A man named Kai Miyazawa described to me the art of running a hostess club. Kai would have been a striking figure anywhere, and among middle-aged men in Japan he was outstanding. He was in his mid-fifties, with a handsome, lined face and graying hair pulled up high above his forehead and tied in a ponytail. He wore a flower-embroidered shirt unbuttoned a third of the way down the chest and bright orange trousers bound with a striped white and orange belt. There was a silver chain around his neck, on his left wrist another chain and a chunky silver watch, and on his feet a pair of cowboy boots.
Kai was a living history of foreign hostess bars in Roppongi. In 1969, at the age of eighteen, he had visited the original kimpatsu club, Casanova, and been enraptured by the beauties who worked there. For the next twenty years, he spent most evenings in Roppongi, indulging his facination. One day a friend remarked that if he loved foreign girls so much, he should set up a place of his own. Club Kai opened in 1992, to be succeeded a year later by Club Cadeau. It was hard work, and Kai struggled to make money. He was constantly having to move to cheaper premises, or landing in trouble with the local yakuza, the Japanese mafia. ‘Running a business—I don’t know it well,’ he said. ‘What I do know is girls.’
Kai was proud of his Club Cadeau. As its manager, as well as owner, he watched over his hostesses with the concentration of a gambler over a hand of cards. He knew each of their strengths and weaknesses; he deployed them carefully and deliberately, at the moment of optimum moneymaking advantage. To the unobservant customer, quietly becoming sozzled over the course of an evening, the coming and going of different hostesses seemed a natural process, an ebb and flow as of the tides. But Kai controlled everything, like a ponytailed Zeus peering down upon the world from the bar of Mount Olympus.
He rarely took to the floor of the club himself; only with the very best customers would he sit for a brief exchange of pleasantries. Kai’s job was to monitor the room, tuning in to the invisible frequencies and vibrations that surrounded each grouping of hostess and customer, gauging the aura around each man and how it fluctuated over the course of the evening. He had to be aware all the time at what point in the cycle of the ‘system’ each customer had reached and how he might be detained a little while longer. ‘If a customer stays for just one hour, I make no money,’ said Kai. ‘He pays ten thousand yen. I pay the girls three thousand yen, so, after the rent and the drinks, I’m left with two thousand yen, something like that. If a customer stays for one hour, I don’t care. After one hour—then I care.’
On entering the club, the customer would be seated with one of the most attractive girls. This was his hostess honeymoon: the welcome was deferential, the girls were beautiful, the whiskey was warm in the belly, and the dimness of the lighting cast a veil of erotic promise over the tawdry surroundings. Girl and customer started to talk. Kai was watching. ‘First I give him a beautiful girl with a nice character,’ he said. ‘And then I’m checking to see how they get on, have they connected?’ If not, then Kai would mutter in the ear of the waiter, who muttered in the ear of girl number one. She politely excused herself, to be replaced immediately by a second hostess. Perhaps this girl would hit it off with the customer. She had to detain him only until the end of the first hour and the beginning of the second. If she succeeded in this, then the first hand had gone to Kai.
'Past one hour, even one minute, I'll pick that girl up and move her to another table, and leave him with an ugly girl. If he wants to talk to the pretty one again, he can request her—¥3,000. Or he might say, 'I want her again,' and you say, 'I'm sorry, she's not available—wait half an hour.” By that time, the customer would be into his third hour, with a bill of ¥30,000 and rising.
'You watch them,' Kai said, with the smile of an experienced huntsman recalling the stalking of an elk. 'You know what they are thinking. So if he's going to the toilet and he checks his watch just before he goes in, then you know that he's planning to leave. So then you give him the best girl in the club. She is waiting for him when he comes out, the girl of his dreams.' She would hand him a hot towel as he closed the toilet door behind him and lead him by the hand back to the table. He would decide to stay for one more round of whiskey and water—but his new girlfriend wanted to drink champagne (at ¥30,000 a bottle). Ticktock, ticktock: soon the fourth hour had begun. In three hours and one minute, the customer had spent close to ¥80,000. And now his champagne dream girl was whisked away.
'You have to look inside these men,' Kai said. 'You have to read their brains inside. I’m a genius at this.’
Part of his skill was in finding the right girls. Kai sized them up like an expert horse trader. ‘The girls need to be under twenty-two,’ he said. ‘It’s very important they look nice, like flowers. Inside the club, if only one of the girls is beautiful, all the others look beautiful too. Roppongi is small. If one girl is beautiful, the word spreads, everyone is talking about her, people are lining up. My club at that time had the most beautiful girls, the most fantastic girls. When girls came to Tokyo, they had a list of which club to work in—number one was One Eyed Jack’s, because it’s the biggest. Second was my club, Cadeau. Sometimes I was at the top.’ At the peak of business, in the early 1990s, the harvest of girls from the streets of Roppongi was not enough to meet demand. Kai and his British wife, herself a former hostess, placed advetisements abroad and went on scouting trips to Britain, Sweden, Czechoslovakia, France, and Germany to source fresh talent.
Kai, as he said, knew foreign girls. He loved foreign girls; he made his living from them. And he despised them. The way he expressed his contempt was casual, unimpassioned, offhand. After the enthusiasm with which he talked about running the club, it came as a shock. But it was born of a reciprocal contempt from the hostesses themselves, or Kai’s perception of one—a condescension and indifference that was racist in character.
'Only ten percent of them are normal girls, girls with an identity who know why they are in Japan,' he said. 'Only ten percent of them like Japan, are interested in the country, the culture.' Most of the girls he recruited in Tokyo, he said, were travelers who had found themselves in Thailand, following the backpacker trail, through the druggy tourist islands of the south with their full moon parties and unconstrained supplies of marijuana, Ecstasy, and cocaine. 'So they run out of money. Then they hear that in Japan they can make money easily. So they come over, work for three months, and when they have made their money, they go back to Thailand. They don't like it here. They don't respect yellow people. They're just after the money.
'Ninety percent of them can't get jobs in their own country. Only ten percent have a reason to be in Japan. They have no idea—they're just party girls. They take drugs, chase boys. Everyone takes drugs—at the weekend they always take Ecstasy, they party like crazy. The drug culture here is crazy, crazy, crazy. Crazy. Only the East Europeans don't do it too much, because they send all their money back home to their families.
'Maybe twenty, thirty percent of them have sexual problems. What does that mean? That means their father fucked them, a lot. They used to tell me about it, because I'm easy to talk to. They say to me, 'Kai, my father is still my boyfriend.' Because of that, they're always angry. Maybe seventy, eighty percent of them are divorced back in their country. This kind of background, this troubled background.
'They have no friends. They cannot communicate with people. And then they go to Thailand and they can make friends at last because they meet other people like them. The communication is drugs. At weekends, that's what they share. Maybe ninety percent of them sleep with their customers, you know. Why not? It doesn't hurt, it feels good, you get money, you get rich—no problem!'
~Richard Lloyd Parry [buy]
Makers of Melody (1929) (S. Jay Kaufmann)
Serenades with guitar and relatively passionate songs in dialect were permitted under the windows of the house. It was a rather old local custom, completely different, however, from the genuine folk serenades of chorus and ancient songs. These serenades we could call bourgeois, made up of students and young men of all classes and not exclusively rural.
The semi-learned songs accompanied by the guitar, mandolin, even the accordion, made the sleeping young girls raise their heads from their almost monastic pillows. But it was rather difficult to establish to whom the passionate voice breaking the evening silence with his claims of love was directed. Particularly since the lover, most likely hampered in his amorous aspirations, would not stop with his company under the window of his beloved only, but under many others where there were young girls, to create a kind of impunity. In this way his unburdening could pass as that of a lover of the serenade, of a spirit enamored by its universal dream of love. Or even of an artist practicing his music and song and nocturnal melodies.
~Grazia Deledda [Martha King, translator] [buy]
"Don’t touch women and don’t talk to them."
Last night after the No Regrets event I took the F home and there were two incredibly drunk guys in my car, middle-aged white guys in button-down shirts, not young fratty bros. They were hugging a pole in the middle of the crowded car, talking to each other loudly, moving unsteadily, slurring their words. I was worried, like I am 50% of the time on the subway at night, that vomit might happen on or near me. But they were only bothering each other, til they started talking to a woman who was sitting in the outer seat of a two-seat facing them, effectively underneath them, such that to talk to her one of them had to put his hand on the metal pole right behind her head so that he was sort of crouching over her. She had big, obvious neon green headphones on and I couldn’t see her face because of the direction her seat was facing. And she had a book open, but they were talking to her anyway. I couldn’t hear anything she said. She laughed at one point but to me it sounded like an uncomfortable laugh. Everyone else in the car was looking at these guys, looking at her, looking at each other, saying nothing. And then the louder of the two guys I guess wanted to get her attention because maybe she went back to her book and stopped nervously appeasing him so he reached over and touched her shoulder, not hard, just like ‘hey,’
DON’T TOUCH HER, I screamed.
'Whuh? Hey, I'm just … mind your business, we're just talking,' or whatever nonsense, he slurred.
DON’T TOUCH WOMEN AND DON’T TALK TO THEM. YOU’RE DRUNK. SHE DOESN’T WANT TO TALK TO YOU. DON’T TOUCH WOMEN AND DON’T TALK TO THEM, I screamed.
He protested, he called me ‘McSweeney’s’ (!!) and he called me some other names, including, of course, ‘crazy,’ But other women in the car chimed in, telling him to lay off, back off, calm down. And I got off at the next stop, so I don’t know what else happened.