“I was literally running down the sidewalk in my stripper heels. I mean, at least I was lucky enough to have worn a long sleeve top that day.” She sipped on her soy milk latte, waving her hand flippantly as she described the previous night’s tumultuous events, ending in her being locked inside a crowded restaurant on the same street until 7 am. She had drunkenly waited out the police raid, unable to leave, as her pants, shoes and house keys sat in the strip club’s locker room. We were sitting inside one of the many Starbucks cafes that sprinkle the streets in Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s flashiest cities. It just so happens that despite the cheerful electric glow of the city, the obsession of all things cute, and the general shyness that imminates from most Japanese, Tokyo is home to an underground world of adult night clubs, hiding from police eye. The dancer I spoke with chose not to be named, worried that there will be immigration repercussions.
Hostessing in Tokyo
Hired to fulfill the foreign fetish that some Japanese men obsess over, , this 5’1″ dancer with a mean sense of style, has only been an exotic dancer a few months. She started by floating along the edges of the adult industry, holding a job called hostessing, a more innocent service offered almost exclusively in Japan. Men come to hostessing clubs where they pay beautiful women to light their cigarettes, refill their whiskey waters, and stroke their egos. They even pay the club to allow them to take the girls out for “dohan” (read: dinner) before their shifts start, where they pay to have a beautiful woman on their arms at expensive restaurants. Most of the interactions are quite innocent, albeit paid.
In a culture known for veiling their thoughts and feelings, things get even shiftier after dark. In Roppongi, as with other party districts, some working women prey on men to get them to pay for champagne at restaurants, or pull them back to hostesses clubs. What the men don’t know is….the women get cash back for all of the food and liquor they consume. Up to 60% back, in fact.
Just like every industry in Japan, the adult industry is highly regulated. After the deaths of Lucie Blackman and a few other lesser-known foreign hostesses, the Japanese government banned all but Japanese from the industry. (Side note: the murder of Ms. Blackman was gruesome, and the murder was convicted 10 years after her death.) The publicity of Lucie’s death is the reason for the regulation of this industry, which is very sad, considering there have been many more deaths of non-white hostesses that haven’t received the type of media attention given to Ms. Blackman.
The new policy only pushed the clubs more underground, where the girls are paid under the table and often shorted their pay. These policies have hurt many women trying to make ends meet in a country that is difficult to find work for a non-Japanese. Especially for Thai women, who see an increased risk of bodily harm, these policies have hurt their income, job stability, and ability to seek help in domestic violence situations. Police officers often raid the strip clubs and hostess clubs, forcing these young women to fear their stay in Japan.
Exotic Dancing in Tokyo
Like most strip – club jobs, these dancers do it for the money. Making upwards of ¥1,000,000 per month (approximately $10,000 USD) isn’t unheard of at times, and they can easily hide their earnings from the government as well as the own government back home, with little to no risk of audit or repercussion. As we sit at the cafe, this new dancer dissuaded me from the idea of joining her at the club, no matter how good the money sounded, telling me stories of overseeing leud behavior from some “tenured” strippers.