Late Monday, Jan. 29, authorities arrested 15 individuals for allegedly obstructing business operations and openly violating Japanese law. Their crime? Pulling customers away from a popular izakaya (alcohol and small plates) restaurant – and into ones that charge exorbitant and often fraudulent fees.
Suspected touts arrested in Kabukicho
The suspects, acting as touts – people who promote specific stores and work to pull customers in – allegedly used deceptive tactics to divert people away from popular chains such as Torikizoku.
“Torikizoku is currently full, but we can recommend one of our affiliated restaurants,” they would reportedly tell customers. People unwittingly followed these individuals posing as Torikizoku staff in Kabukicho. They even pretended to contact other team members to check on the restaurant’s occupancy – in at least one case, using a fake head mic to lend an air of authenticity.
However, upon reaching the suggested place, the unsuspecting customers discovered a stark difference from their expectations. Far from any connection with Torikizoku, these establishments engaged in deceptive practices, imposing unjustifiable charges such as exorbitant “all-you-can-drink” prices, “seat fees,” and “weekend fees”.
One person shared their story, mentioning they were told Torikizoku was fully booked but other affiliated places were available. They informed one of the touts they would pay around 1500 yen per person. However, the final bill ended up being much higher — around 4000 yen plus a service charge. Such schemes people with unexpectedly inflated bills and no prior explanation.
Among the arrested, spanning ages from 10 to 50, some actively worked at the izakayas they led customers to. Within this group, the Organized Crime Department revealed the identities of Kenji Takahashi and Zhang Peng, suspected of luring customers since 2022 with fictitious restaurant names like “Torimichi”. Plus, their alleged association with the organized crime syndicate “Chinese Dragon” raises concerns about funds funneling into criminal activities. (We previously mentioned the “Chinese Dragon” in our profiling of Nan Wang, a representative figure of newly-emerged non-yakuza power groupings.)
Why target Torikizoku?
Other chains fell victim to these deceptive tactics, possibly due to their reputation for offering high-quality experiences at affordable prices. However, Torikizoku stands out due to its extensive history of being targeted by touts. The restaurant holds a unique and cherished position as a top comfort restaurant chain.
Much like other food and beverage businesses in Japan, Torikizoku faced formidable hurdles during the pandemic. The Japan Food Service Association reported a 50.5% decline in sales for the izakaya and beer hall sector in 2020, which was one of the hardest hit through 2021.
Torikizoku staged a comeback, witnessing a sales surge of 16-fold in 2022. Fiscal results for August-October 2023 showed substantial growth in sales and profit, with operating income skyrocketing 11 times higher than the same period last year.
Livedoor News interviewed people to gauge their sentiments towards Torikizoku. “I go there when I’m unsure what to do,” and “Izakaya with a sense of security” are common remarks solidifying the distinctive popularity of this chain.
But illicit practices exploited that sense of security, repeatedly testing Torikizoku’s reputation over the years. Tadashi Okura, President of Torikizoku Holdings, expressed regret and apologized to all victimized customers on his X account. “Finally! The biggest victims here are the customers. I hope that this practice is abolished across all of Japan. Keep up the good work.”
“Since around 2005, we have been aware of individuals soliciting our customers under the name of Torikizoku. We do not engage in any touting at Torikizoku,” the company added.
Business obstruction in Japan
What does “business obstruction” (業務妨害) entail? Essentially, it involves meddling with the normal operation of someone else’s business. Now, posting negative Google reviews won’t land you in jail in Japan. But aggressively discrediting businesses or interfering with their normal operations does. Japanese law shields not just commercial activities but also various other occupations, like religious and volunteer work.
The Crime Statistics Report by the National Police Agency reveals a notable number of arrests tied to these charges. In 2020, a total of 1,038 cases were recorded, leading to 628 arrests. Though the figures were relatively high across all prefectures, Tokyo and Osaka stood out with 114 and 135 cases, respectively.
Additionally, as evident in the Torikizoku case, criminal groups are frequently linked to such incidents. In 2022, statistics indicated approximately 1,654 arrests linked to organized crime for business obstruction.
Touting practices in post-Covid Japan
What occurred in Kabukicho has a more precise term under Japanese law: 客引き行為, known as touting in English. In simpler terms, touting includes all actions of inviting unidentified individuals on the streets — passersby — to join you at entertainment venues like izakayas, karaoke bars, host clubs, and so forth. This is a regular sight on Japanese streets, a practice that is boldly resurfacing in the post-COVID-19 era.
With a weakened yen and a surge in inbound tourism, the quest for economic revival has unearthed shady activities in Japan, including unlicensed taxis and tourist traps. But touts have also seen an upswing, as reflected in statistics from the General Task Force for Lively Areas of the Metropolitan Police Department. After a sharp decline in the COVID-19 period, 2022 witnessed a resurgence with 470 arrests, up by 55 from the previous year.
And what usually happens after falling for touts? This bill exceeding 6,000 yen, shared by an X user, suggests frequent overcharging. Following the Torikizoku incidents, police are investigating reports of customers being charged excessive amounts at the directed restaurants.
Touting falls under the “Law Concerning Control and Appropriateness of Amusement and Entertainment Businesses” and the “Ordinance on Prevention of Violent Delinquent Acts Causing Extreme Public Disturbance”. Acknowledging its vibrant atmosphere, Shinjuku City went a step further. In September 2013, it introduced the “Shinjuku City Ordinance on Prevention of Touting in Public Places,” ramping up regulation efforts.
As Japan’s tourism soars, it’s crucial to be mindful of the risks associated with city exploration. Embrace the Metropolitan Police’s motto:
Don’t tout, don’t let them tout, and don’t let yourself be touted.
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