TOKYO (TR) – In a thin black tie and snappy white shirt, a bartender uses a pick to shape large chunks of ice into sizes suitable for glasses. Bottles of whiskey and other spirits await the evening’s first customers in the cabinet behind.
Such an establishment is typically an ideal place for a weary patron to down a couple as he spills out his problems to the gentleman behind the lacquered top. This bar though takes things one step further.
“This is a bar,” says proprietor and detective Ryuhei Misawa, “but it is also a place where people in trouble can receive consultations.”
Though fraud and stalker cases are common, the majority seeks help with one thing: love, as in exposing or dissolving a love affair.
But unlike the gritty noir exploits of Raymond Chandler’s post-World War II fictional sleuth Philip Marlow that have stereotyped the profession over the years, the cases at Bar Answer require a much more gentle untangling, a process in which a bit of alcohol provides a comforting beginning.
The system is simple. Customers, who are typically office ladies or salarymen, enter the bar either for a chat and a drink, maybe a vodka-based “Lonely Man” (1,200 yen), or they subtly take aside one of the staff in search of assistance. One in ten seek the latter.
The roughly twenty detectives under Misawa’s charge provide two basic types of services: surveys and actions. A survey might include a background check on a prospective spouse or the tailing of a partner suspected of being unfaithful. Any actions to be taken depend on the outcome of the survey and the client’s needs.
For infidelity cases where the client is a female, which is the case more than sixty percent of the time, a general survey is first taken on the “target” (husband). The most important items tracked include the wayward man’s work characteristics, such as hours, location, transportation means, and route.
“We can then make a rough scenario of his activity,” Misawa explains. “Then we ask her what day of the week she thinks is the most suspicious. If she says Friday, for example, then that will be our first day in the field.”
Misawa next dispatches a team of three detectives to collect evidence on the transgressor’s behavior in textbook gumshoe fashion. Adorned in dark clothes that match the setting – business suits for a work environment, casual wear for leisure – and “quiet” rubber-soled shoes, Misawa’s team spies on their target as he goes about his daily routine. Though Tokyo is their main territory, no part of Japan is out of the question.
“Being smart is the most important thing for a detective because we cannot expect what’s going to happen next,” says the PI, who used to do similarly stealthy work as a writer for one of Japan’s notorious tabloid weeklies. “We are always thinking one step ahead. Quick decisions always need to be made.”
Walls within the bar have displays behind glass of some of the equipment used in retrieving evidence: a microphone for sensing sound through concrete; a bug detector; a digital camera enclosed in a Zippo lighter; and an untraceable phone.
Reports that include pertinent activities and times are filed for the client’s perusal. Any photos, emails, or voice recordings obtained are then presented as evidence.
Misawa says that the most common mistake cheaters make is with love hotels, the infamously tacky accommodations that exist solely for short stays. “It is the worst thing,” he implores. “Bigger hotels should be used, and people should make sure that when they get in and get out it is not together.” Other oversights include holding hands while walking and kissing on the street.
If the client is simply seeking a divorce, the job ends with the presentation of the evidence of a mistress, should that indeed be the situation. But if she wants him back, which – perhaps surprisingly – is more often than not the case, the agency may be asked to pursue a wakaresaseya, or relationship break-up. With Japanese society generally averse to confrontation, this action will separate the husband from his lady on the side without any intervention on the part of the client.
The process is typically a role-playing, entrapment activity in which a detective poses as an attractive third party. Misawa estimates his team might be working on five such cases on any given week.
The trap is set with the help of a reconnaissance team. Detectives, like Misawa, befriend the target to find out what he likes in a woman. “I am good at being a target’s friend,” boasts a smiling Misawa in his lightly striped black shirt and maroon tie. “I really enjoy hearing his true feelings. He thinks I am just a friend, but really I am spying on him.” He adds that he is currently coaxing information out of three men.
With this knowledge, a female detective satisfying the target’s taste in women is then sent in as bait.
“They become good friends,” Misawa says, snapping his fingers. “Or sometimes they become very close to steady. No kissing, no hugging. Just close.” Misawa then puts his left thumb and index finger a quarter-inch apart to demonstrate just how near they become.
One of the keys to cinching the faux relationships is diversification. Potential phony friends within Misawa’s detective stable include former actors, carpenters, and consultants. Training might take six months.
The actual separation is the climax. Normally this will involve a seemingly coincidental meeting between the mistress and the new near couple. This culmination results in fingers being pointed and accusations being made. If all goes to plan, the mistress will dump the target. The detective will subsequently drift out of the picture with the target ideally returning to the client.
For wakaresaseya, other more simple versions are possible. While separating a husband from a mistress might seem to require a large amount of maneuvering, a simple cease-and-desist-toned phone call from a detective to a female client’s pesky boyfriend might be all that is necessary to send him the message that the relationship is finished.
Determining the success to failure ratio is not easy, Misawa explains. A positive outcome depends on the feelings between the client and the target, which is often a complicated issue and not in Misawa’s control.
Misawa’s services do not come cheap. For the survey, the staff of three will cost 20,000 yen per hour. It is common for a team to work one or two days a week. Should a break-up be required, in which case the entire process could last from one to two months, the bill averages around 2 million yen.
These large sums, Misawa says, unfortunately entice rotten elements into the profession. Many detectives take money from clients and do nothing. The government is now stepping in with legislation that will necessitate a license. At present, there are no legal requirements to become a Sam Spade in Japan.
The profession has more direct downsides as well. Shaking down a stalker, which used to be one-third of Misawa’s work a few years ago, might result in a knife being pulled from within a folded magazine tucked under a waistband. Weaving through traffic at high speeds while following a target is another danger.
The police are usually not an option for those in binds, even for stalking cases, says Misawa, whose organization also handles missing person and fraud cases. “If someone suspects trouble but nothing has happened yet, the police will do nothing,” he explains. “They only move after something has happened. But by then it might be too late.”
Though hard-boiled noir dicks might scoff at Misawa’s tidying-up of their typically tough-guy industry with his novelty bar, Misawa claims that his system is better than that of the average detective agency.
For one, the communication is direct. At other agencies in Tokyo, of which there are hundreds, a customer must speak with a number of representatives from various departments before even a survey is undertaken. This chain of conversation tends to make people uneasy.
And of course there’s the lubrication provided by the alcohol.
“The bar environment makes people comfortable in opening up,” Misawa explains, adding that sometimes clients will get emotional, including crying.
Misawa will admit though that employing PIs at Bar Answer is in part a gimmick to attract attention, but emphasizes that the services his agents supply are genuine and professional.
“We have the answer for when someone is in trouble,” he says.
Even Marlow would raise his glass of rye to that.
Note: This article originally appeared in September 2005 on the Sake-Drenched Postcards Web page.