by Luke Kariniemi
In class we have been speaking about the advantages and disadvantages of Filipino women migrating to Japan and working there as “hostesses”, the experiences they have, and how Japan as a country deals with the perceived image these hostesses create.
Many Filipino women migrant to Japan to work as a hostess for a variety of reasons. Mainly, they migrate for the large increase in wages compared to what they could receive in their home country. They are paid to entertain male clients, pouring their drinks, offering flirtatious comments, singing karaoke and sometimes dancing. Many of the women enjoy doing this work and often see themselves as professional singers or dancers. The higher wages they receive from doing this can be sent back home to help support their families better than if they had stayed working in their domestic country.
However, there are many downsides to working as a hostess too. As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas says in her book Illicit Flirtations, “sexual harassment is the norm in hostess work”. Hostesses have to bear the harassment for however long the client has paid for. In many cases, this can be seen as male superiority. Men basically pay hostesses to compliment them and to have the ability to choose which girl they want, dismissing the less attractive ones. Essentially, ‘fluffing’ up the men’s ego. This can be soul-destroying for women and many of them would not be able to put up with being so insulted, let alone sexually harassed.
All of these problems can escalate very quickly when it comes to the world of migrant hostesses. Usually, a Filipino women with an ‘entertainer’ visa gets the job as a hostess through a ‘middleman broker’—similar to hiring agencies in western countries, apart from the fact that once they get a job for the woman in a specific club, the woman then ‘owes’ them a debt for doing so. This stops them from quitting their job before the contract with the middleman expires, because they will often be penalised if they do so. This can lead to them doing jobs that they do not want to perform, often including sexual acts, because they cannot quit. Hostesses become vulnerable to human rights violations because they end up depending on their sponsoring employers.
When the U.S. State Department labelled around 80,000 Filipina hostesses as “trafficked persons” in 2004, thinking that they were suffering forced prostitution, the Japanese government imposed new restrictions on the entertainer visa, believing that it would help the women be rid of the ‘hostess’ title. Although it did just that, lowering the number of Filipina hostesses in Japan by 90%, it may not have been for the best after all. When all of these women were sent back to their home country, they also went back to a much lower wage and therefore couldn’t care for their family as they could when working in Japan as a hostess. For a lot of them, their skill sets would only include things that the hostess job involved, and so there’s a chance they would end up going into prostitution which would have been a lot rougher in impoverished countries like the Philippines. Altogether, Japan managed to get rid of the image that other countries perceived it to be concerning the so called “trafficked persons”. Nevertheless, when in fact these women were not being illegally trafficked into Japan, but going through their own free will, the consequences may not be that great after all.