You could hit a different bar, restaurant, or club every single night, and it would still take you a lifetime to visit every such place that Tokyo has to offer. As you walk down the neon-lit streets, each building you pass could have a couple of entertainment spots underground—and another ten or so on each floor going up.
But when you are looking for a place to let your hair down, there are a few safety points, beyond those for COVID-19, that you should be aware of. Make no mistake, Tokyo is one of the safest metropolises on the planet, and by taking some simple precautions, you can help keep it that way, while avoiding trouble and having a great night out.
Let the Minato Flag Be Your Guide
Before all else, you should remember to do one thing when out for a night in Minato City—look for the distinctive blue flag pictured above. This flag is the symbol for a new program started by Minato City in central Tokyo, an area that encompasses the nightlife hot spots of Akasaka, Roppongi, Odaiba, and more.
If you see this flag displayed outside an establishment, you can rest assured that everything inside is aboveboard and the business is abiding by all the rules set by Minato City to ensure that Tokyo nightlife remains vibrant and safe. Some of those rules are in place to keep the city clean and uncluttered, such as those regulating the disposal of rubbish or the posting of signage. But the little blue flag can also provide peace of mind about safety on a night out.
Preserving the Culture of Dining and Drinking
The basic rules to get a Minato Flag are: no links to organized crime, no illicit substances, no improper waste disposal, and no pressuring customers to enter an establishment.
The last point about engaging in aggressive measures to bring customers into an establishment probably needs a little explanation. Traditionally, izakaya (casual Japanese bars) boisterously welcome customers into their shops, which is an important part of Japanese nightlife. But some places take it too far and bother people as they are walking outside which can be intrusive or even intimidating, hence why Minato City is keen to reign in the practice and make sure everyone feels safe on their night out.
It would be distressing for people on a night out, especially for tourists who don’t speak Japanese, to encounter coercive sales techniques by which customers are deceptively directed to a restaurant different from the one where they had intended to go or are put into a position where they are not sure how to say no. While such occurrences are mercifully rare, the wide use of the Minato Flag helps ensure that even as the number of visitors to Japan climbs, unwelcome situations on a night out do not.
A Great Night Out with Real Peace of Mind
Another requirement for being allowed to proudly display the Minato Flag is that the business be in good standing with prices clearly stated.
An important part of eating out in Japan is the otoshi, basically an appetizer that functions as a table charge. While there are similar customs in other countries (for example, receiving bread or olives at a restaurant in Europe), you may of course feel uneasy when served something you didn’t order. The presence of the Minato Flag means that you will not get a surprise along with the bill at the end of your meal!
For bars especially, it is not always clear what charges will appear on the bill at the end of an evening, but again, with the Minato Flag , you can drink and relax knowing that nothing untoward is likely to happen at this night spot.
Getting Serious about Having Fun
It goes without saying that the Minato Flag can be flown only by businesses having no links to nefarious organizations or activities. While these kinds of activities are relatively rare in Japan, it is the last thing anyone wants to be caught up in, and the Minato Flag system rules out even a remote possibility of a business having such a connection.
Probably a greater concern for international visitors is how to avoid any place where illegal substances might be available. Make no mistake, drugs of all kinds are very tightly controlled in Japan and the drug laws strictly enforced. A visitor may come from a country where certain drugs are legal or where their use is lightly punished, but that is not the case in Japan. There is no surer way for international visitors, students, and residents alike to end their stay in Japan prematurely, and not be allowed to return, than by being caught in activity involving narcotics and other illegal substances.
Tokyo has comparatively few such cases compared with capital cities in some other countries, but this is one situation you absolutely want to avoid.
Venturing beyond the Flag
The Minato Flag system is still in its early stages, even though there are already hundreds of businesses that have adopted it, and the number is rising all the time. So, what do you do if you steer away from the flags and run into a problem?
First, avoiding a problem is preferable to needing to solve it. If a place looks suspicious then it’s best to give it a miss. Conversely, you can feel confident entering such a place if you spy a Minato Flag fluttering in front of the entrance. Thus, the authentic dive-bar or downtown experience can also be a safe one!
The time to have your guard up is toward the end of the night, so keep an eye on everyone in your group and steer away from people approaching you at that time. While there are street patrols throughout the Minato City hubs, you might want to plan your final destination ahead of time to avoid wandering the streets late at night.
If an unpleasant situation does arise, your best bet is to go to the nearest neighborhood police station called a koban. Probably it will never come to that, but the koban police can be relied on to deal with any misunderstanding or unscrupulous behavior. Tokyo is famous for its extremely low crime rates, but knowing what to do in every eventuality will give you peace of mind while you let your hair down.
Follow the Flags
So remember—the best thing you can do to keep yourself safe and help support the expansion of the Minato Flag program is to look out for the flags whenever you are out for a night on the town. They are your guarantee of an exciting night out without any worries about your safety.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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