Loft Plus OneTokyo, Japan

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Japanese discourse isn't particularly known for its raw honesty. After all, this is a society where lying through your teeth for propriety's sake is not merely an obligation but a virtue. For these reasons, the existence of Loft Plus One—described as the world's only talk performance pub—is a thing to be marveled at. This is the only place in Japan, if not the world, where mafia bosses will take to the stage and give frank answers to questions from the audience about lives of crime and violence. Porn actresses will share a podium with (as well as perform taunting stripteases for) members of the Male Virgin Alliance. On one night, parliamentarians will be debating the government's policy on North Korea with hectoring drunks; on another, career pimps will be revealing the secrets of their profession amid a respectful hush.In fact, one never knows what to expect from this basement venue in Tokyo's Kabukicho red-light district. And that's just how owner Yu Hirano likes it. I wanted to provide a place for absolutely free expression ... and where the audience and performers are within spitting distance, says the sexagenarian music impresario turned mediator. Occasionally, heated discussions degenerate into fisticuffs, with speakers and customers tumbling over the tables in disgraceful bouts of drunken brawling. Hirano shrugs it all off. My ultimate dream is to open branches of Loft Plus One in the world's cultural centers, he says, to hear, for instance, what New Yorkers really have to say about 9/11 or race relations when they're drunk. But the question one asks when sober is this: Hirano may be ready for the world—is the world ready for Loft Plus One?