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Fashion boutique salesgirls slave under sordid conditions

45 Comments

The scene: the drafty landing of the emergency stairwell in one of Tokyo's vertical fashion boutique malls.

A salesgirl on break grimaces as she slips off her high heels and then sits, legs crossed, atop a flattened cardboard box, nibbling on a rice ball while checking the message inbox on her cell phone.

This done, she curls up and is soon softly snoring.

In a four-page expose titled "The hellish work that has turned us into zombies!" Weekly Playboy (March 15) sashays behind the scenes at Tokyo's trendy fashion boutiques, where the reverse side of glitzy haute couture retailing reveals sordid working conditions and burned-out sales staff.

"Girls working in 109 or Parco or Lumine have the image of being cute and attractive, but the reality is completely different," a salesgirl identified only as Ms A mutters to the magazine.

"Especially when the shops are running special sales campaigns, you'll see girls sprawled out dozing on every landing. The building does have a rest area of about 10 tatami mats (18 square meters), but there's no place to stretch out and it's full of people I don't know," she complains.

Shop dress regulations require girls to strut around the store in high heels of at least 5 centimeters. After a few hours of work, they're desperate to pull them off and wiggle their benumbed, or itchy, toes. (Athletes foot is said to be endemic among boot wearers.)

The demands of the job also wreak havoc on the girls' attention span.

"Compared the countryside, Tokyo shops carry a lot more merchandise and after a hectic day of folding and rearranging several hundred items, you start losing it," Ms A tells the magazine.

Likewise, several hours of straining their vocal cords by calling out cheerful "Irrashai" (welcome) to customers, leaves the girls' voices as raspy as a pro wrestler's.

"In the summer, you can see cockroaches scurrying about, and in winter, it's so cold it hurts," says Ms A. "After flopping down here like abandoned corpses, the store expects us to perk up and attend to customers! There are lots of gals who don't have boyfriends even after they reach their 30s. Would any man find these kinds of girls attractive?"

The business recession is not to blame for the current situation -- actually growth has continued for the past decade. Ms C, a shop manager in her late 20s, is convinced there's definitely something abnormal about working conditions in Tokyo.

"When capable 'charismatic store managers' are transferred here from shops in regional cities, they might last as little as two months -- a year at the most," she says, adding, "We interview about 10 girls a month. To be frank, they're useless. I don't know if it's because of the 'yutori kyoiku' (laid-back education policy) or not, but they don't know how to greet customers in proper Japanese. They don't even show up on time for their job interviews.

"If we get a girl who speaks Japanese, we consider ourselves lucky, but even then, it's common for them to work just one day and then never show up again."

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

45 Comments
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It's hard working for a living isn't it, ladies?

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thepro - Im sure these girls would happily escape to other kinds of work if they could. Clearly you have no experience of standing up all day (and your unpaid overtime) in stiletto heels...

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I don’t know if it’s because of the ‘yutori kyoiku’ (laid-back education policy) or not, but they don’t know how to greet customers in proper Japanese. They don’t even show up on time for their job interviews.

Could be

" ... There are lots of gals who don’t have boyfriends even after they reach their 30s. Would any man find these kinds of girls attractive?”

Whenever I walk past one of the thousands of these boutiques, I get cold stares from the girls inside. But I doubt that has anything to do with it.

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Working conditions in Tokyo are hard for everyone. Though I can imagine these girls get very little money for working themselves to death.

Japanese people should form new labor political parties and fight for better work regulations, stronger enforcement of labor laws and protections from poor conditions and unhealthy work practices.

Change is up to you girls. Same with the office slaves. Complain all you want, but until you organize and fight back, you are alone and subject to whatever conditions your employers define. The choice is yours.

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Slaves of fashion.

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"there’s no place to stretch out and it’s full of people I don’t know,” she complains." You've got to be kidding me.

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It's not only the Shibuya boutiques--sales staff at the major department stores have it at least as bad. Just more of Japan Inc. trying to save its collective necks on the backs of its workers.

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“Irrashai” (welcome) to customers, leaves the girls’ voices as raspy as a pro wrestler’s. There are lots of gals who don’t have boyfriends even after they reach their 30s. Would any man find these kinds of girls attractive?”

There's your answer, they sound like cats when they say it.

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Sad, but it's an option they choose. Japanese staff really should behave like their American colleagues: say nothing, just come close to customer when asked. But the high heels thing is really an absurd.

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Wasn't there an article like this on department store staff and on hostesses too? Okay, I know that work conditions are not always great in Japan but who said that any kind of customer service 'standing' job was easy? It's not, obviously.

Perhaps there are 3 problems here. First, women have the idea in there heads that working in retail or similar jobs are fun or glamorous and easy money. Good enough until they get married. They don't bother being more ambitious because they think the job will just be temporary and then they will find a man who can take care of them. Suddenly, they are 30 years old and they find themselves still working there...

Second, women's job opportunities are more limited than men's so they tend to end up in these types of positions. Some women do try to get educated and get a good job but probably many of these still find it difficult to climb the corporate ladder in male dominated companies.

Finally, workers have really got to take a stand and demand better working conditions, proper breaks and holidays. Whining and complaining will get you nowhere. Either try to change the situation you are in or get out of it!

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Shop dress regulations require girls to strut around the store in high heels of at least 5 centimeters.

Isn't that worker abuse?

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Sorry, just can't sympathize about the footwear. What is the average young woman's choice of footwear on the street? High heels or knee high boots. I've seen them walking in the sand with high heels in Hawaii. Sensible shoes seem like a rarity(in Tokyo at least).

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whining spoiled brats

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paulinusa, if you go skiing in Japan, you can see girls in miniskirts and/or high heels struggling to get from the bus/car/train to the hotel. work in Tokyo sucks, at both ends of the social ladder. same with most of the big cities in the world. but I believe anybody has a choice. and so few people take advantage of that

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Japanese people should form new labor political parties and fight for better work regulations, stronger enforcement of labor laws and protections from poor conditions and unhealthy work practices.

I nearly fell off my chair laughing! Maybe they need Vladimir Lenin to give one of those speeches from armored car before storming and seizing 109 in shibuya!

How about this: these bimbos are victims of their own failure! They didn't do crap at school, have no social understanding or common sense! Nobody is holding them there against their will. Thus term "slave" is not applicable. They can quit and get a better job. All they need to do is to use their heads for something other than wearing a hat!

To improve labor conditions you need to completely ban labor unions, revoke all regulations and remove the govenment from the economy. That way you will have so many employers that the only way they could get good help would be to improve working conditions.

Anything other than that will put larger burden on the businesses which will at the end hurt the consumer, aka entire population!

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Some of them choose the job because they like what they do. In terms of the tough work : low pay ratio, "helpers" of the elderly are worst.

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Bad for girls but sorry… imho japanese people like to create lot of work around themselves in order to be // to pretend busy. Instead of finding an efficient work solutions, they will be running around very simple things and of course this inefficiency make them tired. Don’t understand this really…

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and it’s full of people I don’t know,” she complains.

so, sorta like hostessing ?

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Seriously, there is nothing that these girls have to deal with (other than perhaps the insistence on high heeled shoes), that retail staff in other countries don't. As a university student in New Zealand I worked really long hours in retail. There was certainly nowhere for us to "stretch out" other than a small staffroom, which it sounds like they have, folding hundreds of items a day is par for the course if you work in fashion retail- it's basically the main part of the job, and as for complaining about the staffroom being full of people she doesn't know- what a pack of whingers. Welcome to adult life, girls.

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The lack of sympathy for the boutique girls seems to be endemic here. It totally ignores the fact that not everyone can achieve the higher goals in life they wish for. The girls get these jobs because they were the ones available to them. Perhaps they did not do too well in school to become a doctor, teacher, politician, etc. Ever heard of traumatized youngsters, broken up families, learning disabilities? Although I love living in this country I do think that it is mired in regulations that are not enforced. In this case it is indeed about labor laws. Even boutique girls deserve to be treated like humans. They are entitled to space - not stairwells - where they can take a break, and they deserve the same thing the posters here think they deserve: some respect.

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Well, I used to work in fashion boutique in order to earn some money during my holidays. Yes, it is hard to stay all day long and on top of it you HAVE to wear high heel shoes, it is very bad for your health. But besides this, I can not tell that this job is very hard to do.

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marushka, nice to read your comment and knowing you were not a slave. But unfortunately there are many who were not as lucky as you and who have legitimate grievances. I happen to know those young women.

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presto345:You will be treated as a slave only if you allow other people to do so. Back to the topic: as I said, I have got strong impression many japanese people don’t like efficient way in work, but just lot of meaningless activities. Last example: I went to daimaru, saw one very nice wallet and wanted to buy one. I asked sales assistant to give me “new “one, not this one which was exposed already on stand. She went out and came back saying if I want this colour they have only one which I am holding. I asked her to double check again. She went back and … she came back with “new” wallet. So she did twice movement which could be avoided if she would be more efficient in her work. Of course, I am not the only customer in daimaru, so I can imagine by the end of days these girls are very tired, but whom fault?

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I thought all they did was mill about and moo "irrashai masen". Perhaps pausing to re-fold the same shirt they've already folded 3 or 4 times on that shift. I'm not feeling too much sympathy, get a better job if you don't like it.

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The tidbit I took out of this was they apparently are contrasting Tokyo with the rest of the country. A "capable, charismatic manager" from another prefecture "might last as little as two months—a year at the most" once they get to Tokyo. So managers that are FAMILIAR with retail cannot handle the level expected in Tokyo.

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I cannot sympathize with these girls. I worked retail for two years, greeted my customers, and often worked 10 hours shifts with one thirty minute lunch. I wore black boots (with slacks on they almost looked like large dress shoes) because I had to go outside in the quite often to clean things up, but they were always polished and I put some of those special pads in the bottoms, which were changed regularly. Yet, I enjoyed it all - the hard work paid off and getting to know people was great.

Maybe I haven't worked in Tokyo, but I don't think it could be all that hellish. Cleaning an industrial grade trash compactor out? Now that's one hellish thing I did have to do.

Oh no, I have to fold clothes, greet customers, and look good. Life is so hard! Whaaaaaaa, I say. As for dating them, I'd be happy man to date a girl who worked hard and did her job every day, but not a spoiled one complaining about such trivial things and quitting jobs all the time.

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thepro - Im sure these girls would happily escape to other kinds of work if they could. Clearly you have no experience of standing up all day (and your unpaid overtime) in stiletto heels...

cry me river. i worked tougher jobs than that to get through college.

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Thus term "slave" is not applicable. They can quit and get a better job. All they need to do is to use their heads for something other than wearing a hat! To improve labor conditions you need to completely ban labor unions, revoke all regulations and remove the govenment from the economy. That way you will have so many employers that the only way they could get good help would be to improve working conditions.

TOO funny. You right-wingers kill me! Yes, revoke all regulations, have an ANN RYAND heaven just like.........Somalia, Haiti, Santo Domingo. Yes, without regulations, why, labor conditions will automatically GO UP, just like they did back in 1800s and 1900s where workers had it so freakin great. They only way to get better working conditions is to demand it, otherwise you are a slave. If a worker can not negotiate for better conditions, he or she is a damn slave. Simple! And XXXX, the girls can not go "get a better job" because freakin don't exist. All the jobs pretty much SUCK in Tokyo. The conditions resemble nothing more than the sweat shops that existed 100 years ago, but in just nicer surroundings. I just wish the "whining" turned to "striking" and forced these idiots into providing decent jobs. But as that won't happen, then there will be no freakin progress in Japan. The hellhole conditions will continue for a 1,000 years because people are just too damn stupid to demand a better life.

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The economic crisis was engineered by the bankers and corporations to get rid of "overpaid" workers who could, at one time, actually negotiate wages in a tight labor market. Rising labor costs are a drag on corporate earnings.

Now, in this environment, they can hire the the most qualified for half the wages and make them do the work of two or three people. And if you don't like that, find the door. I call that slavery. The global slave masters know exactly of what I speak. The rise in productivity goes right into their pocket in the form of stock options and bonuses.

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but i guess at least these gals are paid well as a retail sales personnel.. i used to work at a retail store during school vacation, and was paid around 3usd/hr... and we have no time to 'stretch out', not even to mention if such a place (a so-called 'stretch out place') exist

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but i guess at least these gals are paid well as a retail sales personnel.. i used to work at a retail store during school vacation, and was paid around 3usd/hr... and we have no time to 'stretch out', not even to mention if such a place (a so-called 'stretch out place') exist

Your war stories, Ikjhg, are rather pointless. They only serve to say, hey, I had it tough, so you should have it tough. There should be nothing like progress, because if you have it better than I did, then life is not fair. In short, progress is evil! Wow. Hey, I have my war stories too. I worked 93 hours a week as a outdoor counselor, from Tuesday at 3 p.m. then 24 hours (yes I was permitted to sleep, though I was still on duty), then on to Saturday until 5 p.m. This was, of course during the wonderful Reagan years when there were no other freakin jobs at all unless you worked in the military industrial complex, and yes, I was qualified, had a Masters. Made only 990 dollars a month. Then two years later, the boss, on the campus in Atlanta gets busted as a pedophile along with some of his assistants. This is on top of making the kids work for free as a basis of their therapy. So, beat that one! Does that mean those work conditions should continue? These war stories act as a form of hazing. Basically, you are saying, you were hazed, so everyone should be hazed. Hazing is good!

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They have a a relax room??? That is more than most places "back home" - I had to eat my lunch sitting on boxes or a ladder and had to move when other girls came in for stock and whatnot. Girls, welcome to the world of retail. I did it to put myself through uni and vowed never to be stuck doing it for my FT job. Stop complaining and find something else if you don't like it. The thing is, these girls think it is a cool job and will continue. And heels? Yes, if that is the fashion, you wear it! Do the stores make you wear what is in stock like mine did? Get a life, get some education and get a better job. Retail is for the young folks. If you are older than 30 and still on the floor and not a manger you've messed up in life.

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Hey.. to "The Rat": Please cool down...so sorry if u mistaken my intention.. i din mean to express my comment as a wat so-called war story.. cos' in the first place i sincerely thought wat i earned then and the whole working experience was fun and i have (i swear) nothing to complain at all. i was just trying to make a contrast that sometime people need to put in effort and hard work to earn that money. so in the case of these gals, they are definitely earning quite a satisfying sum of money as a retail store personnel... so.. i was just wondering.. are they complaining cos they are too use to the comfort they are always receiving? just like a roadsweeper have to bear with nasty working condition and walk miles to sweep the streets; a dish-washing worker has to cramp around dirty basins to wash dishes for hours... if everyone wants to complain, then the complain will go on non-stop... at least these gals have a job, isnt it? esp in japan's employment situation, of wat i heard, it is not easy getting a job there....

PS:I'm not trying to strike a commentary war here, just wondering out loud after reading the article. My sincere apology for any false intention

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I guess no workman's compensation if they are only arubaito girls.

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This was, of course during the wonderful Reagan years when there were no other freakin jobs at all unless you worked in the military industrial complex, and yes, I was qualified, had a Masters. Made only 990 dollars a month. Then two years later, the boss, on the campus in Atlanta gets busted as a pedophile along with some of his assistants. This is on top of making the kids work for free as a basis of their therapy.

Quite possibly the most off-topic rant I have seen on JT.

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They say, " It's fashionable to work here ! It's a famous store it's like I'm a model ! ! " Very sad life these young beautiful smart ladies. Dumb-ed down to work for these fashion boutiques. I'm very sorry for them if they think they made it, just to work at a fashion boutique.

I am very sad !!! Japanese ladies really got to be careful about their choice in foot wear. When they get older, they will have chronic feet problems.

I want to know the ratio for women's stores vs. men's stores. It has to be 20:1

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I totally sympathize with these sweet girls. When I see someones feet all beat up from wearing heels at work, I feel terrible. The girls at 109 are lovely. Like little diplomats too. People gawk, take pictures all day. It's a full on tourist attraction these days. I have been going there forever. It's changed since Nike and the other foreign designers started taking pictures to copy designs. Not to mention strange dudes taking videos under the mistaken impression that they are cool. I think they are total angels. Always nice, super attractive. I hope you all find a happy life and whatever you are looking for.

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"The demands of the job also wreak havoc on the girls’ attention span."

It's their attention span that's landed them there in the first place.

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There are lots of gals who don’t have boyfriends even after they reach their 30s.

So it's good hunting ground for desperate girls? Hmmmm....!!

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@bokudayo: (chuckle)

If the long hours in high heels is a problem, perhaps they can work out a deal where they get half-hour breaks off the clock. The store would hire maybe one or two more people and the staff rotates their half-hour breaks so that only the same amount of staff are on the clock at any given time. It requires a little more planning on management's side, but it should result in staff that have less need for "acting" happy to see customers.

As a guy, I personally can't understand how a girl can tolerate high heels. They look like torture devices to me.

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knackerz, you got the point! what else are these girls going to do, hostess bar?

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try working in fast food and then talk to me.

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So it's good hunting ground for desperate girls?

I think that's the whole point of this article if it ran in Playboy.

Anyway, the situation described isn't that bad. We aren't talking "The Jungle" here....

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There are lots of gals who don’t have boyfriends even after they reach their 30s. ............................

thanks for the tip, next time I'll get their phone numbers

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Not a lot of sympathy from some readers here. Anyway, I say don't critisize until you walk a mile in the other person's moccasins, with 5 cm heels.

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