Tokyo's nightlife bolsters its defence for the World Cup

By Richard Lloyd Parry
Thursday 09 January 2014 04:19
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Even if you don't know about his black belts in karate and kendo, Yuichiro Morimoto doesn't look likely to scare easily. At six feet tall and more than 13 stone, he looms over his countrymen. Now 29, his experience before becoming a professional bodyguard included five years in the Foreign Legion, in French Guyana and on anti-terrorist duties in Paris. But this weekend, he faces his most fearful challenge yet.

"This is the first time I've ever experienced anything like this, and I'm certainly nervous," he says. "I can look after myself, but what if a lot of them attack me at once?"

On Sunday, as England play their first World Cup match against Sweden, Mr Morimoto faces his Waterloo – not in an equatorial jungle, but in a cramped basement pub in central Tokyo. With seven fellow members of the Japan Bodyguard Association, he will be providing security at Hub, a Japanese-run "English pub". There are branches of the Hub chain all over Tokyo, but Mr Morimoto and his burly chums will be looking after one in particular – in the district known as Roppongi, the ground zero of Japan's World Cup.

Like many of the bars and restaurants in Roppongi, Hub has always been a favourite with Tokyo's population of expatriate English teachers for its cheap beer, reassuringly un-Oriental pub snacks and bilingual menus. When the mighty American aircraft carrier the USS Kittyhawk is in dock, this is where the sailors and marines come to drink, dance and chase the local maidens known as Roppongi girls. But this weekend, it is certain to attract a new breed of punter – some of the 8,000 English football fans, and a smaller number of their Swedish rivals, who have been arriving in Tokyo all week.

Saitama, near Tokyo, where Sunday's match is being played, is an uncharismatic city with dull nightlife. But a new subway line leads directly from the stadium to Roppongi. Weeks of sensational media coverage and alarmist warnings by the police have led many Japanese to the same conclusion as Mr Morimoto.

"It is quite certain that there will be trouble with hooligans," he says. "You only have to look at the history of England fans abroad to see it. Even ordinary supporters can become hooligans when they get excited. Somewhere in Roppongi, when the rival supporters meet, there will be fights."

All week Japan has moved from the cool of spring into the humidity of the rainy season, but in Tokyo not only the physical temperature is rising. Every day the television news has carried reports of the growing tally of fans who have been sent home because of criminal records. By yesterday evening at least 12 had been refused entry, with a similar number detained pending a final judgment.

The television news last night showed those who had successfully made it through. The camera operators paid particular attention to those bearing tattoos, which in Japan are only worn by the yakuza, Japan's mafia. But the physical condition of those coming through passport control suggested that the trim Mr Morimoto has little to fear.

Ron Hogg, the Assistant Chief Constable of Durham, who is leading the contingent of British police advisers in Tokyo, said: "With up to 8,000 fans coming over, I expect some small disorder. But the majority of fans are well- behaved. I don't really see any danger of serious disorder."

But the bar owners of Roppongi are taking no chances. Some have been discreetly distributing "members' cards" to their regular foreign patrons – come the weekend, the bars will claim to be "private clubs" and turn away unfamiliar visitors. Inside Hub, meanwhile, the members of the Japan Bodyguards Association are taking precautions.

The usual glasses will be replaced with paper cups. The bottles of spirits that are normally stacked up behind the bar will be carefully locked away. Everyone who enters the bar will be required to show identification – rather surprisingly, it is the benevolent Swedes who will be turned away. "It's the mix of supporters from opposing teams that is dangerous," Mr Morimoto explains. "If they are all from England, then it won't be such big trouble."

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