Out of Japan: Closure on the cards for exotic bazaar

TOKYO - Every weekend a small corner of Yoyogi Park in central Tokyo is transformed into an Iranian bazaar, with all the characteristic sounds, sights and smells of the Middle East. Several thousand Iranian labourers, nearly all men in their thirties and forties, gather here to eat, buy and sell goods, smoke hashish and swap news from home.

But their meetings may be doomed. The police are on to them - not for the drugs, though. It is the telephone cards. More about this later.

This unlicensed gathering takes place barely 100 yards from Omotes ando-dori, one of Tokyo's smartest boulevards full of boutiques and cafes and people who flit from one to the other, busy looking rich. The impromptu souk, by contrast, has few pretensions, catering to the simple tastes of labourers who are far from home, trying to save as much of their earnings as they can in the world's most expensive consumer society.

Thousands of Iranians have come to find work, using tourist visas to get in and then enlisting for the dirty, dangerous jobs that the Japanese no longer care to do. Employers are keen to use them as cheap labour, but they have no health insurance or legal protection against exploitation.

In the market the loudest stallkeepers are the kebab sellers, touting their skewers of meat as soon as they are cooked through on the charcoal grills. Four skewers of beef and a loaf of bread are the same price as a cup of coffee down the road.

Munching on their kebabs, the men sidle over to watch Iranian football on a television perched at an uncertain angle in the lower branches of a tree. One team appears to be playing uphill, but still manages to score a goal. Videos of matches and feature films have been sent over from Iran to Tokyo, where they are copied and sold, to while away the evening hours after a day in the sweatshop. Music tapes are also for sale, as are Iranian newspapers, days or even weeks old.

There is a man who sells Persian carpets - but he is almost like stage scenery. Buyers are more interested in the tracksuits and stone-washed denims that seem to have become standard leisurewear in much of the central Asian land mass. Several merchants walk around with fake leather jackets draped over their arms.

In one corner is an open-air barber's shop, where half a dozen practitioners have set up for business with folding chairs and scissors and combs. The ground is thick with dark locks of hair, shorn at a fraction of the price a Japanese hairdresser would charge.

The bazaar is crowded, and the men do not automatically move out of each other's way as a Japanese crowd manages to do without even thinking about it. They stand their ground, these Iranians, asserting a temporary claim to this corner of the park after a week out on the labour market where no one needs to remind them that they are working in Japan illegally. From the quieter corners drifts the sweet, tell-tale smell of hashish and there are a few discreet offers of the substance for sale.

This is all highly unusual for Tokyo, where ethnic diversity is hardly encouraged, cooking on an open fire without a permit is doubtless illegal, and smoking narcotics in public certainly is. For some young Japanese it has become a new thrill to wander between the stalls of tall, swarthy men haggling passionately with each other in a most un-Japanese fashion.

But this colourful little Tehran may be doomed - by a fake telephone-card racket run by Japanese gangsters, and the eagerness of some Iranians to make a few extra yen, even if it is on the fringes of the law.

The scam appears to have been quite clever. Japan's telephone company, NTT, authorises three firms to print telephone cards. These companies first make the plastic cards with their backing of a magnetic synthetic resin, which contains the coded amount of credits. The cards are then embossed with the name of the maker, the date of production and the NTT logo. The cards are registered with NTT and distributed for sale. But, according to the police, tens of thousands of cards have been disappearing from a manufacturer, before they are embossed with the NTT code. It seems that some cards are deemed to have been badly printed, marked for disposal and have turned up on the black market.

Police suspect that yakuza gangster syndicates are behind the scam. A number of Iranians have become involved in distributing these cards. This the police do not like. They can take the unlicensed merchandising and even turn a blind eye on the hashish. But the telephone card scam links back into the Japanese mainstream - a police swoop is imminent. The security of an Iranian home-from-home may be over.

News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone