Hostess workers in Japan – illegal sex work or deserving a visa?

Hostess bars and clubs in Tokyo’s Kabuki-cho

by Kyle Waylyszyn

The women who work as hostess workers work just like you and me, but their jobs come with a heavy stigma that surrounds their line of work. When you hear “hostess worker” or hear about them, they are never portrayed in a very positive light. The job description of a hostess, if you don’t know, is to entertain their male customers by doing things like talking, drinking, dancing and other things. Of course, there are some places that offer services greater than what the majority will not do, which is more sexual in nature, but this isn’t the norm.

Sociologist Rhacel Parreñas

The norm is that these women choose to take these jobs of their own free will, although sometimes out of necessity when giving the choice to either stay in their home country and make a far less salary or work as a hostess. Rhacel Parreñas has conducted firsthand research about this topic, and Parreñas says “No one lied to them and explicitly told them that they would only be singing and dancing on stage.” “They were quite adamant,” Parreñas says, “that they weren’t prostitutes.” Rather, she describes the work of hostessing as “commercial flirtation” through which women work to “bolster the masculinity” of their customers. They typically make money for the club owners to whom their labor is contracted by selling men drinks, not sexual acts.”

Even though that these women took these jobs of their own accord, the Japanese government was not pleased with being ranked the highest employers of “sex trade” workers as they were publicized as. In 2004, the Japanese government began changed the visa laws and enforced stricter requirements for the entertainers visa. This caused these women to lose the valuable income need to support their families, but the important numbers the government seen was that the hostess workers dropped down to only approximately 8,607 in 2006 from the 2004 statistic of 82,741 workers.

In light of the action things that go on and the willingness of these women should there be an entertainer’s visa specifically for hostess workers? These women have a right to make a living just like every other human on this planet, so why can’t they work as a hostess legally in a country that seems to have a demand for it? The morality of these jobs maybe the most prominent reason seeing as it doesn’t just involve the person that attends these places, but also the country that allows such unmoral and socially awkward things to happen as a legal business. Think about it would you choose a country to visit that just legalized commercial flirtation, if the stigma that everyone truly though about it was that it is actually houses of ill repute?

Reference

Parreñas, Rhacel. The ‘indentured mobility’ of migrant Filipina hostesses  http://gender.stanford.edu/news/2011/‘indentured-mobility’-migrant-filipina-hostesses

The Consequences of Being a Migrant Hostess in Japan

English: Host and hostess clubs in Ginza (Plac...

English: Host and hostess clubs in Ginza (Place – Ginza-7-Chōme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Do as the Romans Do, Turn the Other Way My Dear We are in The East

by Sarah Aartila

From the many mangas about the pure girl, if she were judged according to western philosophy on the case of chastity she would be described as a ‘slut’. The Western philosophy praises individualism, straightforwardness and linear logic, unlike Eastern philosophy which believes in a circular logic with both sides given equal due, and collectivism which sees what is best for the group as a whole. It is true that trafficking is an issue, but what can be done when poor countries have an ever increasing population and a shrinking of available jobs?

Throughout the world women have been and still are considered second class citizens whose only worth is to be a commodity. From the dagongmei in China who toil away to make home better in the factory via honest work, to the foreign hostesses of Japan who freely or sometimes unwillingly offer extra services. These women have freely left home and while many do it for individualistic reasons, most still send money home. Not all hostesses are trafficked nor are all of them illegal aliens (Parreñas 2011). The returning migrant worker comes home a hero. They are pressured like peers by the bar into getting requests. Requests come via promised sex. Some are forced yet they are not the majority like Noini who was forced into prostitution, yet Noini returned again for hostess work. According to Noini:

“We return from Japan with lots of presents and (are) well-dressed. We are the dream of any girl who wants to help her family. I could never tell a Filipino what I told you. They would consider me the lowest possible person in the world. I could not face that. Everyone here pretends” (Schmetzer 1991).

These women sacrifice themselves for the greater good of making the lives of their families at home better. To them being a hostess is better than being a nanny in a middle eastern country where they have a greater potential to be beaten. The salary of £30 an hour offers more buying power than a professional job (Quinn 2012). Besides such pay is fuelled by the many companies who pick up the tab for their salarymen. Many claim that the reason for such clubs is due to Japanese males who fear rejection from Japanese women and that Japanese men look down on all other asians. Also many Japanese people do not like the idea of Filipino women taking care of their elderly. Besides these views justify the right of these men to harass women on the job.

In order to improve the lives of these workers laws Parreñas suggests that laws should be created to protect such women from sexual harassment. These women shouldn’t even be considered as migrant workers, but rather as contract workers or indentured servants as many now can’t enter without the rigorous training required of those entering with an entertainment visa. What was originally intended to eliminate trafficking; the strict regulations for an entertainment visa has caused more to become contract workers. Perhaps the West is meddling too far into the East, trying to press Western morality into an Eastern mindset.

In the end these women are faring way better than their at home counterparts and are helping their country. No one may feel proud about such work as they keep it a secret from home, but even with the Western morality that has been pressed onto the Philippines Eastern morality still seems to prevail overall.

References

Schmetzer, U. (1991, November 20). Filipina Girls Awaken To A Nightmare. Chicago Tribune, 1-2. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1991-11-20/news/9104150088_1_recruiter-japan-filipina/2

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2011. Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Quinn, S. (2012, September 10). The grim truth about life as a Japanese hostess. The Telegraph. Retrieved October 28, 2014, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9524899/The-grim-truth-about-life-as-a-Japanese-hostess.html