The next stop on the journey north through Japan’s frontier land of Hokkaido was Monbetsu, supposedly the most racist town in the whole country. Locals got fed up with the endless influx of drunk Russian sailors docking at its port and wreaking havoc, and for a time banned foreigners from staying there altogether.
This little strip in the centre of town is the only place emitting any light after dark. Half the establishments in the area have a sign saying “No Russians”, the other half are brothels. The whole place smells of crab arse.
This is probably the most depressing place you can go for a happy ending in the whole of Japan.
After being shouted at by some wasted ugly Japanese guys with a couple of buck-toothed girls clinging to them, we spotted this respectable-looking dude. He introduced himself as Alexey. After an exchange using my fourteen words of Russian and his eleven of English, he invited us to get into a taxi with him.
Alexey was drunk and hungry. He took us to a restaurant where he ordered lots of Japanese sake and huge amounts of meat. My Japanese translator, Benny, had to pretend he was, like me, from the UK, because every time Alexey mentioned America he followed it up with a scowl and mimed a machine gun action.
Just before 11 PM, he started panicking madly, suddenly aware he was going to miss his curfew to be back on his boat, which was leaving the following morning. He manically ushered us back into the taxi and we headed to the port with him. He was so frantic he kept trying to get out of the car whilst it was still moving.
The captain of the ship stormed off the boat angrily and shouted at Alexey for being late, then made a gesture to suggest he’d smash my camera if I took any more pictures. We were just about getting ready to run but Alexey managed to calm the whole thing down and came back saying it was alright to board the ship.
At first the crew were hostile, they kept grabbing us, moving us from one seat to another and shoving alcohol in our faces. Having accepted us into their clan, I was given the OK to get the camera back out, and even managed to get them to all sit still together long enough to pose for this vaguely civil-looking group shot.
Obviously, the good vibes eventually turned sour. One of the crew members started insisting we stayed on the boat overnight, which sparked a intense argument in Russian, which was somehow inexplicably turned on us. Things were beginning to get a bit hairy – me and Benny ended up separated on different parts of the boat wondering how the fuck to get off it. Luckily, Alexey had kept an eye on us to make sure we were safe. He managed to untangle me from the three Russians that were all bombarding me with stuff I didn’t understand and bail the two of us off the boat. On the way down one of the crew members tried to grab my camera, but we got away unscathed.
Eventually Alexey walked us all the way back to town, thanking us for seeing his ship and saying that the three of us were brothers forever.
Follow Alex on Twitter: @alex_hoban