Tokyo nightlife scams: how to avoid the sneaky tricks of the "kyakuhiki"

The last time I visited Tokyo with my family was during Golden Week, when the city gets flooded with people living all over Japan. It was hard to find a hotel, but we finally found one in Kabukicho, Tokyo's red light district. At night, Kabukicho is brightly lit and buzzing with activity, making it a fascinating area to explore. However, it's also one of the few parts of Tokyo where you need to stay alert, as scammers often target inebriated visitors.

One type of scammer you might encounter is the kyakuhiki, or "customer puller," who uses aggressive and deceptive tactics to lure people into bars, clubs, or other establishments.

Here are the two most common scams they pull:

Rip-off bar scam

Rip-off bar scams are a notorious hazard for tourists in Tokyo's entertainment hotspots like Roppongi and Kabukicho. Kyakuhiki aggressively lure unsuspecting tourists into shady bars with promises of drink specials, all-you-can-drink deals, or claims that their intended destination is closed. Once inside, victims face pressure to order overpriced drinks and food, with hidden service charges and cover fees tacked onto the bill. Some bars even spike drinks to disorient customers, racking up massive charges on their credit cards. Those who refuse to pay face threats of violence or have their passports and belongings confiscated. In some cases, staff make copies of credit cards to continue charging victims even after they leave. These scams often target solo travelers or small groups, especially those unfamiliar with Tokyo and already under the influence, making them easy prey for kyakuhiki tactics.

Modeling scam

In this scam, yakuhiki approach young women walking alone, strike up a conversation, and compliment their looks. Claiming to be scouts for a modeling agency, they promise lucrative jobs and immediate opportunities if the woman accompanies them to meet the agency. Once they isolate the victim in an apartment or secluded location, the kyakuhiki may attempt to sexually assault or coerce her into pornography and prostitution rather than legitimate modeling work. In some instances, they take revealing photos without consent for blackmail or online sale.

Avoiding kyakuhiki

These scams are mostly aimed at tourists, but even locals can get caught. I learned the best way to deal with kyakuhiki is to "gray rock" them—completely ignore them. No acknowledgment, no eye contact, no conversation, no engagement whatsoever. They will lose interest and move on to someone else.

Previously: Tokyo Travel Tips