Friday, October 31, 2008

The demise of Roses

I really didn't mean to leave everyone in suspense after my last post on Project Host. I can assure you it won't happen again, as I wouldn't ever use the word "suspenseful" to describe my everyday. Naive and unthinking Geisha that I am, I just couldn't wait to tell the beau about how I had made friends with Roses. This. did. not. go. down. well.

And I should have known better, as I would shit a brick if the beau decided to start trading emails with a hostess or kyaba-jyo. Oh wait, I have! When we were first dating one of his rich and balding customers took him and some guy who works for him to a kyaba kura (cabaret club) where they pretended to be the presidents of their own companies. A couple days later one of the bitches, I mean girls from the club, emailed him asking for money. Apparently a "talent" scout had loaned her money and if she didn't get it back to him by the end of the month he was going to put her in an AV (adult video). So what does she do? She emails the beau for monetary support.

But I digress. The beau being in the water trade himself knows a fair bit about the business and told me that not only did I have no idea what I was doing, but that he could tell me exactly what Roses would email me next. Basically I was letting myself get played, despite knowing that was what the game is all about. I lost sight of the fact that hosts do not make friends with their customers. It's more insidious than that. They email their customers (which is what all the bored-looking hosts lounging around at the club last week were doing) and actually go out on dates with them. Not just dinner dates, dates dates. Once they've secured the woman's feelings, they get them back to the club as customers, and out comes the expensive bottle of brandy or a champagne call. After Roses' date list email, I should have realized there were not going to be any fun nights out with a group of friends and the next step would have to be a date.

The beau perused Roses' emails and proclaimed him a hack and not very smooth. Apparently if he had been smooth, he would have mentioned a really nice restaurant to get me interested. In a later email he would tell me that he had managed to get us a reservation and that he would treat me. He would treat me and it would all be downhill from there. I felt like a silly little girl after the beau set me straight. I made the fatal mistake of thinking that somehow my gaijiness would be the ticket to making friends with these hosts. There is no ticket to making friends with them I suspect, short of meeting them outside of the club. That is how good they are and I think I understand now why so many women here get roped in. Every woman thinks they are different, that this time the host does want to be their boyfriend (or friend). So they go on enough dates to "fall" for the guy, and then he invites them back to the club. I won't pretend that I'm not disappointed. I'm mad at myself for my grandiose plans of becoming chums and having heart-to-hearts on the state of male-female relations in Tokyo.

Readers, I assure you if I was a single gal or with a guy I wanted to flick, I would have gone the distance for you. For the sake of Project Host research I would truly have become a participant-observer as they say in anthropology, probably going further than I should and attempting to shed light on the myths surrounding hosts-customer relationships. After being schooled by the beau however, I realized that I had taken this as far as I could without going on a simu-date with Roses. This doesn't mean I won't be going back to Club Love, because I will, and I will find out what it is like to become a return customer. But I will not be receiving any more lists of possible dates from Roses. I didn't reply to his list.

The next day I got another email from him asking if he shouldn't have emailed so late the previous evening and encouraging me to tell him if there were any other things he shouldn't do. The he said that if I had any ideas for our date (he used this word) I should tell him. This was followed by some heart marks and a Let's meet soon when our schedules allow. And with that, he said he was off to work. I resolved not to email him again, as it wouldn't do any good. But that went out the window earlier this evening when I got off work.

It's the little things...

that remind me Tokyo isn't such a cold place after all. There is a French bakery I frequent when the Kaisha's got me down and I'm in need of a cheesy carb fix. I haven't been going so often as of late, but when I used to go all the time I started to notice how the girls working there would remember me, but not necessarily in a good way. They would give me these knowing smiles, like Oh whitie's back for more! And one of them was just a lazy ass who couldn't be bothered thanking me sometimes, which is practically unheard of here. Then today when Miss No-thank-you served me, she looked up and asked me if I'd cut my hair and commented on how nice it looked. Straight out of nowhere! From a girl I thought detested me and my cheesy carb habits. This kind of exchange also comes as a surprise to me in a place where there is usually no unnecessary chit chat between customers and clerks. Not even at Starfucks! Not even from the conbini clerk you see at least once every day. It's really these little moments that keep me from turning completely black inside.

In other news, we had another donut day at work this week. That's right, 1500 donuts all for our pie-hole pleasure. One of my co-workers and I scooted into the room that held the mountainous nuts of dough as soon as the announcement came round, and just as I was beginning to enjoy my little nugget of joy I heard girlish screams and exclamations and surprise surprise the secretaries had arrived. Is it possible for them to do anything in a vaguely adult and dignified way? All evidence points to the contrary. A few minutes in and it was like a school dance with the secretaries on one side of the room and the men (and myself) on the other. I finished my donut and promptly got out of there, spurred on by the spectacle of the secretaries all putting on Santa hats and taking a video. And before you ask, no I have absolutely no fucking clue as to why they would put on Santa hats while eating donuts in October. The icing on my donut was when walking down the hall later, I passed a secretary station just in time to hear one of them say to the other two, "there were gaijin eating donuts".

Please do it at a pub

Who else thinks it is highly suspect that this "please do not make a commotion on the train" manner poster for November was conveniently unveiled today on Halloween? I have heard throughout the week that the attempted Yamanote Halloween train last weekend was a bust and there are also rumours circulating that the real one is either tonight or tomorrow night. After last year's debacle perhaps the Metro Suits are worried we might move the party underground, so to speak. I mean really, how many "commotions" have you seen on the train here? I've seen the run-of-the-mill loud salarymen groups and the high school students who take up half the carriage but apart from the odd lone salaryman enjoying a brewsky and a bag of smelly dried fish, I have never seen groups of people using the train as a bar (or "pub" as they say).

Again, creepy sweepy is on the outside looking in. Are they trying to foreshadow something here? Is the last manner poster going to urge passengers not to employ trains in their own suicides? Was that inappropriate of me to say? Well I think the faces on the train revellers above are inappropriate, who can tell whether they are nose less or faceless? And that woman on the far left is sporting a hitler moustache if I ever saw one! Ultimately though, Tokyo Metro needs to take a look around because I see a lot of commotion outside on the mean streets of Tokyo, particularly in salaryman hot spots like Shinbashi. Since when has causing a drunken commotion in Japan been limited to "pubs"? Oh well. If anyone would like to join me, I am considering setting up a photo series imitating each and every manner poster thus far-I think it could be very camp.

Before I wrote this I quickly googled the poster to see if there was anything else written on November's suggested manner and I found this fantastic spoof, which is much more visually effective don't you think? Geisha, Interrupted also had some fantastic ideas for keeping the pervs in check and her photos never cease to amuse me. Let's hope December's poster is also related to current events or at least Christmas-themed! ("Let's do it on the ferris-wheel in Odaiba" with a picture of a young couple making out after exchanging ridiculously expensive gifts??)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

If I were a host, where would I go?

After I posted my last update on Project Host, Roses emailed me at 2 in the morning. After apologizing for the late reply because the club had been busy that night and he had gotten "quite drunk", he said he was so happy that I had time to meet up. The he listed (as in with numbers) his initial ideas for what we could do. Drum roll please...

1. A walk in Shinjuku gyoen park [ah, we can inhale the smell of autumn leaves together]
2. A hike up Mt. Takao, a World Heritage Site [is it just me or are we getting higher in level of difficulty?!]
3. If it's next month, watching Red Cliff at the theatre [He expects me to watch it with Japanese subtitles?!]

Roses then assured me that the above list was just a few ideas, he has many more, and ever the gentleman, urged me to tell him if I had any desires. Obviously my idea of a non-date thing has gone by the wayside, as has the existence of the beau. The above are a shining example of classic date ideas in Tokyo. In fact, if I took a peek at one of the many dating guide magazines here, they would be at the top of the list. Later that night a katana got thrown in the works of Project Host (which I shall later elaborate on) and I suspended contact. Roses however, has not, and I received another interesting email last night...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Host project

Just a quick note to update those of you following the chain of events, my host project is coming along, although perhaps not as expected. The second host who has my number called me tonight and I neglected to pick up-I wonder if he is just trying to get my keitai address too and can't simply get it from Roses, some kind of host code of honour?

After telling me by email last night that from now on he would "email me sometimes", Roses emailed me tonight and asked when I was free to go out with him. No mention of the club and he specified "somewhere". I replied a few hours later with a non-committal, Sure I have time, and I have yet to hear further from him. Maybe I'm not being preened for a regular customer position but that of a friend!

Geisha party

Last weekend saw another kind of paid entertainment, but this time it was at the hands of geisha. A geisha I know was in a good mood a few weeks back and offered me two places at a ryotei party last weekend. By offered I mean she foot the bill which was probably in the ballpark of 30,000-40,000 yen per person. Maybe more, who knows when it comes to lavish geisha parties! This particular party was held at a ryotei that is over fifty years old and was in honour of one particular geisha, whom I had met once or twice before that night. Due to the nature of the celebration, the party took place in the ryotei's largest room, which held around 30 guests and 8 or 9 geisha.

Other Whitie and I arrived a few minutes before the appointed time and were led up a couple flights of slippery wooden stairs to the zashiki room. When the ryotei employee opened the sliding doors we were faced with a spacious tatami room, three of its sides lined with low tables and already seated guests, with the front of the room open for the dancing and games to take place later. We were immediately plied with alcohol and the old man across from us immediately engaged us in pleasant conversation. From there the geisha who were performing came out and plied the guests with more alcohol while the ryotei staff started to bring around the first few courses that made up our kaiseki meal. By the end of the evening we had received so many courses on small dishes and in covered bowls that I couldn't keep track of how many there were.

Needless to say, when Other Whitie and I first entered the room there was a lot of who-are-they stares but by the end of the evening, the other guests were yelling out Geisha-chan and Whitie-chan from across the room at us. Definitely a good sign. Halfway through the meal, four of the geisha in full regalia (elaborate wig, white face, long kimono for dancing) gave a performance of several short dances. I have been wanting to learn Japanese dance for several years now and I think last weekend's performance sealed the deal for me. The style of dance is so controlled and calculating but I just love watching it and I particularly love the subtle head movements and eye expressions that we could pick up on from sitting so close. After some post-dance imbibing the geisha rallied the guests and we played a couple games often employed when geisha entertain, simple and silly games usually with accompanying ditties, that by the end, had one drunk middle-aged man slapping another on the ass. A smashing success if you ask me.

No sooner had the games finished with the losers taking shots of sake, then we were doing the sanbon jime clapping phenomenon that is the end of all parties. Those three hours whisked by faster than the trailing hem of a dancing geisha's kimono. How's that for a cheesy metaphor? We walked out into the nippy air and I felt exhilarated. Other Whitie and I had been a success at our very first geisha party, a chance event that not even the majority of Japanese people get the opportunity to attend. Funnily enough, the geisha who had invited me took me aside later that night because she wanted to make sure that Other Whitie and I had fared OK and weren't off-put by the old man who had taken up most of our time that evening. A true hostess with the mostess.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Best enjoyed at 22 degrees

I'm not much for reviewing food but once in a while the urge strikes. It struck a couple days ago when I saw an ad on TV for Dars chocolate, some of the tastiest stuff in Tokyo. I've been hip to Dars for several years now, but as a re-marketing ploy they have released the little trays of chocolates with a temperature indicator on the front, which recommends that the chocolate be eaten at around 22 degrees, or when the heat-sensitive circle turns pink. I think the website says it best: "Mouth-melting is 22 degrees C".
So after seeing the commercial I just had to go out and buy myself a tray (I would say bar but well, in the spirit of being accurate I shall use tray). In the konbini the circle was slightly dark, indicating it wasn't yet at optimal temperature. Once I got outside though and watched it expectantly (kind of like a home pregnancy test!), it turned a rosy shade of pink and after confirming that the shade matched the colour key indicating 22 degrees, I ripped that sucker open and mouth-melting delight!! I suppose that before this temperature sticker we could have surmised that the chocolate was too hard after trying a piece, but now we can increase the efficiency of our consumption by only eating the chocolate once it has reached 22 degrees. I'll say it again, mouth-melting delight!!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

String me along

As I mentioned in my Host Report, the two hosts who have my number had each called. They continued to call throughout the weekend and on Saturday night I finally called them back, letting it ring long enough to matter and hanging up before they could pick up. The truth is, I wasn't really sure if I wanted to see where this thing goes, or whether it would be wise to keep up appearances in case I ever return to the club. After encouragement from my two consorts Cowgirl and Other Whitie, I have decided to see where this goes. Which is why I answered the phone today when the host who gave me the roses called (let's call him Roses). He thanked me for coming the other night and asked if now was an OK time to talk. I then made excuses for not picking up his calls over the last few days and after some more chit chat he said we should go hang out or see a movie sometime, as he wanted to get to know me. I quickly said, Yes let's be friends! because that is something you can say in Japanese without sounding like a certifiable loser. While I was offering the promise of friendship, he was finishing his sentence with, And become your boyfriend.

After I countered this, reminding him that I have a boyfriend, he asked if we were rabu rabu (love love), which is a fantastic Japanese onomatopoeia word that is used to describe people in love. I first learned this while visiting a junior high school here when I was in high school, when upon telling girls that I had a boyfriend they started shrieking and asking me, rabu rabu? while holding up their hands to form a heart shape. So I told Roses that we were in fact, rabu rabu and he said that it would be nice to be friends too. The call ended with me promising to email him so he would know my keitai address.

When I had decided to pick up when Roses called, I had a couple things in mind: 1) if he was calling to ask me back to the club I could research what it is like to become a regular patroness of the Host Club or 2) if he was calling to hang out, I could become friends with a slew of hosts and learn many-a-thing. On par with Cowgirl's suggestion, I have decided to start a host club tour, reviewing each one I visit and rating them with a unique and patented rating system. Of course Cowgirl and Other Whitie will join me in awarding points, and they are some discriminating ladies. I'm not sure how often this will take place but I will strive for excellence I promise!! So after my call with Roses I started giddily thinking about 2) and planning all sorts of activities for my new host BFF. And then it hit me. I'm being strung along! This is part and parcel of the chain of events relating to 1). First the host starts calling you and pretending he wants to see you without any mention of a return visit to his club, and then when you finally say yes, he will ask you to come to the club and you will be too smitten to resist! I am such a rookie I can't believe I thought for a minute that he wanted to hang out sans club. Either way, if he does want to hang out (for free) or if I have made a rookie mistake, the journey will be interesting and you can rest assured it will be recorded here.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I heart Kabukicho

I would just like to start by saying there's nothing wrong with paying for it!!! Thanks to my two fabulous consorts and our 14 new BFFs in Kabukicho, I had the best birthday a girl could ask for. What follows dear readers, are the details of our adventures among the dark streets of Kabuki town.

The three of us set out skirted and patent-heeled from Shinjuku station's east exit for some pre-drinks and food to line our stomachs for the imbibing to take place later. We ended up at Cushion de Asia, a soothing and soft wonderland of gauzy white curtains, plush carpet and cushions that serves "Italian Ethnic" food, which we learned means European food with some selections from Southeast Asian cuisine. Some carbs and two pink grapefruit sours later we were on our way, clear plastic umbrellas held high.

What a difference from my recon work! Primped and polished, the men working the street knew we were customers and vied to get our attention. One guy came up to me and asked what we were looking for. Hosts! I replied and he moved away. I guess he was selling something else that night. After an African guy asked me if I was a virgin and some more walking we came upon Club Love, with its show lights and light boards featuring glossy head shots of the hosts in descending order from the top ranking three. There was no one around and the long jewelled staircase leading to mirrors and more lights was empty. When we arrived at the bottom there was a reception window to the side and no questions asked, we were instantly whisked to a table amid a cacophony of chandeliers, sparkle and glitz. The interior of the club was truly amazing and felt like an exclusive carnival. Before we could finish wiping our hands with the hot towels 7 hosts swarmed our table and served up a bottle of shochu that was then mixed with mineral water and served to everyone.

We launched into conversation which was almost non-stop for the entire two hours we were there. I had read some reviews of host clubs online and many of the women had said they were relieved the clubs were much tamer than they had imagined, with no touching or dirty talk. So imagine my surprise when we immediately launched into a discussion of my dirty pillows, which set a tone where the rest of the night the word "penis" was the buzzword and we bantered back in forth with sexy innuendos and double entendres. The only real break came an hour in when it was time for the hosts to change and we got a whole new set of 7 at the table with us. Before departing the first group said that we could request anyone we fancied by name and they would come back to the table for free (requesting hosts by name usually carries a fee in subsequent visits). There were several in the first group I would have liked to stay but not knowing what we were doing, we didn't end up requesting anyone.

It was so interesting to watch how different the hosts were. We had hosts at our table from their early twenties until their mid thirties, and it was clear which were more experienced than others by where they sat, how they ran the conversation and how the other hosts acted in relation to them. I know this particular club has a huge range of hosts both in looks and age (the oldest is in his sixties), and both times that we received a new group of hosts at our table, I remember thinking how different they all were (and there were some real hotties!). The service was flawless and I understand now why they get paid the big bucks. There wasn't just seamless refilling of drinks, lighting of cigarettes and wiping of glass condensation, but despite my earlier misgivings about going to the club as a group of three gaijin with varying levels of Japanese, the hosts were true professionals in keeping up the conversation and I noticed them switching seats at several points to arrange the hosts in a fashion in which none of us was left without conversation.

The hosts told us that gaijin hardly ever go there, but luckily the conversation wasn't saturated with the typical Japan/overseas comparison that arises in so many first conversations with Japanese people. Except for some key important topics surrounding sex, Japanese men and Japanese women. Some of the comments made by the the hosts belied things I've heard other (by this I mean non-paid) Japanese men say and I have to assume that much of what we discussed last night wouldn't have been brought up with Japanese female customers. Which made me think that maybe the hosts had a good time too, and several of them assured us they did. But you see that? I am already falling into the trap of believing the well-practiced words of complimenting pretty boys. It was hard not to, even for the skeptic in me and I now (shock horror) understand some of the reasons women give for going to host clubs.

My favourite from the evening was a host in his early thirties who was a scrumptious mix of Johnny Depp and Kimura Takuya. Upon hearing it was my birthday, he went out and bought me half a dozen red roses, which for a moment I actually worried would be added to our bill! When I looked through my purse this morning I found a thick stack of business cards and coasters with the hosts' names and numbers scrawled on them. The business cards were the best though, some with model-like pictures of the host pouting for the camera and others with hologram backgrounds. When asked by a couple of the hosts for my number and email address, I tried to tactfully get out of it, but by the end of the night I managed to get pressured into giving two of them my number. How can you say I don't give out my number when a smooth-talking host is telling you to put his phone number in your phone and call him so that he has yours? I've already received calls from both of them but haven't answered. As tempted (and I am very tempted) as I am to pick up and see what they say (research purposes of course), I will not let myself fall prey, as so many Japanese women before me have, to the flattery of pretty boys. For the record, when I say pretty boys I'm not implying that they are all effeminate, quite the opposite in fact. I just like saying pretty boys.

Something that did come up several times was the existence of the host club. Most of our companions were of the opinion that the reason there are host clubs in Japan and not Overseas, is that us Foreign ladies are used to "ladies first" and don't need to pay for it while our Japanese sisters would like to get used to it but often find it lacking in their lives. Thus, the birth of the host club-a place where women can go to feel good about themselves. Perhaps it is a circular argument, but aren't host and hostess clubs further perpetuating this apparent gulf between men and women here? How will men and women in Japan find the kind of intimacy, sweetness and respect they are looking for in a relationship when they can pay for a flawless version of it elsewhere? Instead of trying to fix things with their partners, people in Japan accept they are not getting it at home or forgo a partner altogether, and pay for companionship of some kind. I feel so lucky to have the closeness the beau and I have but I was still a total sucker for those dirty-talking boys last night.

These clubs really do create a fantasy land for women. I've had some interesting conversations with Japanese guys before but last night was unbridled freedom in what I said and what was said and it was an exhilarating feeling. Despite my firm resolve not to answer my phone if the hosts call again, there is of course a small part of me that would like to think they are calling because they had a good time with us last night and want to be friends or hang out. It's all part of the game though isn't it, and it goes to show how very good they are at what they do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Geisha's acting debut 2

Unfortunately it looks like the Kaisha is not going to be including any of my suggested skits in the program for our Christmas party this year, but in an unexpected and unprecedented show of love for me, the Kaisha has asked me to participate in the festivities. Unfortunately I cannot reveal any concrete details yet, but I will be narrating the video for this year's party in which it has been confirmed that at least four Professionals will be cross-dressing. Not only that but this is a major production including professional video editing services and the rental of hotel rooms and other locations for the 10-minute film. The team producing the video will also be renting costumes from some transvestites in town, to ensure they will fit the male Professionals. I am so excited I could pop!

In other breaking Kaisha news, I just heard my first Secretary peeing. I can't believe I am saying this on my blog but if you've read earlier posts you know that letting other people hear you pee at the Kaisha is a big No No. I've heard Secretaries start to pee and then upon realizing that someone else was in the bathroom quickly turn on the Sound Princess, but this was out and out, she knew I was there too, proud peeing. Or maybe she was trying to conserve energy? I'll bet that if we all stopped our maniacal use of the Sound Princesses, we could cut down on our use of electricity. I can just imagine the email now: Dear Secretaries and other as-good-as-nonexistent non-Secretary females, In our efforts to conserve energy and save the planet, we kindly ask that you refrain from using the Sound Princess function in the lavatories from now on. We understand that this contradicts everything you have ever learned but we ask for your cooperation and understanding. Corporate love, The Kaisha.

Really, I can't believe I was privy to such a sound! The decorum around this place is really going down the tubes, what's next? going a whole day without retouching our make-up?!

Bright lights, Kabuki city

歌舞伎町 I took a little trip down to Kabukicho last night to do some recon work. No, unfortunately not because I am planning to quit my day job as a corporate whore and become one of the boats in the water trade, but because I am going back there as a customer. That's right, this week is birthday week at casa Geisha and to show my dedication to this blog and my small niche of readers, I am going to a host club. How does this show my dedication? you may ask. Well, how does a post about my first time at a host club sound? It's going to be a carousel ride, I assure you.

So back to the recon work. I was supposed to be going with back-up, which cancelled, so I ventured there alone. Before going I had checked a couple host club information websites, which listed all the clubs in Kabukicho and included a rating system for the top hosts and an area for women to give feedback and comments on their experiences. I know people always say that Kabukicho is dangerous and seedy but I have to say, I felt right at home among the men with pointy shoes, blinding lights and menus of girls from which you can take your pick. About five minutes in and a guessed left turn, I struck host club gold. Gaudy lights and billboards showcasing the clubs' top hosts adorned the streets. I was even offered a flier by a cute host, which I immediately regretted not accepting.

As I picked my way back to Shinjuku station I couldn't help feeling how cheap and empty the area felt, like false front houses from Little House on the Prairie. It still never ceases to amaze me how integrated "night businesses" are into the collective conscious here. Not necessarily accepted by all, but viewed as a whole with some degree of normalcy. The other night the beau had to go to a hostess club with a customer, and by had, I mean this guy is a bit scary and the beau was definitely not in a position to say no. It doesn't happen often but when it does I have been trying very hard to understand the various aspects of having to go, despite not having grown up in an environment where it's common for men to pay for the company of women. Of course it's not just the company they are paying for (I am not referring to sex), but I will not go into that here. Suffice to say, it was interesting walking around Kabukicho and thinking that just the other night, the beau was there, up high in one of the top clubs in the area.

I'm not sure what passersby thought when they saw me wandering around last night-can locals here discern between tourists and residents as I think most foreign residents can? Most mornings on my way to work you would think I was bleeding out of my belly button given all the looks I get. It's gotten to the point where I am constantly checking my outfit to see if there is a peep hole or stain that is causing people to stare so. Last night in my work outfit of skirt and heels, I got a slight prosti vibe in some of the stares received but for the most part, I was left alone. I think the stares and reactions are less and less about location these days, considering I got a hearty suteki da naaa from a local pimping ojichan by my apartment the other day. My apartment that is not in Kabukicho.

On a quick side note, when first learning Japanese has anyone ever thought they were hearing the word for "steak" instead of suteki? Suteki, which can mean cool, lovely, pretty, great, etc., is one long vowel sound away from suteeki, which is "steak" in Japanese. When I was learning Japanese at university here I didn't know what the former meant and couldn't understand why Japanese people were always working talk of steak into the conversation! Lesson learned and I can safely say the ojichan was not talking about steak.

I made it back to Shinjuku station unscathed and with a good idea of where to go. I didn't however, run across the Hot Male Box, where I once ventured as a student as the sign from afar looks exactly like the HMV logo. Go figure. For now, stay tuned dear readers, for the highly-anticipated sequel in which I shall describe in gory detail, my night out at a host club.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I have reason to believe...

that my secretary went away for a few days last week without telling me and then shorted me on the omiyage! When I went to ask her something yesterday she was performing an unmistakable omiyage handover to another secretary. Then she had the nerve to act blase as if I hadn't seen the deal go down! I guess a big moose plush toy doesn't get you more than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick around here. The omiyage war has been waged!!! How am I going to explain to the beau that we need to go somewhere just so I can bring back some omiyage?!

She clutched the mannequin for dear life

I'm back at kimono school! Despite still not having done my sewing assignment to fix a collar on one of my under-layers, I braved the school's headmistress making yet another off-hand comment about how I don't engage in the domestic art of sewing. Having completed their first course, I am now learning how to dress others in kimono, which is a whole other boru game.

We don't practice on people, but on tiny mannequins who live at the school. I say tiny because they are practically child-sized and about a head shorter than I. Which means that when I am tying the cords and strings that go into holding it all together, I have to kneel on the ground. And then I have to get up without using my hands. Legs swaddled in kimono. Do you see where this is going?

Look in any book on wearing kimono and inevitably it will contain a section at the back with pictures illustrating how to perform certain movements while wearing kimono: getting in and out of cars, pouring drinks, raising your arm to hail a cab and sitting on the ground in seiza, the formal way of sitting in Japan. That horrid position designed to torture foreigners who didn't spend their formative years with their legs tucked under their tushes. To get up from this kneeling position in kimono, you are not supposed to use your hands as any kind of support or hoist, and they are to remain resting on your thighs. Instead, you are supposed to somehow (I obviously don't have the hang of this yet) use your feet as leverage and gracefully stand up just so, without wobbling or lurching forward in the process. The way you are to move in a kimono is very different from wearing Western clothes, these movements are to both keep your kimono nice and to prevent people from seeing a bit of leg, cooch or armpit. I have managed to find some kimono manner position illustrations for your viewing pleasure.

The above illustrates how you get into position. And out...

How to walk up and down stairs and the ole in-and-out with cars...

Now I think I have the whole pigeon walk (keep that kimono from flapping open!), stair walk (don't let anyone glimpse some hot ankle above your tabi!), and car procedure (don't flash your cooch!) down, but getting out of seiza gracefully continues to elude me. (The illustration at the very top is for going to the toilet, although I can't quite decipher exactly what it is that she's doing.)

Before starting this new course I was pretty much able to fudge my way through the sitting routine, as I only had to do it when bowing to my sensei before and after class. But now I need to be up and down all the time and of course, I am wearing kimono while I dress my mannequin. I don't know what I'm going to do when I take the master course, which involves 2- hour-long lectures with the headmistress on the floor. The backs of my knees are sweating just thinking about it!

Over the past few weeks my favourite sensei has been instructing me to deal with the mannequin as if it is real, meaning I can't leave a long end of obi hanging over its neck stump and I can't just shove its arms out of the way when I need to wrap something around the torso. Well, during my last class I found myself kneeling in front of let's call it Manny, and being tired, I couldn't get up properly. I instinctively reached for Manny's hips for leverage and then remembered that I wouldn't be doing that if I was working with a live model. One more half-hearted attempt at a no-hands stand and I stole a sweaty furtive glance at my sensei to check she wasn't looking before I grabbed onto Manny and hauled ass into a standing position. Given the nature of things that seem to happen to me here, I'm more than lucky that Manny was able to support my weight and we didn't go crashing down together. I wonder if there is a kimono manner position for accidental falls.

Several minutes later and despite my attempt to remain standing for the rest of the class, I found myself kneeling behind Manny clutching the ends of a cord in each hand. My next move was to bring those ends to Manny's front and tie them there, something that could only be accomplished by a smooth standing-move. I was literally stuck to the floor, rendered unable to move. Headmistress kept looking over at me, probably wondering what the hell I was fake-contemplating to stall for time. I tried everything-refolding parts in the back, patting things down, smoothing out wrinkles but to no avail-I was going to have to move eventually. And by that I mean right then. I managed to squeeze out some semblance of a standing-move, albeit a jerky robotic dance of one.

This is not one of those things I can avoid, I will have to do it eventually and can't rely on poor Manny as a hoisting post. Nor will I be so lucky next time, as I will most certainly get caught using my mannequin in such an inappropriate manner. For now I will have to contend with the silent judging of my sensei and peers, but know that at night, I will be sitting alone on my fake wood floor, diligently practicing my standing moves.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Carousing with a man on each arm

I had my first outside of work encounter this past weekend. Out at a club in Azabu I happened to glance across the room and found my eyes locking with those of a Professional. In fact, it was the young one who was so nice to me at dinner during the Kaisha's onsen trip. We did the embarrassed head nodding and wave thing and I returned to my dates for the evening, the beau and his friend. I whispered to the beau that a fellow Kaishaite was across the room, and should I go say hi? Don't ask me why I am asking my boyfriend about social mores but I really didn't know what to do. If I was Overseas I would no doubt go over to say hello, but despite having sat together through a long dinner, plying each other with alcohol, in the Kaisha twilight zone I have as much of a relationship with him as say, Ken Watanabe. Although if it was Ken-chan, I would be over there in a second. In my defence, said Professional was also surrounded by a group of friends.

By the time I decided I should go say hello I turned around and he was gone. Luckily I found him standing alone later that night and went over for a chat. My mind looked on in horror as my whole manner changed and I felt like a rigid doll standing up straight and nodding politely, laughing appropriately. Speaking like the lady I don't wish to become. In situations like that I sometimes wish I could use my gaijiness as an excuse to act how I would around any guy I run into in public, but I always err on the side of caution and turn into a polite Japanese-speaking white doll. Although what happened this particular night could have more to do with the fact that I was wearing (for all intents and purposes) a see-through shirt and was trying to distract him from my tanima (valley in Japanese) with my decorum. I must have thought in my inebriation that if I acted like I was at the Kaisha he would think I was wearing professional attire and pearls instead of a flimsy excuse of a shirt.

I am tired of all these social graces, I really am. In fact, I didn't even introduce him to the beau and friend because I didn't want to subject them to acting humble and thank-you-so-much-for-nothing-more-than-working-at-the-same-Kaisha-as-Geisha. Not normal is it? Well at least the Secretaries will have something new to talk about over their bento boxes: the Kaisha Geisha spotted in public drinking, smoking and carrying on (tanima fully visible), and with a man on each arm.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I am invisible

Apparently I am so white I am practically transparent, and thus, invisible. After a recent day out of the office I returned to an email from the Professional who sits behind me, instructing me to do something. He retracted this 6 hours later after finally realizing that I hadn't been at my desk all day. Fucking lovely. If I am going to be invisible I'd at least like some of the perks, you know, being able to spy on people and whatnot, instead of just being ignored or better yet, accosted on the street.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Ribald and indelicate Tokyo

One dark night last weekend I met Other White for a not-so-typical Tokyo rendezvous. Our mission: to uncover the slippery underbelly of Tokyo's burlesque scene. The location: an underground bar in Ginza with bartenders in crisp white shirts and bow ties, and dusty pink art deco wallpaper. A bar so underground it doesn't have a web presence, which in the age of guru navi and tabelog is quite a feat.

We arrived at the cramped and smoky bar to whispers of sugoi, sugoi at our vintage-clad figures. Someone should have really just yelled, Gaijin at 2 o'clock! We perched at the marble counter and purveyed the scene: a woman in kimono down the counter from us, a couple men in suits conspiring in the corner, and the three burlesque beauties mingling with the young hipster crowd. After the show started we were treated to several hours of lounge singing, mime, a talk show and the strip tease finale, complete with twirling pasties.

The three Japanese women comprising the troupe all look and act like women-about-town from the roaring twenties. They hail from Asakusa, former home to all that was cool at the turn of the century. I can't imagine these three perform enough to make a living, so are they actually OLs moonlighting as burlesque beauties? During the day do they use high pitched voices when asking their boss if he wants milk or sugar, wear too-dark nylons with open-toed nurse sandals and carry their lunch in a Gucci shopping bag? Would it be feasible for a woman in Tokyo to lead that kind of double life I wonder. I would tend to doubt it as what would you possibly tell your boss when ordered to join a company drinking party that falls on the same night as your show? Sorry, I have to go twirl my nipples in public tonight?! Not that they would run much risk of exposure-no Suits would be hip to such a scene.

It seems a given that Tokyo has a fairly seedy sex and entertainment culture but there is still a small niche for these kinds of "tasteful" evenings (even that sounded untasteful). Albeit a small group, it's still nice to know there are similarly minded people looking for entertainment that doesn't always involve the words karaoke, Roppongi or all-you-can-drink. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dodging the Question

I got so wrapped up in talking about Kenshojo joining a cult in the last post that I forgot to return to talking about how I tried to pump Quit for information on Sex, Marriage & Women in Japan, but not necessarily in that order. I'm reading two books right now that deal with the above topics and there is a lot on cheating.

I don't know exactly what I expected when I tried to bring it up, I think I was hoping for a long monologue detailing her thoughts on the matter and possibly some juicy details about her own marriage. Instead she deflected to the Sex & the City movie. OK I thought, if you want to talk in this roundabout way, let's see what you have to say about some of the things that happen in the movie. Apologies to those of you who haven't seen the movie but bear with me here, it was the only way I could get any straight answers from her. Quit's official party line is that she couldn't believe Miranda went back to Steve after being cheated on. When pressed, she admitted that she probably wouldn't have forgiven her husband if he cheated before, but now that she is going to have a baby she probably would. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Quit's husband thought it natural that Miranda returned.

I told Quit a little bit about the books I was reading all the while trying to ply her with thinly-veiled questions about the cheating culture in Japan. Why? Well there's not many people I can ask and I am so curious as to what people think about it. Cheating is all I hear about from people's inadvertent comments, TV programs and other media. I can't help but hear all the shit being talked about Japanese men. And guess what?! I'm in a relationship with one and finding it very difficult at times to separate what I hear from my own situation. So in an attempt to sort things out in my head, I am reading things that make me uncomfortable. Not just the books, but all the message boards on Mixi concerning relationships, basically reading until my eyes pop out. I realize whatever it is I am looking for will ultimately have to come from myself but I can't help myself, I'm unhealthily fixated.

I asked Quit if she thinks many people cheat here or whether it's been blown out of proportion. I told her that despite people saying that Japanese women turn a blind eye to their straying partners, they really aren't doing that, and are in fact not at all accepting of cheating. Then I asked her what she thought. I asked her if she and her husband have talked about it. Quit was amazing at dodging my questions! Just when I thought I was on a roll, speaking so quickly I kept tripping over words, she deflected it all with the skill of a goalie. What she did tell me however, is that at her previous job married male colleagues were very open about going to kyabakura, and gokon, which are small match-making parties. She even demonstrated to me how they would slip off their wedding rings and masquerade as single. Tell me something new! I wanted to shout. I have been personally been told by more than one Professional that he has gone to gokon despite having a wife and children at home. On a side note, Quit confessed to me that she had been to 102 gokon and ended up dating only one guy out of the 200+ she had met at them.

Feeling glad that I had at least tried to encourage some dialogue over glazed spareribs and fried rice, I gave up and let her steer the conversation to Ayumi, her former colleague who is now 31 and hasn't had a date in two years. Quit and I analyzed Ayumi's sweet appearance and personality and then went over her efforts up until this point to find a guy, and discussed what she might try from here. I have never discussed the finer points of trying to find a husband and I was quite lost when Quit asked me what I would do in the same position. I brought up Kenshojo as an example of someone who had basically quit the race, and laughing, Quit said that maybe she would find a fellow cultee to marry.

Sketchy Sects in Saitama

My absence over the past week has not been intentional but due to a slight increase in activities on my social calendar (not bound to last long), one of which I am about to relate. I met up with got-married-and-quit last night for the first time in over 6 months. She is now, how shall we say, with child, and planning for a house to be built in Saitama. I suppose that's what happens in Tokyo these days if you're not careful-you go from being a cool gal of a healthy size to being wedding-skinny, barefoot and pregnant in Saitama (no offence if anyone lives out there). Won't the joke be on me if my priorities suddenly undergo a lobotomy and I end up out there myself one day. NOT going to happen I might add but...

I have very up and down feelings for Quit and although I do go on about how her life choices aren't for me, I felt a calm wash over me last night and I was able to just be happy that she is happy. Not before trying to prod her about Women, Sexuality & Marriage in Japan, however. But more on that later.

The recurring topic of the evening was our friend who has, I just found out, joined a cult, I mean religious sect. Ever heard of Kenshokai (顕正会)? I hadn't either but apparently it is not only a rival of Soka Gakai, but that ever popular and tasty mix of Buddhism, Shinto and Christianity. With a little Crazy thrown in for good measure. Let's call this friend Kenshojo shall we?

A few weeks back Kenshojo invited Quit for dinner and when she showed up, it appeared that Kenshojo had brought along a friend. After they were seated at the restaurant neither Kenshojo or her friend would say anything, prompting Quit to ask if anything was wrong. This is where Kenshojo confessed she had joined this sect and the friend was a work colleague who had gotten her into it. Here I was thinking they were going to come out as lesbians to Quit! Not even close! Kenshojo apparently wakes up every morning and treks out to Saitama (I'm not sure why the pleasures of Saitama seem to be a recurring theme in this post) to some temple before going to work in Tokyo.The two crazies then pushed some propaganda and books on Quit and tried to force her to go with them out to Saitama. That night. When she begged off going, saying she can't ride the train that far with the baby growing inside her, they turned hostile and acted slighted. When she apologized before going home Kenshojo told her, Don't apologize to us but to God. You're going to be punished for not coming with us. Nice language to a scared pregnant woman!!! I thought this was Japan not Ass-fuck, U.S.A , small town to proselytizing religious crazies.

As she related the story to me, we both laughed but I can just imagine how it would have actually been, with Quit trying to be polite while giving them the old Fuck Off. What incensed her the most however, was that Kenshojo told her if she and her husband joined, his skin condition, which she has never said boo about, would clear up. It didn't end there though. Kenshojo later emailed Quit asking her how she was, giving Quit a false sense of security that Kenshojo had accepted the rejection and was back to being a normal friend. When she replied with Fine, Kenshojo typed back that it must be because she now had those Books in her possession. Guess I won't be calling her for a while! Although it definitely crossed my mind to give her a tingle and see if she tries to convert me. It could be an interesting field trip to Saitama and a blog entry, if nothing else.

Poor Kenshojo. I've known her since she was 30 and she is now 35 with no marriage prospects other than Buddha. Over the last few years in particular she has tried really hard to find a husband, even meeting several guys through a dating website. When I mentioned this to Quit she said her failure was in having too many conditions in terms of money, job etc. (Kenshojo is one of my "friends" here who often asked me things like, Isn't your bf paying for all the rent?) That and she is kawatte iru, or different. Off the beaten path, per se. After my encounters with Kenshojo in the last year I definitely got a sense that something was not quite right there. And I don't mean this in a she-can't-snag-a-man kind of way. Unfortunately, as with all my friendships with Japanese women thus far, ours only scratches the surface and I've never had the opportunity to make it go farther than that.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Please do it in the yard

That's right everyone, today is October 1st, which means it's manner poster day! This has to be one of my favourites so far-in warning the public to be careful when handling a wet umbrella, the metro has depicted a guy practicing his swing and inadvertently spraying water everywhere (which looks like golf balls). And what a swing he has! I have to question the choice they've made with one of the drops that has landed on creepy sweepy's shoulder and looks either like a giant black crow from Shinjuku shat on him or someone had a bukkake party and missed. Poor creepy, he wasn't perving on anyone and yet he's getting picked on again.

I think after a couple months of mediocrity the metro is back on track. I mean who hasn't seen some Suit swinging his umbrella like a golf club while waiting for the train? What are they trying to prove? That they just can't wait to be the next Tiger Woods? Wait until you get to the driving range people! No one needs to know you're too cool for school with your golfing skills. That and your complacency with shelling out hundreds of dollars just to play on some crappy public course on the weekend here.

That was kind of uncalled for I know. But I'm in limbo right now and bored. Having gotten home from services this morning (included in my all-you-can-pray plan) I'm not sure what to do with myself until free champagne at 57 tonight. I'm never home on weekday afternoons and I feel like I should be watching some low brow television or something equally evil to not being at work when I should be. Technically I shouldn't be at work, and if you've seen my previous post I believe I mentioned that I'm not getting paid by the Kaisha to pray today. Yes, October 1st is a day for firsts. First time practicing Judaism in Japan. First time being one of the first people to services despite being late. I think I understand the all-you-can-pray plan now, it gives the modern Tokyo Jew flexibility. I thought people always arriving late was bad in Vancouver but in Tokyo people arrive late and leave early! I guess that's prayer Tokyo style-show up for the part you want and jet when it's over. After sitting for hours listening to chanted Hebrew I was very disconcerted walking through Aoyama to the train-I had just encountered one of those rare situations in which you forget you live in Tokyo. If any of my (five) readers is of the Hebrew persuasion, l'shana tova and to everyone else I hope you have a sweet new year.