The Honch is a small entertainment district with dozens of seedy bars, massage parlors, and buy-me-drink bars that target young sailors. You can also find a few Tattoo shops, souvenir shops, and food vendors within the Honch. The Honch is located about one block from the Yokosuka Naval Base and had been a favorite hangout for young sailors since the 1950s.
The Honch is centered around Dobuita Street. During the day, Dobuita Street was fairly quiet. It contained some small eateries, and souvenir shops that sold Yokosuka Jackets (bright satin jackets with custom embroidery that became a popular souvenir for sailors). The street also contained other Embroidery Shops that would have a whole selection of custom patches to choose from. Nevertheless, most of the day the Honch remained peaceful.
However, once the sun started going down a transition happened. All the souvenir shops and eateries started to close up. The souvenir shops had steel tracked, accordian style doors that they pulled down in front of their businesses and locked up. It almost seemed as though they were protecting their stores from the riots that would soon approach (which is far from reality).
At sun down Dobuita Street takes on a new form. Just as the small shops close up for the night, the Bars open up. All the bars in the Honch are small hole-in-the-wall bars that have served sailors for decades and though the names of some of the establishments may have changed, the atmosphere certainly hasn’t.
Most of these bars were dirty cigarette smoke stained establishments that had decades of drunken sailors that stumbled out of them. The pool tables were stained with spilt drinks, and the floors were always sticky.
The bars carried common names that sailors could easily identify with. Names like Rock City, Popeyes, Cross On, Heavens, George’s, Buffalo’s, Club Yokosuka, New Tokyo, Stadium, 8 Ball, and many more.
Young sailors would frequent the Honch because the bars would serve them. On the Navy base the drinking age was 20 (the legal drinking age in Japan). The bars in the Honch never carded Americans, so the Honch became a common place for 18-19 year old sailors.
The young sailors would embrace the sudden jump into adulthood by gathering at the Honch to embrace everything the Honch had to offer. Beers flowed through them fast. Alot of bars even had specialty drinks. A bar called Popeyes had a drink called “Green Eyes”. It was a tropical tasting drink made with Rum and Coconut. Popeyes was known to make some of the strongest mixed drinks in the Honch. A standard Rum and Coke would be 80% Rum.
Surrounding these bars in the center of the Honch were many low-key massage parlors and Buy-me-Drink bars. Although prostitution was technically illegal in Japan, it was highly tolerated. The local law enforcement hardly ever enforced the laws in regards to Prostitution. It seemed as though as long as the business kept it low-key, the authorities would turn a blind eye.
Many sailors learned what a “Massagy” and “Soapy” was from the Honch. What can I say, alot of “Happy Endings” happened there.
Buy-me-Drink bars were another type of establishment located in the Honch. BMD bars were bars that offered women to accompany the sailors while they drank at the bar. Usaully the women were young and attractive, and a lonely sailor would essentially pay for their company while they were there. Basically the Sailor would have to buy the women drinks the entire time he was with her. The cost of the drinks were terribly inflated (sometimes as much as $15-$20 a drink) because the women took a cut of the money. There has been stories of it escalating to paying for more then just “company” at these establishments, but to be honest, I wouldn’t know.
Most sailors learned quick to avoid these type of places because it will make for a really expensive night, but for the lonely sailor who needed to find a lady friend, this might of been a frequent visit.
The Honch also introduced many sailors to 2 types of drinks….Habu Sake, and Chu-Hi.
Habu Sake is a Japanese distilled spirit that has a dead Habu Snake preserved in it. The Habu Sake was highly potent and tasted horrible. Though it didn’t taste good, taking a shot of Habu Sake was a Sailors “right-of-passage” of being in Japan. Habu Sake was a Japanese traditional drink and most sailors were expected to try it at least once during their stay. Many of the local bars in the Honch offered Habu Sake. Popeyes even gave out playing cards (as a souvenir) to any sailor who took a shot.
The CHU-HI Stand…….
Another “right-of-passage” for sailors visiting the Honch, was to drink a Chu-Hi at the locally famous Chu-Hi stand.
Chu-Hi is a mixed drink made with ShoChu (a Japanese distilled beverage) and carbonated water of fruit juice.
Chu-Hi is normally sold in cans at the local convention stores and usaully have a high alcohol content (5%-9% alcohol). They came in a variety of flavors (apple, grapefruit, lemon, grape, orange) and tasted similar to a wine cooler.
The Chu-Hi stand is located on the outskirts of the Honch. It’s a small room located on the bottom floor of a building in a residential area. The room can fit maybe 15 people (standing room only). Within this room is a small bar where two individuals would make custom flavored (Strong) Chu-Hi’s. The Stand is a must visit for anyone heading out to the Honch for the 1st time.
“Amateur night” as I called it, started in the Honch between midnight and 2am. Those we’re the times when all the shenanigans started happening due to young sailors being over served. Here is the checklist of the things you will see in this short 2 hour period.
1. A bar fight (maybe more then one)
2.that one over served sailor that has already thrown up multiple times and is being dragged back to base by his buddies
3. That one drunk Sailor standing in the middle of Dobuita Street picking fights with every stranger walking by, all while his friends are trying to calm him down.
4. The inevitable argument between two co-workers that turns violent, but then turns into a Hug and “I love you man” conversation in about 5 seconds.
5. The lone drunk sailor that is walking back to base by themselves disappointed in how much money they just spent at the Buy-me-Drink bar.
6. A over served sailor that is being scooped up by Shore Patrol because the sailor drank himself into a God-like complex and became ruler of the Honch.
7. The older Navy Chief who wanted to try to relive his youth but realized he just can’t relate anymore with the drunkin stupidity of the young sailors.
8. The one sailor who decided to try the Chu-Hi Stand the same night he tried Habu Sake. He is usaully the guy puking in the Ally.
If you were able to survive a night out in the Honch, you probably ended up at one of 3 locations. Honey Bee, Taliban Tacos, or Beef Bowl. What a better way to top off your drunkin night then with some greasy food..
Overall the Honch offered some great memories. Once I became of age, I started spending more time at establishments on base like Seaside, the Sea Wall, and A-Club. But every once in awhile it was still fun to revisit the Honch.
Right around 2002 everything started changing for the Honch. The Navy started instituting curfews and alcohol consumption restrictions.
In 2007 Japanese police conducted raids on many of the Massage establishments in order to start fighting sex trafficking.
In 2016, the Navy even placed a Ban on alcohol consumption for sailors.
From what I have been told, all these factors have changed the atmosphere of the Honch. And the New Navy has forever made the Crazy Honch Adventures a thing if the past.
Even though as I got older I ventured deeper into Japan, I am happy I was able to experience the Honch and all it’s shenanigans back in 99 when I was just a lost 18 year old sailor.
A few random photos