When I first moved to Japan in 1958, Tokyo was, as it is today, the center of action. At that time, Ginza was a hub for all sorts of amusement, with very large coffee shops such as the ACB and the Tennessee Coffee Shops, which held several hundred people and featured American-style Country and Western as well as Hawaiian music.
Further up towards Shinbashi and across from Yurakucho Station was the Nichigeki Theater, a circular building which seemed entirely devoted to the entertainment industry. Inside the building was the Albion Club, a crowded establishment geared towards American G.I.s, with dancing waitresses at every table. Moving further towards Shinbashi was the Dai-ichi Hotel, famous for the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece design. Behind the Dai-ichi Hotel was the archway beginnings of Shinbashi Station. Located in the archway was the Club New Yorker, a direct competitor to the Albion Club, also with dancing waitresses and G.I. clientele.
If one wanted more entertainment, Shinagawa was a short taxi ride away. It was nothing like it is today. There was darkness on the oceanside of the railroad tracks, but today there lies another world there.
Between Shinbashi and Shinagawa was an urban area of small buildings and homes with nothing really to remember. There was the city district of Roppongi, primarily made up of warehouses and tiny dwellings. The world famous Tokyo Tower was under construction, but there was no nightlife to speak of. Up towards Roppongi Crossing was an Italian restaurant, and located between that and the Tokyo Tower was the Russian Embassy. Adjacent to the embassy was a 24-hour hangout called The Hamburger Inn. It was an after-hours refuge for G.I.s who had missed the last train home and had to sober up before going back to their base. Directly across the street from the embassy was a nightclub called Club 88. The commonly believed rumor was that it was operated by the American CIA. There was certainly a strange cast of characters hanging around there. One could meet expatriates from all over the world at the bar, such as Richard Sorge, the famous German-Russian spy who lived and worked in Japan during the 1930s and early 1940s and could have served as the model for James Bond, to Mata Hari, the equally famous female Frisian spy. Among the cast of characters at Club 88 was the club’s entertainer, Larry Allen, a comedian/musician who entertained the audience with his musical take-offs on current popular American songs such as “Three Coins in a Fountain” and “Once I Had a Secret Love.” Modesty does not allow me to repeat Mr. Allen’s lyrics.
My crowd consisted of newly minted Intelligence Operatives, and we gloried in our contact with the “rich and famous” who we believed plied our trade. After all, what kind of people would go to a lonely nightclub in the dark warehouse district? We all lived the dream that the Club 88 patrons were our mentors, and we reveled in our association with them.
But with all dreams there must be an ending. So at the end of the evening and with little cash to spare, we walked down to The Hamburger Inn to wait for the trains to start running again. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #277 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.