90-Day Geisha: My Time as a Tokyo Hostessby Chelsea Haywood
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An introspective journey into the glamorous world—and Dionysian temptations—of Japanese nightlife The hard-drinking, drug-taking, all-night culture that dominates Tokyo’s Roppongi district can be a surreal place. Intrigued by rumors of this strange subculture and armed with her 90-day work visa and new husband, Matt, Chelsea throws herself into the lion’s den. Yet what she discovers about herself and about the inhabitants of this nocturnal life far exceeds her expectations.
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My Time as a Tokyo Hostess
By Chelsea Haywood
PEGASUS BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Chelsea Haywood
All rights reserved.
ONE EYED JACK
The yellow line lay obediently at my feet. A shiny canary yellow, it was impossibly perfect. You couldn't have painted a more perfect, candy-coated line, unless you were a robot. It must have been a robot's work, but then again, maybe not. Everything around me had the same quality as that yellow line. The antiseptic voice broadcasting in high definition through a spotless ceiling. The orderly lines filing like clockwork through a row of identical counters. Everyone perfectly groomed. Perfectly poised. Perfectly patient. The way I was summoned to step over that yellow line. A quick flick of the wrist. Come this way, please. No translation needed. It all had that same immaculate polish.
He looked startlingly young for the crisp severity of his uniform, every strand of a symmetrical bowl-cut glistening under fluorescent lights. He was the first immigration officer I'd ever seen whose eyes sparkled. A slight bow brought his pin-straight hair falling forward and I nodded slightly in return, surrendering my passport into a starched white glove.
'Good morning. What is the purpose of your visit, please?'
'Ummm, tourism,' I smiled innocently. My response was automatic. It might have been inaccurate, but I doubted I would get one step further if I told him the truth.
'And where will you be staying?'
'The Hotel Sunroute, Shinjuku.'
Flipping through my passport, the immigration officer stopped briefly to look up and compare the live version of myself to the colour photo on page 2. I smiled again. Satisfied, he flattened a sticker precisely onto the lower-left corner of page 8:
JAPAN IMMIGRATION INSPECTOR. LANDING PERMISSION.
Date of Permit: 30 AUG 2004. Until: 28 NOV 2004. Duration: 90 days
'Nathan's in a meeting. He'll be with you when he's through.'
The room reminded me of an old vaudeville theatre. Slightly run down, slightly done up. It was the deep-buttoned velvet decor. Brass poles on a mirrored stage. The way the ridiculously low lighting buffered the edges, the faces, made everything soft and threw the corners into darkness. It was a mood that permeated even to the waiters, handsome but gaunt as they were.
The club had yet to open and there were maybe ten men in the room. Some Japanese, some Caucasian. I shifted my weight on the bar stool, sitting up straighter to focus on two suits in conversation at the far end of the room. It was for one of them I was waiting, and with little else to do I watched the smoke gather in a faint haze above them.
Thirty minutes passed. The two men disappeared, and soon I was joined by a nervous Israeli at the next table. Hopeful-job-applicant-of-the-evening #2, she had long raven curls that overpowered her delicate bone structure. Her English was laboured and difficult to understand, so we sat in silence as bottle-blondes began to strut in on four-inch heels, clutching designer handbags beneath acrylic French-tipped nails. They were the first to arrive of the reported seventy hostesses who worked at One Eyed Jack—Tokyo's most prestigious international hostess club—and I watched as they gathered in groups to chain smoke the elasticity of their skin away.
These tawdry glamour girls were nothing like my memories of the girl I'd met on top of a mountain in Nepal. I had been sixteen and it was my first trip overseas. She had been travelling around the world for years on her own. She was beautiful. She was intelligent and carefree. But most intriguingly of all, she was funded by the most unlikely of benefactors: the male Japanese customers of a Tokyo hostess club.
Since then I'd met other girls who'd hostessed in Japan. Their stories were just as fascinating. I'd noticed that they'd talk it up at first, but mid-spin they became jaded. I wondered what had caused almost all of them to leave Tokyo with an unpleasant aftertaste of everything Japanese. Was it one drink too many, one gram too much? Was it the men? Even more intriguingly what caused them to go back? Because many of them did.
These ambitious young women seemed to have something in common, apart from a First World nation imprinted on their certificate of birth. Were they the lost ones, seeking distraction from lacklustre lives, a string of bad relationships, or the reality that they'd spent four years earning a degree they didn't know what to do with? Perhaps they were the adventurous ones, looking for something different. Or was Tokyo just the best thing going at the time?
For me it was a conscious decision. I am thoroughly prepared. I am rock solid, and I must admit, I have a bit of an agenda. Since the early eighties, I would guess that hundreds of thousands of women have come to Japan to temporarily work in Tokyo's lucrative hostess clubs. All of them had a motive. All of them had a story. Yet a person's desire to hear these stories could not be satiated by even one personal account. No one had written about their experiences. Why not? Well, this may sound brash, but from what I could tell, everyone who might have had the inclination had just got too fucked up. So I'd decided to do it myself.
Another thirty minutes passed. Where the hell was this Nathan? There wasn't a speck of dirt left under my fingernails. I'd surveyed the entire room from top to bottom. My second complimentary cranberry on ice was now just ice, and a scratch was developing in my throat. I was just about to consider walking out when he walked in, on a direct path towards me.
Immaculately dressed, Nathan wore a suit you couldn't buy at a department store and shoes that shone like polished marble. His hair was spiked and glossed. His eyes were sharp, his eyebrows perfectly shaped. A commanding, utterly confident air oozed from his every molecule. In the realm of first impressions, the man was a machine. 'Excuse me, I'm sorry to keep you waiting. I'm Nathan. Please come with me.' He shook my hand firmly but briefly as his eyes locked onto mine, and I followed him across the room to a circular, thirties-style lounge. Sliding around to the back, he undid the only button on his suit jacket and straightened the points of a stiff collar in what seemed like one motion. Then he glanced over the application I'd been left with an hour ago.
It covered all the basics, plus the statement:
Anyone working for One Eyed Jack Co. must obey company rules and all Japanese laws. Anyone underage or without proper permission may not work. Anyone participating in illegal acts will be immediately dismissed without pay.
Curiously, 'Do you have a working visa: Yes/No' had already been circled 'Yes'.
'Okay, Chelsea. You're interested in working as a hostess. Where are you from?'
'Oh. I was guessing the States. I grew up in New York. My father, he's Italian-American, but my mother, she's Japanese. I've been in Tokyo the past eight years. It just grabs hold of you, sucks you in. I love it, and there's absolutely nowhere I'd rather be, but sometimes you have to wonder what the hell you're doing here. How old are you?'
'Twenty.' I shot a look at the form in front of him and he stopped to read it this time.
'You're a fashion model?'
'Well, yeah, I ...'
'And you're looking to work part-time to supplement your modelling income?' He'd cut me off with surgical precision, but that wasn't my answer.
'No. I came specifically to hostess. I'd like to work full-time.'
Nathan's head cocked slightly as the edges of his eyes narrowly creased. 'We're open six nights a week, but most girls work five,' he began. 'Let me explain our club's system to you. All our new girls start off on two-thousand yen an hour, which can increase later depending on your ability. Our best girls are on three-thousand to thirty-five-hundred yen plus drinks, which means they can make up to sixty American dollars an hour when it's busy. Working hours are from 9.00 pm to 3.00 am. Drink backs are five-hundred yen for every drink the customer orders you during the night, up to a maximum of twenty-five. That's four or five every hour; most girls can do that easily when it's busy. Drinks do not have to be alcoholic, you can order juice, but it's still fifteen-hundred yen to the customer. We don't pay for requests, which is when a customer asks specifically for you. It's a base hourly wage plus drink backs. Got it?'
I nodded and let him continue.
'We pay three times a month. The 10th, the 25th and the 15th. The 10th is for the second two weeks of the previous month worked, the 25th for the 1st to the 15th. On the 15th we pay you for your drinks. When you come in to work, the girls will explain anything else you need to know but that's the basics of it. I'll give you my card with my number on it. You don't have a phone?' He tapped the space I'd left blank on the form.
'No, not yet. I just got here two days ago.'
'All right, get a phone, then ring this number tomorrow, around seven. I've got a few other interviews tonight and I'll be able to tell you by tomorrow. A lot of girls are coming back from their summer holidays broke and they expect to work here. Give me a call.'
Nathan took out a napkin and pulled a silver pen from his breast pocket. 'I'll give you the names of a couple other clubs you can check out tonight. They work on a different system than us. Some girls do better in a different-style club ... they pay a higher hourly wage, but you're not paid to drink.' He scribbled out Greengrass and Outline. 'Both of these are looking for girls. When you go outside, turn left and go past Velfarre. On the right you'll see Seventh Heaven, it's one of our other clubs, a strip club. Don't worry, I'm not sending you there. There's an elevator past the entryway. Greengrass is on the sixth or seventh floor. Then go check out this one.' He underlined Outline. 'Once you leave Greengrass, you ask the black guy downstairs and he'll tell you how to get there. It's pretty close but I don't know where exactly. I don't get out much. I just come to work and I go home.' He smiled a cool, ironed-on smile. 'I don't hang around.'
'Okay. Good. Thanks for your time, Nathan.'
'No problem. Any questions, call me on the number I gave you. And good luck.'
Nathan ended the conversation with a firm shake of my hand and disappeared.
My black pump drew back as quickly as it hit the pavement. One stride further and it would have been under the tyre of a jet-black Lamborghini Murciélago, so close I could see my reflection in its über-buffed paint job. Its state-of-the-art sound system breathed heavily into the humid night air as it tried to bully its way down the narrow alley like a stallion on a tether. It was a wickedly impressive beast—surely the chariot of choice should the devil come to town—but here its presence was hardly acknowledged.
As twilight fell, neon signs everywhere were awakening from dull and dusty sobering disappointments of the day to scream out 'It's better than ever! as their kaleidoscopic gases seeped into the veins of the city, infecting them with a euphoria that heightened the senses and brought lustre to the underneath.
This was Roppongi. It screamed to be seen. Irashaimase! Komban wa!
Even though I'd never heard of Greengrass, I thought I should check it out, and so in the name of a good backup plan I made a beeline for the corner, where, at the end of a second, darker path, I could see the glowing sign of the strip joint. Deep breaths. Keep your head up and walk towards the light. I dodged erratic taxis and a blacked-out Mercedes-Benz, trying to watch out for potholes in the beams of their headlights. I passed two enormous Pacific Islanders flanking the sweeping red staircase of a towering Yakuza-owned mega-club, and not much further was the entryway to Seventh Heaven, blocked by another bouncer as intimidating as the last pair.
'Hey, hey, hey! Where you going, girlfriend? You lookin' for a job, sweetheart?' He had to be the guy Nathan had mentioned.
'Yeah, sure I am, but not the kind you're thinking of, thanks.'
'What you tellin' me, you not an exotic dancer, honey?' I grimaced as he looked me up and down. 'Crying shame, man, I would be your best customer. You would make a lot of money, I am telling YOU!' He pinched his fingers and gave them a loud smack, like an Italian telling Mama that her spaghetti bolognese was the most succulently delicious in all of Italy. I smiled coldly.
'No, sorry. Not interested.'
'Okay, okay. I understand. Don't worry, girl, I am your friend. You looking for a hostess job, am I right? Okay. That is sweet.' His posture softened as he extended a hand and engulfed mine in it. 'I am Solomon. From Nigeria.' As he nearly dislocated my shoulder, I added his name to a long list of the street hustlers who'd already tried to recruit me that night. Once free, I made towards the elevator.
'Hey, girlfriend!' Solomon shouted after me. 'You ever change your mind, you know, 'bout dancin' in my club, you just come see me!'
That wasn't going to happen any time soon.CHAPTER 2
THE SILENT LAUGHING MAN
Coming out of the elevator on the sixth floor I thought I must have got off at the wrong stop. In front of me were two giant ornate doors plastered with studio shots of some very handsome ladies. Posing seductively in lingerie, they were all smiles, Adam's apples and silicone boobs, with a few manicured man-hands clutching the overflowing breasts of fellow Y-chromosome cohorts. There was certainly no subtlety here. Even the door handles outdid themselves. Of Dionysus like proportions, they were golden penises thicker than you could get your hand around and a foot in height. With disturbed amusement, I turned to the other side of the narrow corridor to see a plain door with a discreet sign next to it: Greengrass. This was the right floor after all.
Inside, I stood in semi-darkness. Eric Clapton played softly in the background. My pupils dilated, and when the room came into focus it was surprisingly small and demure. The walls were hung with prints of tasteful masterpieces and lined with turquoise, deep-buttoned seating. Still, it lacked the grungy feeling of Jack's. Everything was low to the ground, hard-angled and decidedly masculine.
A dozen tables skirted the perimeter of the room, each with round, cushioned stools beside them. There were no windows. At one end, a karaoke machine lay dormant, the wall behind it dominated by a large audio system. It made me distinctly anxious. An unobtrusive bar occupied the opposite side of the room, and it was here that three men in pressed white shirts were sitting. I must have startled them with my unannounced appearance, as they dropped their three cigarettes into an ashtray like schoolboys caught smoking, but when the oldest stood and solemnly gestured for me to approach, the smoking resumed.
I was taller than him, but without heels we were probably the same height. He wore a peculiar black bow tie and his hair was unnaturally shiny, as though freshly sprayed on with aerosol paint. His face was heart-shaped. Kind eyes, tiny mouth, bad skin.
He looked at me expectantly, his hands clasped behind his back.
'Komban wa,' I bowed. 'Nathan from One Eyed Jack sent me to your club. I'd like to find out about working here.'
Nodding, he motioned towards a tiny table between two liquor cabinets filled floor to ceiling with bottle. The absurdly low table was no higher than my knees, and as we sat across from each other I felt like a Girl Scout at a secret powwow. With both hands, he presented his name card. An inscription read 'Nakamura Nishi' beneath three large kanji characters. He was the club's manager.
Normally, hostess clubs are managed by a mama-san, an older woman who is typically an ex-hostess herself. She maintains relationships with the customers, cataloguing their personal preferences while simultaneously presiding over the girls like a mother hen. In the case of Greengrass, however, it appeared that Nishi had been installed as a kind of male mama-san.
I made my introduction and formalities mostly in Japanese, and he smiled without parting his lips until I couldn't think of anything else to say. Finally, he spoke.
'Prease, I am Nishi. Nakamura family name. You speak Japanese berry well.'
Excerpted from 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood. Copyright © 2009 Chelsea Haywood. Excerpted by permission of PEGASUS BOOKS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Chelsea Haywood was born in British Columbia and has traveled as a fashion model since she was sixteen years old, and has been featured in magazines, on catwalks, and television throughout Asia. She splits her time between London and Vancouver.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Having lived in Japan for a few years myself, it was fun transporting there again with this book. Chelsea's adventures as a "gaijin" hostess is exciting and addicting. One will be charmed by the characters she meets as she gets sucked into the crazy underworld of hostessing. You will be in awe and reverence of the old customs, culture, beauty of the land. At the same time, the devil in you will be curious of the dark seedy side and lust over the wealth and glamour of modern Japan. I wanted the pages to magically multiple as the end neared.
Best book ever!!
The author is a terrible writer and the book is so stupid. Not worth the money trust me! The only reason it has a star from me is because i couldnt post this without choosing a star.