Friday, July 31, 2009

Hostess-san with the Mostest-san

I was completely intrigued by a recent NY Times story on Japan's hostessing profession.

Hostesses work in gentlemen's clubs, where they serve drinks, bat their eyes, make non-sexual nice, and in general pay all sorts of fawning attention on their customers - all for a pretty penny. (Pretty yenny?)

Hostesses - mostly young women whose lack of education, and general lack of opportunities, lands them in low-paid, dead-end jobs, but increasingly women who might have other opportunities, but now regard hostessing as a desirable, even glamorous, profession - can make $16 an hour or $16K per month, depending on their popularity and the caliber of the establishment where they work. Even the low end is more than most of them could make elsewhere.

Fawning over men has never been my cup of saki, but if a working girl can make $200K a year without being a working girl, why not?

Especially with a major recession on, the old view of hostessing as a non-respectable, one step remove from prostitution has fallen. The profession is now seen as a legitimate one.

In a 2009 survey of 1,154 high school girls, by the Culture Studies Institute in Tokyo, hostessing ranked No. 12 out of the 40 most popular professions, ahead of public servant (18) and nurse (22).

I have no idea whether the Culture Studies Institute is the equivalent of Boston Latin (i.e., an elite academic school) or Inner City High with gangs roving the halls and a drop out rate of 80%. But in either case, it's interesting that hostess surpasses public servant (bor-ing) and nurse (ewwwwww) in popularity.

But why not?

There's not just the big bucks to be earned. There's the fact that hostessing is seen as a gateway profession.

Yes, I'm sure that the gates swing in both directions, and that some of them move into touchy-feely fee-based services for gentlemen.

But some of the hostesses have attained star status. One ex-hostess has been elected to the Japanese Parliament. Some are working their way through college, or saving to start their own business. As one young woman observed, this is a profession for the young.  And there have been true "breakout" hostesses:

Young women are drawn nonetheless to Cinderella stories like that of Eri Momoka, a single mother who became a hostess and worked her way out of penury to start a TV career and her own line of clothing and accessories.

“I often get fan mail from young girls in elementary school who say they want to be like me,” said Ms. Momoka, 27, interviewed in her trademark seven-inch heels. “To a little girl, a hostess is like a modern-day princess.”

Well, those seven-inch heels may scream 'modern day princess', but I generally think of a princess as the pampered, not the pamper-ee.  And I'm betting that the average Japanese businessman falls a bit short of the standard definition of Prince Charming. Still, the hostesses do get to wear fancy dresses - if not puffy pink ballgowns. And, unlike geisha, they don't have to paint their faces white, play the shamisen, and live in a geisha house. (Okay, I admit, I had to look that shamisen thing up: it's three-stringed instrument that looks sort of like a tiny banjo with an elongated neck.)

Princess of no, hostessing is taking off:

Popular culture is also fueling hostessing’s popularity. TV sitcoms are starting to depict cabaret hostesses as women building successful careers. Hostesses are also writing best-selling books, be they on money management or the art of conversation.

A magazine that features hostess fashion has become wildly popular with women outside the trade, who mimic the heavily made-up eyes and big, coiffed hair.

According to the hostesses, who often end up doing all night par-taying with their customers, the biggest downside is the all night par-taying: drinking too much, smoking too much.

“It’s nice to be independent, but it’s very stressful,”[Serina]Hoshino said, speaking through a cloud of hair spray and cigarette smoke.

Drinking, smoking, hair spray, seven inch heels, all-nighters, and pretending that every word that falls from the lips of a drunken businessman is just fascinating. Talk about a profession that won't age well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Sounds just like the wifeys in Mad Men:)