokyo Nightclub District and the Reshaping of a Global City

Roppongi Crossing: The Demise of a Tokyo Nightclub District and the Reshaping of a Global City

Roppongi Crossing: The Demise of a Tokyo Nightclub District and the Reshaping of a Global City

Roppongi Crossing: The Demise of a Tokyo Nightclub District and the Reshaping of a Global City


For most of the latter half of the twentieth century, Roppongi was an enormously popular nightclub district that stood out from the other pleasure quarters of Tokyo for its mix of international entertainment and people. It was where Japanese and foreigners went to meet and play. With the crash of Japan's bubble economy in the 1990s, however, the neighborhood declined, and it now has a reputation as perhaps Tokyo's most dangerous district--a hotbed of illegal narcotics, prostitution, and other crimes. Its concentration of "bad foreigners," many from China, Russia and Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Southeast Asia is thought to be the source of the trouble.

Roman Adrian Cybriwsky examines how Roppongi's nighttime economy is now under siege by both heavy-handed police action and the conservative Japanese "construction state," an alliance of large private builders and political interests with broad discretion to redevelop Tokyo. The construction state sees an opportunity to turn prime real estate into high-end residential and retail projects that will "clean up" the area and make Tokyo more competitive with Shanghai and other rising business centers in Asia.

Roppongi Crossing is a revealing ethnography of what is arguably the most dynamic district in one of the world's most dynamic cities. Based on extensive fieldwork, it looks at the interplay between the neighborhood's nighttime rhythms; its emerging daytime economy of office towers and shopping malls; Japan's ongoing internationalization and changing ethnic mix; and Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown, the massive new construction projects now looming over the old playground.


I did not set out to write a book about Roppongi; it just happened. I returned to Japan in 2001 soon after the death of my wife of nearly twenty-five years, looking for a change from my routines in hometown Philadelphia. I had considered moving to New York City or its doorstep in one of the gritty cities of northern New Jersey, but as I was apartment shopping in Jersey City, I received an unexpected call offering me a position in Tokyo. It would be my third time to live and work for a long period in Japan, and I accepted the job on the spot. An apartment was arranged for me near my work, which turned out to be a short walk from Roppongi, and that is how I began to know the neighborhood.

I had actually known Roppongi from earlier stays in the city because that was where my wife and I took the children to Mass every Sunday and then to lunch afterward. the children had two favorite restaurants, one Indian and the other with golden arches, and we alternated between them. We commuted a long way from the suburbs to pray and eat in Roppongi. Parishioners still come from far and wide for services, and I am happy to report that now, more than a quarter century after we first attended the Franciscan Chapel Center, it is still the rock of Roppongi—fully alive, full of children, and the best kind of international atmosphere.

The nightlife of Roppongi was never a part of my beat, and it entered my horizons only after I had settled nearby in 2001 and found myself coming to the neighborhood every now and then for dinner or relaxation after the day’s work. Even in my youthful prime I was not a nightclub person, preferring the university’s library or English department lounge as a place to scout around for interesting coeds, and I never would have predicted that by the time my hair had become substantially grey, I would be spending time in the clubs of one of the most famous entertainment districts of one of the greatest cities in the world. But so it happened. in addition to having some fun in Roppongi, I became interested intellectually in what was going on around me, and so the book was born.

It may have been an advantage to know little about such a place at the start, because I began fresh without preconceptions and could move forward by piecing sequential bits of new information together into a story. It did take a long time, however, because Roppongi is many kinds of complicated and is continu-

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