Apr 29, 2019

City tax putting impressionable minds into Japan's fuzoku industry?

City tax putting impressionable minds into Japan's fuzoku industry? photo

One thing that continually surprises me about Japan’s fuzoku industry is just how widespread it appears to be. I mean, you could be in the back-end of nowhere in Japan, surrounded by rice fields, and still happen upon a gaudy neon-lit sign slapped onto the side of what for all the world looks like a regular house offering some randly old git an evening of titillation.

Back home -- rural home -- you’d be hard pushed to find neon outside of anything other than a fish ‘n’ chip shop, let alone a place where you could pay to be flirted with. 

Nope, it appears that a sordid night of wanton misery is available in all corners of Japan, if you’re Japanese I guess.  

Where am I going with this? Well, not in the direction of a virtuous attack on Japan’s fuzoku industry. I don’t know enough about it. I’m not virtuous enough. I’m childish enough that the names of the “establishments” are a constant source of entertainment. And, yes, I am a bit curious about what’s going on inside. 

But not in the case of a new joint that recently opened on the quiet side of the train station from which I commute, here the suburbs of Kanto.

I’m not going to give the name but it appears to be one of those “girls bars,” a kind of sub-genre of the wider host(ess) pubs -- high-concept watering holes where you drink and members of the opposite sex tell you how great you are. These things are inexplicably de rigueur in Japan. In fact I’m not even sure if they qualify as fuzoku.

Tokyo’s Ginza district is perhaps hostess HQ in Japan. I used to teach English to a retired high-ranking officer in Japan’s navy. I don’t know his exact former rank but it was high enough for him to have walked into a seat of power in one of Japan’s engineering giants where he was employed to flog military-grade hardware and other ominous bits of kit. You need English for that, which is why he found himself sat in front of me. All I wanted to talk about though was what went down at these business palm-greasers he would take potential clients to at the hostess clubs of Ginza. Not a lot it seems but behind all the lamé and stilettos the hostesses of Ginza read newspapers so that they can talk to punters about stocks, shares and the geopolitics behind the latest war, apparently.

I doubt the girls at this new place in suburban Kanto could talk about much. I doubt they were even out of a stroller by the time Bush-Blair decided to invade Iraq. I walk past them everyday on my way home and really they look like they should also be at home. Doing homework. It’s still cold of an evening now so their painful-looking heels poke out of those ankle-length coats that P.E. teachers and football team managers wear.

In the warmer evenings they are sometimes dressed in some sort of sailor uniform, or is it just their school uniform. I can’t tell.

The garb changes but their expressions don’t. They look constantly bored. Psychotically bored. Teenager bored. And that’s shocking. That they could be bored, rather than horrified, at the prospect of having to entertain and be fawned over by pissed-up men old enough to be their father, grandfather even, speaks to the depressing banality, the inexplicable mundanity to many Japanese, of this hostess industry.

I paid my city tax recently, hence the timing of this post. The tax is expensive and painful but it’s not the fact that I have to buy city-issued garbage bags that stings. And I’ve little truck with the tired old “no taxation without representation” line wheeled out by foreigners over here in an attempt to make themselves feel better about not paying. No. It’s this hostess shop.

The shop sits above a flower store of all places so the working girls hang street side to appeal to punters pouring home from work. It’s the only establishment of its kind this side of the station.  

The girls don’t bother me. Actually the presence of the shop directly doesn’t bother me that much. I’m not a prude and I’m not snobbish about this sort of thing. What bothers me is that, presumably, the owner of this place had to submit some sort of proposal to someone in the city office for approval, and that someone, whose wages are paid by the city-tax payer, saw fit to approve it. There might even have been some sort of meeting.

I’d like to have been there to see how that conversation went down.

“So this go-getter wants to open up a hostess pub above that flower shop near the station and employ the young, impressionable girls of our city (the girls we should be looking after) to stay out late and entertain drunk, horny men old enough to be their legal guardian. All in favor?!”

Money talks maybe, except that this place never seems to be doing much trade. In fact, I’d bet my next city tax payment that it won’t be around in a year’s time.

Still, this is only the tip of far more sordid and exploitative iceberg, the apparently acceptable face of an industry that is willing to explore lower depths.

It was only in 2017 that the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly passed ordinance to enforce tighter regulations on Japan’s “joshi kosei” or “JK business” that pairs up older men with teenage schoolgirls for, errm, dates. Now said girls have to be 18 years of age or over.

Imagine that? The world’s third largest economy leaving it until as recently as 2017 to decide that it should do something about an industry like this. (Actually, who out there can find this depressingly easy to imagine? I know I can.)

In such a setting as this then the appearance of a girls bar outside of my station would seem to be par for the course. But still, unnamed local city office in suburban Kanto, I can think of far better ways to put our city tax to work.

(Image in the post is not of the establishment in question.  It was taken in Ueno, Tokyo)



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.