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