The lure of cheap booze is hard to resist, but before you follow that discount-promising tout, take a moment to check what clothes he’s wearing.
In many ways, Japan is a drinker’s paradise. Japanese society is extremely accepting of alcohol consumption, to the point where you can enjoy adult beverages not just at bars and cafes, but even many fast food restaurants. Then there are the all-you-can-drink deals, some of which are amazingly cheap.
There is one very big possible downside to knocking back a few cold ones in Japan, though. As we’ve talked about before, in entertainment districts you’ll often find kyakuhiki (“customer-pullers”) working the streets, trying to steer customers into the bars or izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) that employ them. While pushy, many of these kyakuhiki are on the up-and-up and work for respectable restaurants. Some of them, though, are out to pull you into shady establishments that will slap hidden fees and service charges onto your tab, leaving you with an astronomical bill for a couple of drinks and snacks.
To help spot these scam artists, Japanese Twitter user @arinotsuno has created a list of things to be on the lookout for.
居酒屋悪質キャッチ。 未だに騙されてる若い人多いみたいだから、改めて彼らのやり口を説明するね。少し見難いけれどちゃんと読んで、もう絶対に引っかからないで欲しい。 ポイント ・私服のキャッチは正規ではない。 ・彼らはチェーン店を紹… twitter.com/i/web/status/8…—
ありのつの (@arinotsuno) July 04, 2017
The typical modus operandi of the unsavory kyakuhiki is to attract suckers with promises of discounts at a reputable chain, then somehow divert them to his bosses’ place to get ripped off instead. To protect yourself from this bait-and-switch, the first thing @arinotsuno says you should be on the lookout for is how the kyakuhiki is dressed. Japanese businesses love uniforms, so if a kyakuhiki dressed in street clothes claims to be a representative of a major chain, he’s a fake.
As for how the scam goes down, @arinotsuno says there are two primary points of attack. In one of the, kyakuhiki approaching people who’re simply walking down the street, cordially asking if you’re looking for an izakaya and promising discounts for one popular chain or another. If you show an interest, he’ll enthusiastically offer to check to see if there’s a table available, whipping out a cell phone or tablet ostensibly for that purpose.
Really, @arinotsuno says, these electronic devices are just props the kyakuhiki is using to help sell his act. He’s not really contacting the restaurant he said he would, and after a few seconds he’ll regretfully tell you ”Sorry, the restaurant is full. But there’s another place with different owners that I can get you into right away.” Getting you into this other restaurant, of course, was his intention from the start.
Alternatively, some scam artist kyakuhiki wait to strike until you’re about to enter one of the multi-floor buildings packed with various bars and restaurants that are commonly found in Japanese cities. As you’re about to go into the lobby area or hop on the elevator, the kyakuhiki will appear, saying “Oh, are you going to eat here? I’m in charge of the restaurants in this building.” Right off the bat, this is fishy, since the restaurants in the building are competitors, and thus don’t share kyakuhiki employees.
When you tell him which specific restaurant you’re headed for, he’ll put on a show of feigned thoughtfulness, telling you “Actually, that whole restaurant is rented out for a group function tonight. Oh, but I can get you a seat at a restaurant with different ownership…”
So in summary, the biggest warning flags to look for are guys in regular clothes claiming to be working for a chain, kyakuhiki and, more critically, kyakuhiki whose story has them working for multiple restaurants with different owners. Give them both wide berth, and you’ll be a lot closer to a hangover being your biggest potential regret after a night out in Japan.