Stories We Could Tell: Drugged in Roppongi

Photo credit: Felix Rioux

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Right before the date rape drug took hold, I had started to enjoy myself. The evening began in Roppongi, the Tokyo neighborhood infamous for playing host to hard-partying American servicemen, British businessmen and the nightlife that follows both. Neon signs spanned the vertical length of buildings, advertising a hierarchy of services—from socially acceptable to morally questionable—offered on each subsequent floor: sushi, massage, strip clubs, S&M haunts. I’d read that it was easier to get around here without knowing the language. Plus the hotels were cheap.

After getting injured on an assignment in the mountains west of Fukushima — a region which would become a household name five years later — I arrived in Tokyo. With a pronounced limp I spent the days riding the subway, camera in hand, elevated above a sea of black hair where my eyes met those of the other gaijin dressed in their expat office garb. Each day I chose a new section of the teeming city to explore: the artistic folds of Harajuku, the tourist-choked temples of Asakusa, the blinding electronics of Akihabara. With guilt, I ordered a cup of coffee at the largest Starbucks on earth. I watched throngs of people at Shibuya crossing. In the alleyways I searched for the mythical love hotels. Exhausted, I arrived back in Roppongi each evening, napped, splurged on sushi, and then sought strong drink to cure the distinct longing of traveler’s loneliness.

I met two men in a sports bar. Both were English teachers. One was from Oregon. The other from Toronto. They knew a nightclub. We walked a few blocks past the bouncers, the sidewalk hawkers, and the impossibly cliché karaoke bars. Upon arrival we descend a stairwell into the cramped club.

Vibrant clips edited into a montage: singing New Kids on the Block beneath the DJ booth with two cute girls, chatting with a towering Swede expat who claimed to be making astronomical amounts of money, threading my way through the electric crowd to buy a vodka and soda. And then it kicked in, allowing only a small window for realization — I had been drugged.

Panicking with the knowledge that the warm, underwater feeling washing over me was not booze, I moved to the exit, stumbled up the spiral staircase and made for the general direction of my hotel. Knowing the time on my feet was finite, I walked with drunken purpose. But as the narcotics — most likely GHB—became stronger, my path wandered from edge to edge of the wide urban sidewalk. Like an absurd character in a Kaiju flick, my 240-lb frame wove in and out of the late-night Tokyo party crowd. The field of vision narrowed to a tunnel, focused on one thing — safety. Meanwhile, my mind raced with questions: What would someone want with me drugged-up? How did they get it into my drink? Was it meant for someone else? Surely the stories of stolen kidneys weren’t true? Not in Japan. Did they steal kidneys in Japan?

Fuck me.

The memory of arriving at the hotel is spotty. I stumble to the room and collapse on the bed. I awake at 5 PM with a savage headache. I shower and walk to a nearby sushi joint, famished and confused. A kind man who spent 14 years working as an accountant in New York City sees that I am out of my element. He walks me through the menu-less dining process. We eat horse and tiny-but-plump purple squid which explode with ink. After the meal, he invites me back to his hotel. I decline. I walk back to the hotel, crawl into bed and dream nothing at all.

Photo by Felix Rioux.

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