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 May 19, 2002 | 1740 IST

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Tokyo's night playground awaits W'Cup invasion

What do you get when you mix a thousand bars with several hundred strip clubs and lap-dancing joints, add a smattering of shady drug dealers and then throw in thousands of exuberant football fans?

It's anyone's guess.

But it's a question that the denizens of Tokyo's wildest nightlife area are having to ask as they prepare for the arrival of the World Cup and its attendant hoardes.

The Roppongi area's neon-bathed jungle of hostess clubs, brothels, sports bars and other watering holes is expected to act as a magnet for the hundreds of thousands of fans heading for Japan for the May 31 to June 30 tournament.

Bar managers are frantically making more space in their often pokey premises and installing the latest plasma TV screens for what should be a huge boost for business.

Other last-minute preparations reflect their worries about what could go wrong -- anything glass being swapped for plastic and a hiring spree on muscle-bound security men.

"It's going to be crazy," said Rob O'Rourke, sipping a pint of lager and drawing on a cigarette outside Paddy Foley's, the Irish bar he manages.

Right next to Paddy Foley's stands an English bar, part of the United Nations of drinking establishments in Roppongi. On match days, both pubs will be brimming over with fans, many the worse for wear from alcohol.

"It could just start off with some friendly slagging, but then someone throws a glass and all hell breaks loose," said O'Rourke, explaining why he will be hiring bouncers at his bar for the first time.


Paddy Foley's is just one of some 1,150 establishments within a 400-yard (365-metre) radius that caters to every nocturnal desire from rub downs by Korean "masseurs" to high-class striptease acts and after-hours clubbing.

On weekend nights, Roppongi crossing is a teeming mass of pleasure seekers and providers.

Drunken salarimen heading for hostess bars and karaoke joints rub shoulders with the beautiful Western and Japanese women who staff them, while drugs are never further away than a knowing look and a hurried exchange down a side street.

It is a volatile mix that regularly spills over into violence and crime, a rarity in relatively law-abiding Japan.

Roppongi made headlines when young British hostess Lucie Blackman disappeared two years ago and was later found dead, allegedly murdered by a wealthy Japanese businessman.

"It's the only part of Japan where you have to watch your back and be careful what you say," said O'Rourke.

Over the years Roppongi has nearly seen it all, but next month's invasion of soccer fans will be a new experience.

"We'll be taking special measures, but of course we don't know quite what because we've never had anything like this before," said an officer staffing the Roppongi crossing police box last Friday night.

Bar owners in the area say police, clearly worried, have visited them to ask about their precautions, but have offered little advice of their own.


Just next door to Paddy Foley's, bar manager Carl James from London's East End is expecting a 50 percent profit boost from the World Cup, but fully expects that things will "go off" at some point.

"It's a pretty volatile place anyway," he said.

"I think it will be okay if the fans are handled properly on the streets and if the Japanese can get their heads around the idea that the World Cup is just a big party."

James is taking on three or four extra security men and introducing a membership system, and says the bar will emphasise the international flavour of the event rather than attracting just England fans, who have earned a reputation for violence.

Although Tokyo is not hosting any games, accommodation shortages and the lack of a decent nightlife at venues means fans are likely to flood back into the capital, and Roppongi, after matches like England-Sweden on June 2 in nearby Saitama.

Illuminated by the glow of his five newly installed plasma screens, Paul Wagstaff of the cavernous Tokyo Sports Bar said he expected little if any trouble.

"There'll be nobody to fight," he said. "Usually at World Cups you get fighting against the locals, but the Japanese don't want to fight."

"You might get handbags at ten paces but that's about it," he added, using the British slang for a half-hearted punch-up.

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