“I’ve been in business in Ginza for 40 years and never have I seen things this bad,” says a club “mama” describing life these days in Tokyo’s most fashionable nightlife district. "Three days and not a single customer! The first two days we all drank away our blues, but now we’re ready to burst. What if nobody comes, ever?”
The 1990s collapse of the economic bubble hit Ginza hard; the “Lehman shock” of 2008, Shukan Shincho (Jan 28) finds, hit it even harder. Some 20,000 of the world’s most elegant hostesses work in the district’s 4,000-odd bars, clubs and restaurants. What happens to them when times turn sour and elegance becomes dispensable?
There is no one answer, of course. Most tough it out, swallowing pay cuts for lack of a viable alternative. Others go home to their parents in the country. A growing number, says Shukan Shincho, are drifting downmarket to the trade known as “fuzoku” -- ero-entertainment where the line between entertainment and prostitution is thinly drawn. No recession, it seems, can kill this industry. It thrives, and the pay is robust -- so much so that even the debts (10 million yen on average, estimates one soapland owner) incurred in pursuit of the lifestyle Ginza once represented can be paid off in about a year.
“My base pay used to be 70,000-80,000 yen a night,” says “Shiori,” a Ginza hostess. “Now it’s 30,000 yen less, and there’s no use complaining. I’m not bringing in as many customers these days, and if I come on too strong, they’ll just say, ‘If you don’t like it, quit.’ Quit and go where? So I put up with it.”
Hostess pay cuts reverberate through the entire Ginza economy. Hairdressers, for example, are feeling the pinch. A hair set that once cost 3,300 yen is now on offer for as little as 2,000 yen.
Some survey the crumbling scene and see opportunity writ large. One entrepreneur is investing 250 million yen in a spacious new club, called “O,” set to open next month in Ginza 8-chome. “Ginza’s so far down, there’s nowhere to go but up,” he tells Shukan Shincho.
It may turn out that way, but for now many hostesses see only devastation, personified by an increasing number of customers who, pinched themselves, not only don’t tip but sometimes vanish after running up a tab.
"Fuzoku," though a comedown after Ginza, at least is economically stable. It’s better than that -- potential earnings are as much as 3 million yen a month, tips included, especially if you have “former Ginza hostess” on your resume.
“Sex with a Ginza lady is a dream come true,” says one soapland operator.
Still, it’s a pity to see the embodiments of Ginza tastefulness answering ads placed in "fuzoku" magazines by soaplands and delivery-sex outlets known euphemistically as “deriheru” -- delivery health. Shukan Shincho poetically likens the women to flowers on the verge of extinction.© Japan Today