It takes ten minutes to become a bar hostess in Tokyo

Article published on April 9, 2009
community published
Article published on April 9, 2009
Yesterday I did a rather exciting journalistic experiment. Without many plans on my mind, I went to Kinshicho, an area known for its bars and clubs with foreign hostesses and a lot of foreigners in general. I visited this area once with B., as recommended by Y.
That time we saw some Russian, Romanian and Filipino bars, went into one, but it was probably too early, so no hostesses and no clients were around. Yesterday I decided to revisit Kinshicho.

I was wearing a modest Indian-style dress and a spring coat, no make-up. Yet my (Eastern) European appearance and a look of a child who's lost was probably convincing enough. I was approached by four Bangladeshis in different parts of Kinshicho, asking me if I'm looking for a job. At first, feeling very insecure in general, I kept repeating "daijoubu" ("it's OK"). I was also approached by two Japanese, asking if I'm looking for something. In the end my journalistic curiosity won over the safety instinct, and I stopped to chat with two Bangladeshi guys. They asked me if I speak Japanese and where I come from. Then they asked again if I'm looking for a job. I decided to try: "Well, yeah, I'm new to Japan, and I'd like to stay, but... I really don't know..." They said that the club "Silver fox" recruits hostesses from Lithuania and Russia and "is always looking for more". In addition, they called someone and asked me to come with them. With my heart somewhere in my heels, I followed them to a bar on the 8th floor of one typical building. The Bangladeshis told me to sit down and went to look for Mama-san. Left alone, I could observe the bar. There were four Asian and two Slavic-looking hostesses. The latter were both blond, one was wearing a dress with much of breasts showing. They had two clients, one around 55 and another around 60, and were talking to them in simple Japanese. I could hear that they were explaining that of all alcoholic beverages they liked beer best because it's "nomiyasui" (easy to drink). Finally the Bangladeshis returned, bringing me a glass of juice (which I of course didn't drink). They asked me if I am going to get married in order to get a work permit. I said I don't know, I could. "All women in this bar are married," they said. Then they told me to bring a friend who is fluent in Japanese next time. One of the Bangladeshis apparently has a Lithuanian wife, so he tried to call her and have her explain things to me, but she wasn't answering.

However, that wasn't the end yet. One of the Bangladeshis invited me to come with him again. In the elevator he told me that visa will come later, "first you need a job". He said he called another Mama-san and said that I am from Lithuania, "young and beautiful", and need a job. He took me to another building with a shabby staircase and stinky elevator. Yet a red carped on the 6th floor showed that luxury and enjoyment hides in a very simple shell. It was easy to see that the bar is sort of hiding - no suprise if they really employ women with tourist visas. The Mama-san looked kind and caring, yet the hostesses, all sitting without clients and all Asian, threw suspicious and unwelcoming looks at me. Mama-san explained me that I should get married and apply for a work permit, yet so far it's OK - I can start working immediately. However, she then asked me if I have "yofuku" (jp. for Western clothing). I showed what dress I was wearing, and she frowned. She also checked my shoes and told me to bring high heels next time. Using these remarks as an opportunity to get out of there, I told her that I'll call her and next time I'll come properly dressed. Smiling, the Mama-san saw me off and said "spasibo" ("thank you" in Russian) as I went into the elevator. I felt soooo relieved when I got out of the building. Yet as I was waiting at a crossing, another Bangladeshi (I know their nationality because I asked them all) asked if I need a job. A young Japanese standing nearby told him that I am already booked, but there are "viza no mondai" (visa problems). The Bangladeshi congratulated me - "it's a very good club", he said.

Believe me, I'm really, really curious to research this side of Tokyo life. But I know about the involvement of mafia in this business, and it's just too scary for me to do it alone.