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.