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Tour buses make special stops in Tokyo red-light district

Friday July 3
Friday July 3

Police raids on illegally operating gambling dens are not unusual in Tokyo’s entertainment quarter of Kabukicho, but Friday (July 3) goes behind the scenes to witness arrests carried out with a very special conclusion.

One early morning in May a crowd had gathered beneath a bank of neon lights to snap photos of suspects being hauled out of a basement pachinko-slot club called Rainbow. The establishment was operating without a license and using 67 so-called “yon go ki” machines, which were banned in 2007 through a modification to the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses. Seventeen customers and five employees were arrested.

“This type of machine allows you to win 200,000 to 300,000 yen in one shot, which encourages people to form long lines outside the parlor before the door opens,” says a writer who follows the pachinko underworld. “One coin is usually exchanged at 20 yen, but this parlor exchanged at a rate between 40 en and 100 yen. Depending on the outlay, one could win 500,000 yen to 1,000,000 yen in a day. Needless to say, the parlor could also manipulate the machine to result in loses of similar amounts as well.”

Particularly unique about this unfolding scene was the yellow bus with a familiar logo being used as the means of transport for the suspects. It was none other than that of the well-known Hato Bus tour company.

Among the thirty spectators, one was heard to joke: “Perhaps they will tour different police stations.” Not a laughing matter, says Friday, as it appears the tour company’s vehicles are being used for the transportation of suspects.

A freelance journalist tells the weekly: “They usually have about ten major busts of illegal operations here in Kabukicho each year. This is not the first time a Hato Bus has arrived. I have seen other private company’s buses too. Whether it is due to a lack of buses on the part of the police or for camouflage I do not know, but one time they used a bus that still had a sign that said ‘Reserved for XYZ Party.'”

The Hato Bus company does offer tours of Kabukicho, making the existence of a such a vehicle at night nothing extraordinary. An individual close to police sources discusses this particular usage: “Recently, we have been using private companies’ buses to disguise officers as tourists. It takes a lot of time to execute these investigations with the last step, the arrest, being the most crucial.”

According to Hato Bus, the firm has been working with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police for over 10 years. “They are the same as any other clients,” says a representative from the company. “We take the order, have the bus sent over to the police and run the requested route.”

From the police, Friday received the following comment: “There are times when we use private buses over the course of investigations. We cannot comment further as it may interfere with cases in progress.”

Friday concludes that the sight of a Hato Bus in Kabukicho at night might mean that police are engaged in an operation — so, dear reader, please be careful with what you do when you are out and about.

Source: “Keishicho: Hato Bus de otorimono’ no fukai wake,” Friday (July 3, pages 80 and 81)