Life's a Cabaret

Shiho Fukada

Job opportunities for women in Japan are scarce. A mere 65 % of women who graduate from university find permanent employment. Working as a hostess, or kyabajo meaning 'cabaret girl', has become a viable, and well paid, alternative for many educated young women.~~In Japan, a hostess is a young woman who entertains men at bars or clubs. Customers pay considerable sums of money for the pleasure of their company - for flirting but no sex. Once frowned upon, hostess jobs have been gaining popularity among young women. Despite the Equal Opportunity Law of 1986, Japanese women are often consigned to low-paid, dead-end jobs or temp positions. Only 65% of college-educated women are employed and women's salaries are a third less than men's. Though women can only work as hostesses when they are young, many young women see this profession as one of the few jobs that provide financial independence and opportunity. ~When Karen Hanazuka, 24, entered her senior year of university, all her classmates traded their short skirts and skinny jeans for dark suits and started going to job fairs.

Hanazuka didn't join them. She had already decided to continue working as a hostess. "I didn't go job hunting because there were no appealing jobs out there. Doing my hostessing job is worth much more," says Hanazuka, who adopted the name Karen when she became a hostess.~~There are around 70,000 establishments in Japan that offer hostessing services for men according to Japan's National Police Agency. Previously, hostessing was considered little better than prostitution but now, women working as hostesses are appearing on talk shows and television dramas. Some have become models, actresses and entrepreneurs. The profession has become a part of mainstream culture. Eriko Fuse, a representative of the cabaret club labour union, says that "there are many girls who dream of being a hostess these days, but there are also women who choose hostessing because there is no other work for women."~~Women's low employment rate in Japan is "a significant lost economic opportunity for the nation," according to Kathy Matsui, a managing director at Goldman Sachs Japan.~~Even if a woman is fortunate enough to get a job, her career path can be rocky. On top of the income gap, women are rarely promoted to managerial positions. The percentage of female managers in Japan was 9.8 percent in 2008, compared with 42.7 percent in the U.S., according to the International Labour Organisation.~~Hanazuka, who holds a BA in economics, was well aware of this tough reality. The last thing she wanted was to do secretarial work at an office. "I'm not good at blindly following a boss's orders. I will get bored with a job that doesn't require any thinking."~~A hostess's hourly rate is based on how many customers she can bring in. This merit system is a big incentive for ambitious women like Hanazuka who makes more than $300,000 a year. By contrast, the average salary of Japanese women with a full time job is $37,000 a year. But only very few hostesses are able to make this much money - and the job has its price.~~Many hostesses suffer from health problems such as liver disease and alcoholism caused by late nights and constant drinking.~~Aya, 22, says she wants to quit hostessing but feels there is nothing else she can do. When her parents divorced she dropped out of school and didn't want to be a burden on her family so she started hostessing at 16. The legal age for hostessing is 18 but some bars don't check girls' ID.~~Many hostesses experience verbal abuse and sexual harassment which lead to anxiety and depression. The obsession with sales figures and popularity ratings in most bars can become unbearable for some and clients' disdainful attitudes can destroy many young women's self-esteem. ~~When women become too "old" for hostessing, a life as a housewife is often seen as a logical progression. With salaries stagnating and increasing numbers of men working on temporary contracts though, few are able to afford to get married and support a family. Instead, women are required to go back to work after childbirth to top up their husbands' wages.~This project was made possible with help from the Alicia Patterson Fellowship and the Pulitzer Center.~

 

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      JAPAN

      21 year old Cocoa, a hostess girl, shows her business...

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      24 year old Ku, a hostess girl, says she needs to...

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      31 year old Julie, a hostess girl, used to work at a...

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      Champagne bottles with original decorations sit in a...

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      24 year old Ku, a hostess girl, entertains a customer...

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      24 year old Ku, a hostess girl, at work in Tokyo. In...

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      21 year old Cocoa Aiuchi, a hostess girl, takes a...

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      Business cards of hostess girl Cocoa Aiuchi. In...

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      21 year old Cocoa Aiuchi, a hostess girl, calls a...

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      24 year Yuka, a hostess girl, says she will start...

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      24 year old Ku, a hostess girl. arrives at the bar...

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      A hostess girl's hair in Tokyo. In Japan, a hostess...

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      Hostess girls prepare for work in the dressing room...

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      Perfume bottles on a table at 21 year old Aya's...

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      A hostess girl puts on high heels in the dressing...

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      21 year old Cocoa Aiuchi, a hostess girl, applies...

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      A hostess girl shows her nails in the dressing room...

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      21 year old Aya, a hostess girl, sends text messages...

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      21 year old Cocoa Aiuchi, a hostess girl, prepares...

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      24 year old Ku, a hostess girl, talks to a customer...

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      Cigarette butts left behind by hostess women in the...

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      24 year old Ku, a hostess girl, makes her way to work...

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      Many hostess bars and other sex clubs crowd the...

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      21 year old Aya, a hostess girl, gets in a taxi to go...

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      Many hostess bars and other sex clubs crowd the...

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      21 year old Aya, a hostess girl, at work in Tokyo....

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      21 year old Aya, a hostess girl, prepares to go to...

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      21 year old Aya, a hostess girl, leaves her apartment...

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      22 year old Aya, a hostess girl who started...

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      31 year old Julie, a hostess girl, used to work at a...

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      22 year old Aya, a hostess girl who started...

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