TV & Radio
TV draws young Japanese to ancient profession
By Julian Ryall
Tue Jan 10, 6:39 AM ET Reuters/Hollywood Reporter
Once seen as the last resort of desperate young Japanese women, the profession of hostessing has undergone an image makeover, thanks to two TV series that portray the modern-day "willow world," as hostessing is dubbed, as exciting and fun -- as well as a lucrative career choice.
TV Tokyo's "Joou, Queen of the Girls" is titillating late-night viewers with its tales of endless Champagne, expensive cars and a lifestyle that few can dream of, picking up in October where "Dangerous Sister" left off the previous month on Fuji TV.
And while it is the deep pockets of the patrons that is attracting the female viewers, males are tuning in for the weekly dose of nudity the show provides.
"There are definitely a lot more young women who don't fit the usual image of hostesses coming into our club at the end of the day," says Johnny Kumagai, a male host who works at Club Ai in Tokyo's Kabukicho district -- a favorite haunt of off-duty hostesses. "Many of them are very well-educated and from good middle-class backgrounds, but they seem very excited to be doing that line of work."
A scout for some of the city's clubs notes that part-time workers and female university students are flocking to apply for jobs as nightclub hostesses in places like Roppongi, Ginza and Ueno, three of Tokyo's busiest entertainment districts.
"It is almost becoming 'fashionable' to be a hostess," says Miyuki, a former bar hostess from Yokohama who did not offer her full name. "I worked in a bar, pouring drinks, singing karaoke and talking to customers, for about two years, and I found it quite interesting."
But Miyuki warns young women contemplating making a career of it to consider the downside.
"Yes, some parts of the shows are true to life, but mostly the story lines have been dreamed up for TV," she says. "I'm not saying it's a bad job to do for a while, but it's not the best career a woman can have."
In the same way as their geisha predecessors entertained men, Japan's hostesses earn about YEN5,000 ($50) an hour making small talk with weary salarymen at the end of the working day, keeping their whisky glasses full and lighting their cigarettes. The other job requirement is to be able to fend off the wandering hands of inebriated customers.
Young women want to follow in the fictional footsteps of "Joou, Queen of the Girls"' Aya Fujisaki, played by Hiromi Kitazawa, whose comfortable life at a top university is shattered when her father's company goes bankrupt. To repay his debts and remain a student, she takes an evening job in a bar and sets her sights on becoming the top hostess.
TV Tokyo spokesman Yuri Kuniyasu says, "We believe it is proving popular because of the story line, the setting and scenes that are probably more sexy than those usually shown on television here."
The 40-minute show starts shortly after midnight on Saturday mornings, and in its early weeks was attracting about 912,000 households. It now regularly tops 1 million. "Dangerous Sister" fared even better, with a peak viewing figure of 3.58 million households.
Some fear the impact on the nation's morals is deep.
"Young people are often very easily influenced by what they see on TV, and this may very well turn out to be just a brief flirtation with the job," says Makoto Watanabe, a lecturer in media and communications at Hokkaido University. "Hopefully, they will see enough of the unpleasant side to convince them to look for something better pretty quickly."