Tuesday, 6 March 2012

being a Hostess in Japan in the 90's

Once upon a time in another lifetime.... I was a night club hostess

So I have mentioned a couple of times now that I used to live in Japan. How that came about was quite unplanned.  I originally went over there to work as a hostess on a 6 month contract and ended up enjoying it so much I went back again on another 6 month visa. Then I met a guy and one thing led to another and before I knew it I was over staying my visa. I didn't really think much at the time of implications or that I was breaking the law. All the other foreigners that I had ever met there were overstaying a visa and some of them had been there for many years.

It's not like people spot check your passport and see if you have a visa. Even with a visa I wouldn't have been allowed to get a phone or apartment in my name anyway they just didn't allow any foreigners to do that. My apartment and phone and bills were all paid for by work anyway. I was paid cash in hand weekly and the only tax that mattered to me were the mafia kick backs or yakuza 'tax' I paid to keep the club from being raided.

So life with or without a visa was pretty similar whilst living there, the only bother and the ultimate reason why I ended up declaring myself and suffering the 1 year penalty was that I couldn't travel freely.

Firstly, let me describe the work for you; basically my job was to nightly look my best, sit and make small talk, be flirty, pour drinks, light cigarettes and clap loudly when they sing karaoke. But the biggest part of my job and the most important to my boss was that I drink as much alcohol as possible. Not all clubs let the girls drink though the first one I worked and the most weirdly strickt wouldn't let us drink. Didn't stop us from getting plastered most nights though on the sly.

See a red velvet couch (me in about 1994)
Most clubs back then were all pretty similar looking. Low lighting, karaoke stage, clusters of tables and couches (velvet mostly). Club owners (mostly always Yakuza) seem to like gaudy interiors. I've worked at places that had wall murals, chandeliers, red velvet couches and floor to ceiling mirrors. Many also had french or English names. I worked at crazy horse, la foret and majesty to name a few. 

The system or order of the night went like this. You either get picked up by a club driver / chauffeur that will take you to the club. Or you can go out with a customer for dinner and he will bring you to the club 30 minutes to an hour after usual start-this will cost him extra & will earn you more.
Customers will keep a bottle of vsop, xo or hennessy whiskey at the club- it has their name on it. When they arrive they will be shown to a table and asked if they want to request anyone in particular to sit with them. This request system is how you earn extra its like your tips -as customers will rarely give you a tip in cash they are more into gifting. On average its about $15 ~$20 per request and you'd have on average 3 a night. Taking dinner with a customer first then bringing them to the club will earn you about $40. Plus you get a nice dinner. So as you can imagine these requests were pretty important to us and could lead to big time competition between the girls. 

So once the customer is settled with the girls they have requested and drinks poured. The serious business begins. It is every girls' at that tables job to make sure the bottle is emptied and a new one is purchased before the time he wants to leave. With bottles costing about $400 a pop you can see why. This being the mission you can imagine the lengths we would go to. We drink, we flatter, we play silly childish drinking games and if all else fails we tip it in a pot plant when they aren't looking. As well as alcohol all clubs charge per person per hour & a cover charge & a charge to request the girls & a charge for the girls to drink & then they are charged for their food and karaoke. On average a table of 2 or 3 people will pay about $1000 for a night out and would generally come at least once or twice a week. 

Grainy old polaroids of me before work around 1997
The type of clientele that would come to hostess clubs are 99.9% married men that are in middle to upper management or company owners, politicians, government workers, artists, famous people and yakuza. No matter what kind of job the person was doing though they will all tell you they are a 'salary man'.
The culture now has changed and these hostess clubs are almost non existent anymore. I think that one of the main reasons why these clubs were so hugely popular during the 80's and 90's was because men and woman in Japan still had no equality and most marriages were still 'arranged marriages' at the time. With my western sensibility I would often be flabbergasted that men could lavish all that money, time, attention and interest on another woman without suffering at home. On many occasions when I did have the opportunity to meet one of my customers wives I would inevitably be thanked by her for keeping him occupied and out of her home. When I eventually left the night life and settled in to a teaching job at an English conversation school many of my former customers' wives approached me to teach their children and come into their homes. I'm not sure I could show the same welcoming attitude if my mister was out every night spending thousands of dollars on another woman! Could you?  I think that right now in Japan that is why there aren't many hostess clubs left. Woman just wont put up with it. The younger generation are demanding love and romance in their relationships. Good on them!!

There were of course many nights that were boring monotonous and many customers that were boring some would even get so drunk they'd have a sleep! There were sleazy types as well, but different to the western type of sleaze I never felt threatened or afraid. They wouldn't even touch you mainly just asking if you'd sleep with them, drunkenly have a crack. You'd just say you were a virgin and laugh it off. But on the flip side I also got to meet some incredible people fun, dynamic, smart men that had amazing jobs and were interesting and knew the line. Majority of my customers I knew for years and I never even had dinner with them outside the club. They just came to drink with me because I like to talk and am fun. Others did have expectations of our relationship growing into more. Like everyone I have a type and if your not attracted to someone its just not going to happen. I admit though that you'd try not to let him down hard because you'd hope he would still come and drink at the club. If someone wanted to take me out on a 'date' outside the club he would generally expect that I'd bring a friend. I don't know why but Japanese men would always be fine with this. I would only go out alone with someone for the same reasons I would here. If I was genuinely interested in it becoming more or if they were my friend and I trusted them.

So when you mix pretty young girls and alcohol and men that are mesmerised by them there is going to be an element of love in the club. I can honestly say that I met guys that I became crazy about and would date them we all did. There comes a point in a relationship though where you need to separate your work. Even though you might have met in the club its not good for your boyfriend to visit you there. It's not hard to imagine that jealousy and hurt feelings can be the result. Either way your boyfriend has to watch you with other customers across the room or while you are over there another girl from your club will be sitting with him. Some girls can be competitive and want what you have or just be drunk and not know that you are more serious with that person. Its hard to watch and YES I get the hypocrisy in this. Also it becomes an issue with money - you don't want someone you care about being ripped off just to hang out with you. But if they work in the day and you in the night well its hard to find time to hang out. This is why I left work to become an English teacher.

One of my countless trips to Disneyland
It was a big decision to leave work for a man. For one thing I really liked my job it was easy and fun. I had some lovely girlfriends. I liked to get dressed up everyday and loved drinking. I felt like a mini celebrity in the town I lived and I liked that. There was a  billboard of me outside the club. I can't deny that the money was sensational at my peek I earned nearly $10,000 Australian a month. But even more than my wages were the gifts I would receive from customers. I was given things like a car (and i couldn't drive so I gave it to my friend), a Rolex, phones (back when they were expensive), cameras, gadgets, appliances, designer handbags, clothes, shoes, mink coats, overseas holidays, trips to Disneyland, taken to fancy restaurants, my apartment and bills were paid and box loads of jewelry. 

Singapore 1995 taken on a shopping trip

Pool side at the Shangri la in Bangkok

C'est La Vie.

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