Tokyo Hostess Interview Series (Part VI)
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For most Japanese, the early part of January will undoubtedly mean a visit to the local Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine to pray for such things as good health, a prosperous business venture, or maybe something just as simple as general happiness in the midst of these tough economic times. Hostesses are no exception.
During the course of the year, Mayu Orihara might find herself at a shrine praying that the companies employing her hostess club's customers will not go out of business. This will hopefully ensure continued patronage to her club, and, as a result, an increased chance that it will stay in business. After all, she's been at roughly 15 different clubs in and around Tokyo during her three years as a hostess and going from one to the next so frequently is not good for her hostess resume.
Take a seat with the Captain this week at the Paris coffee shop in Shibuya, Tokyo, where, in addition to taking inventory of Mayu's haul of presents from her customers, he learns from Mayu the details behind the shrine visits and that working in the hostess world can be a continual mental struggle in differentiating business from pleasure.
Name: Mayu Orihara (her working name)
Club location: Shimbashi, Tokyo
Wage: 3,000 yen per hour
Hobbies: Studying English, cooking, and cleaning
Hometown: Tsuchiura, Ibaraki
Next task: Studying welfare issues at a community college in Ikebukuro, Tokyo from this April
Captain Japan: How was business during the holidays that just passed?
Mayu Orihara: Last year our club was crowded but not this year. (sighs) The economy is so bad...
CJ: So is the mama-san always complaining about this?
MO: Well, we don't have a mama-san, only a tencho (manager)...
But, you know, some companies have reduced their bonenkai (end of the year party) budgets. Since a bonenkai will often continue afterwards at a hostess club, we suffer.
CJ: Did you have any special promotion for the holidays?
MO: There was an event from October 15th to the end of the year. The top-three girls in terms of revenue during that time received 50,000 yen as a prize.
CJ: Can you describe the competition between hostesses during that time?
MO: Well, for me, I am not so popular. My main sales point is the ability to carry a conversation and being pleasant.
But one hostess might say bad things about other hostesses to her customer so that she will not lose his loyalties to another hostess. For example, one hostess might say of another at the club, 'she is not polite' or 'she has a boyfriend' etc.
At our club, the tencho and the top hostess are dating. The other girls get angry because it is not fair...
CJ: You mean because she can come in late? Or spill a drink and...
MO: Well, sure, but also if the club is crowded, maybe my customer will be turned away at the door - but not the top girl's. So we other girls get upset...
CJ: Is a customer's selection of a girl through the shimei process important?
MO: Oh yes, there are two kinds of shimei; one is when you already know the girl before you enter the club, the other, jonai shimei, is when you enter the club and select the girl after looking around. If I get three shimei customers, I get a bonus.
CJ: How about dohan, the meeting with a customer before coming to the club?
MO: We don't have to, but it helps. Before I go to the club, I might meet a customer for dinner.
With some hostesses, the customers pay money for this through the club [and not to her directly] because it makes her look high class - she'll look better. For me, I accept the money from the customer. (laughs)
But, sometimes when we go out for dinner, once every five times or so, I'll pay. It is only sometimes, like when the customer has paid a lot of money previously. Most hostesses don't do this; they get the customer to pay every time.
CJ: How many gifts from customers do you have with you there?
MO: (She pulls up the sleeves on her brown sweater, first left and then right, to reveal a watch and a bracelet - Captain.)
It is not a good feeling because I didn't say, 'I want these things, please buy them.' But my customer asked me, 'What do you want?' But I didn't expect anything (She then takes a wallet from her designer handbag, both are gifts - Captain.)
CJ: You've been working as a hostess for three years now. At how many different clubs?
MO: I am now in Shimbashi (She begins counting off on her hand - Captain), before that in Roppongi - the club closed and they fired me. The next one - the third one - I didn't like. The fourth one was too high of a level for me; it was very tough, a lot of stress, so I quit. The next one was very good, but I wanted to get more money. The next one...well actually, I was working at two places at once; both next to each other - one fired me and the other closed (Her speech is slowing a bit at this point as she is obviously losing track - Captain.)...in total 15 clubs.
CJ: Can you describe visiting the shrine to pray for your customers' companies not to go out of business?
MO: Well, you see, for example, the one club in Roppongi closed and I lost 400,000 yen in wages, so...that is why I went. If they go bust, then we go bust.
You know, in Roppongi, there are many bars, and every time a hostess moves from one to the next, there is an interview. At the interview, I tell the mama-san that I can bring in so many customers from my last job. I do this because my salary is based on this number of customers. So, of course, I lie a little bit to get a nice salary. It is promotion of yourself. You have to do it get a nice salary.
So, if I say I can get 8 customers, and I can't, then I have to change to the next club because I cannot reach that number. They [the club] will keep the hostess even if she doesn't reach the numbers but the salary falls a lot. That is why I keep moving...
CJ: What kinds of customers do you have?
MO: In Shimbashi, there are many engineers and salarymen - it is oyajimachi (dirty old man town).
CJ: I have walked through that area many times before and noticed that there are not so many hostess clubs...
MO: Maybe seven. But if you go to Ginza there are so many..
CJ: How many years have you been at this current club?
MO: I've been here one year. But the turnover [for hostesses] is really high here...
CJ: Do you have any favorite customers?
MO: The ones that are like my friends; they are not interested in me as a girlfriend, just a friend.
CJ: I know this one girl, a 19-year old, who started working as a hostess. She eventually had a nervous breakdown because she couldn't differentiate her hostess job from talking to her friends in her free time. In other words, she was being paid to talk to men for work, but not to talk to her friends. She couldn't rationalize the two. Do you wonder the same thing? I mean, you are talking to guys and they are giving you money...and bags, wallets, watches...
MO: I am glad for the work. But sometimes I do wonder...For example, when I go to a gokon (A dating party where the number of male and female attendees is evenly matched - Captain.) I sort of have this feeling that I should be getting money also...
CJ: So aren't you worried then? It is not just hostessing, it is creeping into your...
MO: I'll stop one day. But, you know, I cannot get a boyfriend because of my job. So, this job makes me dislike guys in a lot of ways.
But, a lot of times, if I am talking to a guy [in my free time], I'll think that he is thinking that I expect money from him, and I'll feel strange. Like right now, we are talking and you might think that I expect money from talking with you. (I only paid for her coffee - Captain.) That is what I think sometimes...
CJ: You were saying before that you think men are, in general, sort of stupid...
MO: Yeah, but that is also why they can be cute.
Note: Asako Kawamura and Mark Hancock contributed to this report from the Tokyo Bureau.
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