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Nightlife District Makeover

The Kabukicho area is one of Tokyo's largest nightlife districts. The neighborhood just got a new look, thanks to the opening of a large-scale retail and dining complex. Now, local business owners are hoping to take advantage of that debut by making even bigger changes.

The new center of attention is a life-size statue of one of Japan's best-known movie stars. Godzilla looks out over the new Shinjuku Toho Building, which features a hotel, dozens of restaurants, and a 12-screen cinema.

Business owners in the area are hoping the complex will bring in more people. During the past 30 years, visitor numbers have fallen by half. Koichi Teratani, who works for a local shop owners' association, says one change he's noticed is an increasing number of touts on the streets.

And not all the touts are honest. Police have reported a steep rise in the number of people being lured to bars with promises of cheap prices, only to be slapped with bills for thousands of dollars.

At one bar, a group of 6 people was told to pay $10,000. They were originally told the charge was about $35 for 70 minutes. They were drinking with bar girls who apparently ordered more than 100 glasses of wine, at about $75 a glass. The bar staff blamed the customers for not checking the price.

Police say that in the past month alone, they've received nearly 300 reports of similar cases. That's about 10 times more than the same period last year. "It's because there aren't many customers," Teratani says. "The touts feel desperate and become aggressive."

Business owners in Kabukicho want to revive the neighborhood by making it safer. So they're taking the advantage of the opening of the Shinjuku Toho Building to introduce new measures. One of them is the idea of a "Kabukicho concierge." The concierge at the new hotel will provide guests with information about restaurants and bars that can be enjoyed safely.

Teratani and his colleagues have created a guidebook for just that purpose. It lists only businesses they've checked and approved. The shops must adhere to certain conditions, including no touts, no ties to crime syndicates, and a transparent pricing system.

The idea is to draw customers to the good shops and drive the bad ones out of business. The concierges take responsibility for the places they recommend to customers. So they're going out and personally visiting all the locations.

Teratani and his colleague are visiting all types of bars and restaurants. "We want to be able to show people that they can have a good time at the places we've checked and approved."

The guidebook already includes 120 bars and restaurants, all approved by Teratani and his colleagues, showing that their effort to remake Kabukicho is well underway.

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