Thursday, December 31, 2009

Project Host Redux

Although I've shamelessly neglected Project Host for the better part of 2009, I breathed life into its failing lungs recently when Tokyo's illustrious male vanity expert Tokyo Moe expressed an interest in visiting a host club. Always up for a challenge and never one to refuse an evening surrounded by cigarette-lighting coiffures, I began hunting for Japanese information on male patrons of host clubs.

The information was a bit dire, a smattering of Yahoo! Q&A posts touching on whether men could enter host clubs but not a lot else. Even after viewing the websites of at least twenty host clubs, there was no clear information: some did not allow men, some made a mention of the "male" price for drinks and others said nothing at all. In the small print on one of the sites it said, If you feel the prospect of visiting a host club for the first time daunting, please feel free to bring a friend or male escort. And thus I began to fabricate a story to explain to any one who asked why I was visiting the club with Tokyo Moe: he is my gentleman cousin who has kindly agreed to escort me on my maiden voyage to a host club.

Armed with a list of ten clubs, Tokyo Moe (TM) and I descended into Kabukicho's neon sleaze, the faces of hosts on the brightly lit billboards smiled down on us like Greek gods with slightly more outrageous hairdos. TM made the decision easy and suggested we aim high and head to Top Dandy , and really, who was I to argue? They have a winning entrance page on their website depicting some moody-looking dandies against a brick wall. There is even some smoke (London fog?) sneaking in from the corner of the mirror. You cannot argue with brick walls and smoke, it is a sexy, sexy combination.

Upon alighting from the elevator, I immediately announced that it was our first time and were men permitted? The men at the door were extremely gracious and after quickly explaining the system, ushered us in to the chandelier-lit interior. The first time fee was 5000 each with the requisite bottle of either shochu or brandy and there was no time limit either. Most club websites that did list entrance fees for men upped the price by anywhere from 3000-5000 yen so I was chuffed to have gotten such a deal.

We were immediately presented with the man menu, which was a heavy leather-bound tome filled with A4 glossies of our potential male companions. Hobbies, blood type (always important when choosing a mate) and height were among the data listed for each host. As is always the case when presented with the man menu, I was hesitant to choose anyone, preferring the manager to send over a variety of pointy-toed men throughout the course of the evening.

The hosts were fine, as with every other club, they tend to subscribe to different looks: there are the "classic" hosts, the "semi-goth with piercings" hosts, the "natural" hosts. Both TM and I were impressed by one host who was both very tall and looked like Kimura Takuya, especially when posing in pictures, which I suspect he perfects at midday in front of a mirror. When he told me I could touch his blond fountain of hair I just about fell into his lap. He was very sweet, although not the most engaging conversationalist. We spoke with around twenty hosts altogether and as with the other clubs, you can usually find at least one you wouldn't mind rubbing up against. TM was able to have some interesting conversations with a couple of the hosts - I think his gender was in his favour in this instance - and he gleaned some juicy tidbits about the darker side of hosting. On my side of the table, however, things were neither juicy nor saucy. At every other club I've been to, the flirty dirty talk has started early on, and encouraging girl that I am, sometimes gets quite interesting. Halfway into the evening one of the hosts told me that he had assumed TM and I were an item and this was when the light went on: because the hosts made an assumption about our relationship, they were keeping the conversation tame and to approved topics such as the amount of alcohol I can drink, upkeep of hair and food. From then on, TM and I went out of our way to drunkenly proclaim to every host coming by that we were cousins, but the conversation still remained fairly stagnant.

There wasn't much wiping of condensation from our glasses, but when it came to lighting cigarettes, I had two or three lighters held to my cigarette each time, which never failed to charm me. The first few hosts we met didn't give us their name cards, and just as I began to wonder what exactly the problem was, we started receiving them from each subsequent host. Despite receiving them though, there were no numbers or email addresses exchanged at the end of the evening, nor any hosts pressing us to return. Again, I think part of this can be chalked up to demographics - as a male/female pair, the hosts probably assumed we were just visiting the club to see what the host thing was all about and nothing more. This was a little disappointing. TM was the perfect male escort however, eager to ask the hosts all manner of question and very discerning when it came to analyzing the physical attributes of each host. I was honored to visit a host club with such a distinguished connoisseur of the Japanese male, and I look forward to future installments of Project Host with his assistance.

Looking around at the other customers, most women were by themselves and fairly plain looking for the most part. I couldn't help but wonder why they had decided to start frequenting the club, and what their first visits had been like. One highlight of the evening was getting to see a champagne call, the elaborate song and dance that goes on when a customer orders a bottle of champagne. All the hosts gather around the customer's table, clapping and cheering and showering attention; I can see how one would lose her head and end up ordering a 60,000 bottle of champagne (wholesale value: 8,000 yen).

I would love to visit the club during their second session, which starts at sunrise due to the entertainment laws and is generally frequented by hostesses and other women in the mizu shobai. With such a different customer base, it would be fascinating to see how the club dynamic changes when catering to other people in "the business". While you always learn more each time you visit a club, I can really see the draw in going to the same club again. After a while, having the same conversation with each guy who comes by starts to feel suspiciously like sitting at a bar and being hit on by a series of guys, each conversation as unoriginal and forgettable as the last. The point of the host club is to create a fantasy where the men fashion themselves after a somewhat forgotten image of the gentleman, with modern accents of bling cuff links and hair injected with air. The female customer is not supposed to worry about directing the conversation, and a skilled host can quickly discover which direction to take the conversation with a new customer. Top Dandy was well-run, clean and sparkly and had a large number of hosts, but I can't remember much of the conversation, which of course means it was forgettable, not that I was too smashed. Whatever the reason for this lacking conversation, I would consider visiting it a second time based on the quality of everything else to see if things improved, if not just to touch the pseudo-Kim Taku's golden candy-floss hair again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Holidays from the Kaisha

It's that time of year again, gentle readers, when your breath turns into white puffs and an endless loop of Christmas music makes you want to snap off a reindeer antler, when your electric toilet seat keeps your tush warm and most importantly, when the first year ladies at the Kaisha don inappropriate clothing and entertain their colleagues. That's right! Holiday Party time at the Kaisha!

After last year's gong show I was peeing in my pants to see what kind of sexist, laughably inappropriate and lawsuit-inducing performances there would be this year. The Kaisha, never one to disappoint, certainly pulled through for me. At the top of the evening, six young men with semi-flossy hair and sharkskin suits came on stage
and began singing and shuffling their pointy-toed shoes. A group of 20 Secretaries wearing satin dresses and fur stoles danced in rows in front of the stage. Not recalling six wholly attractive men at the Kaisha with host-like hair, I wondered if the Kaisha had hired professional dancers this year. Not so it turns out, I simply hadn't had the pleasure of meeting these first-year Professionals, who have the superman ability to crunch numbers and attend client meetings by day, and give performances as pseudo-hosts at night. It became extremely apparent when the bottle of champagne came out, that this performance was an imitation of the host club "champagne call" that one sees in movies and TV dramas. I had planned on visiting a host club earlier this week and was mildly impressed to have been given a host club experience for free at the Holiday Party.

There were several other mediocre and borderline inappropriate performances to pad out the evening schedule, but the real gem was the grand finale, where the female Professionals and Secretaries slipped into hot pants and sexy military outfits, and high-kicked themselves around the stage. Last year's performance smacked of perverse fascination with young nubile schoolgirls but I had trouble finding the humor in this year's party. It felt more like a sick and tired old joke and despite some hot pant quips, I really have a problem with putting female colleagues on stage and parading them around in a non-subtle sexual manner for everyone's entertainment. Glitzy and amusing it may have been last year, but by this year it was simply depressing, for what better way to ensure that a woman is not taken seriously in the career she is just embarking on, than to put her on stage wearing precious little, and make her dance like a show pony.

I would truly love to bring some FOB foreigners to next year's party and see what they make of the whole charade. Try picturing some run-of-the-mill job you've had overseas and now imagine yourself or your colleagues being instructed to dance on stage in mini skirts at the Christmas party. And no, you can't call HR.

Aside from the questionable activities on stage, there was little to entertain me this year so I swam my way through a couple bottles of white and enjoyed the same conversations with the same people, some silently disapproving my decision to darken my hair. By their skewed logic, someone who can carry off the golden look should never go dark, the colour common to oh, 99.789% of this island nation. I wouldn't be surprised if I get less lunch invitations now that I am less of a true foreigner (light hair, light eyes) who can be showed off to friends much like a gold watch from Cartier.

One small highlight of the evening was when the always exhausted and barely comprehensible young Professional who played the ugly drag Beyonce last year got smashed and began to swagger and speak with bravado. Normally docile and dorky, he came up to me and asked in rough Japanese if I was still seeing the beau. He then ordered me to introduce him to my throngs of pretty gaijin friends. Sherioushly, he said, indraduce me!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Part of your world, Vol 2.0

As I chronicled last year , cutting all my hair off wasn't enough to shock them, so I decided to go undercover. Camouflage in the Kaisha jungle if you will.

After spending my life as a Marilyn, I've wandered over to the dark side and am now experiencing life as a Jackie (or we could use the Serena/Blair dichotomy if you prefer something more contemporary). Yes, I'm now a brunette gentle readers, but still no closer to being accepted by my dark-haired peers. Acceptance among them wasn't exactly my aim, but this didn't stop me from obnoxiously pulling at the corners of my eyes and asking the beau if I could pass as Japanese now. Only from the back it seems, and even that would be a stretch with the junk up in my trunk.

It's funny slash heart-breaking to read the entry from last year, because so little has changed. I got reactions from the obvious people, those who smile at me in the hall and who actually partake in verbal communication with me on a semi-regular basis. Most surprisingly however, was the blank look I received from the two Secretaries who (still) sit in my quad. Our daily interactions continue to be limited to good morning and goodbye but they didn't even flinch this past Monday when I walked into the office. I went from curly blond to straight dark brown with bangs a la the singer in the Pretenders. I thought at least they'd ask if I wanted to have a hair-braiding party.

Why am I even surprised any more? One of the two asked me to help her with something last week, which I thought meant we were making progress, but then yesterday she did the same but by e-mail. We are definitely heading in the direction far and away from progress. Digression I believe they call it? I try to smile as widely as my cheek muscles will allow during our brief encounters to discourage this kind of behaviour - the woman sits in spitting distance and we could easily high five over the quad barrier without moving an inch. WHAT IS THE WAY TO THE HEARTS OF THESE PEOPLE?!

Don't turn the dial yet, I could be rocking brown-coloured contacts in the New Year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Postcard from the Kaisha: Bathroom Edition

I've been peed on at the Kaisha less times than I have fingers and it surprises me every time. Before you start thinking I work for kabushiki kaisha Goruden Shawaa, I don't mean literally, or figuratively either, but I am at a loss for what to call a situation where the Sound Princess isn't summoned to the party. I have become such a priss that I think it's positively scandalous when one of the woman in my office doesn't mask the sound of her pee with an electronic recording of gushing water. I'm surely not alone.

Most time I don't see the culprit, so I can't be sure whether it's sheer laziness or whether a new clause has been written into our Kaisha Work Rules stating that invocation of the Princess is optional when the lonely whitie is the only other person in the bathroom. I can tell you this, it certainly isn't a mistake on their part for on an almost daily basis the sound of my heels hitting the bathroom tile causes some unsuspecting Secretary to turn on the Princess in a hurry, mid-pee. One of the women who takes such liberty around me is the same one who purposely closed the door to the Kaisha after her knowing I was right behind. You know what this means don't you? I'm thinking that visiting the bathroom at the Kaisha these days sans Princess is the new snub.

While we're on the topic of bathrooms, I made the somewhat alarming discovery this week that some Secretaries use the bidet function of the bathrooms at the Kaisha! At home, yes, coupled with a pre-warmed toilet seat it can be quite delightful but who wants to do it at work?! I wish I hadn't made this discovery dear readers, but I can't help that my ears were assaulted by the low rumbling hum of the bidet motor followed by the gentle sound of shooting water, aiming for its mark. In my haste, I once pressed the button summoning the bidet instead of the Princess, and you can bet there was water on the floor after that. I even delayed my exit from the stall, fearing someone would think I was actually using it!

Another day, another bidet. Another insight into one of many neuroses.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Let's call the whole thing off

I was perhaps a tad hasty in writing the shotgun wedding off as being so cut and dry. This little nugget of enlightenment came to me at precisely 5.12 in the morning as I lay in bed listening to the beau yell at Lolicon (hereinafter referred to as Baby Daddy). The beau and I have had periods of ridiculous fighting so I know what he's like in a yelling match, but when he started rolling his Rs yakuza-style I knew he wasn't playin. I normally find that whole macho/angry Japanese man R-rolling thing hot so as I lay there ears a-perk, I wavered between lusty admiration and pain at the actual situation taking place.

As predicted in my last post, the beau did indeed received a phone call from his parents but it was far from over. Also as predicted but to a further extent, they are well put out over the fact that the first mention of Baby Mama is a joint pregnancy/marriage announcement. Due to our passing ships schedules, I haven't been able to grasp all sides of the situation yet, which would entail me firing questions at the beau so that I may eventually learn every sordid detail. However, this is what I've gleaned thus far: The beau's parents realize the family is in a "sho ga nai (can't be helped, c'est la vie) situation but are still smarting from the fact that Baby Daddy has not done things the proper way, or at least take Baby Mama up north to properly introduce her and then open up about their predicament, or at least give some kind of introductory speech, background of how they met, anything really, to assure them that he has thought about this and isn't making bad decisions for everyone concerned. From what I can tell, the conflict is coming down to a show of maturity and also respect for his family, who have been blindsided by this. It seems BD has met BM's family on several occasions but hasn't bothered to mention her to his parents or their proxy representative in Tokyo, the beau.

There is a certain order for doing things here, and even if you fuck that up, you are expected to proceed in some semblance of the original order. The beau told his mom that he would call BD before she contacts him again, to elaborate on exactly why their parents are upset and suggest ways to make amends. This, I assume, didn't go down very well judging from the change in pronunciation of the Rs. I was utterly exhausted at the time of the call but couldn't very well sleep at that point, so I remained in bed listening to the whole thing. BD was not very receptive to some of the beau's ideas and criticisms, it seems he expects his parents to get with the play without having time to absorb what the beau and I have had a week to do. Even without hearing BD, I could tell from what the beau was saying that they were going round in circles, with the beau urging BD to take BM up north for a day trip at least over the New Year's period, to show their parents he values their opinion and is somewhat formally asking for their support.

I started to get a little cranky at the length of the call and its interference with my much-needed sleep. The beau was chewing his brother out for not acting like an adult and yet he is the one who called at 5am to discuss things (granted BD also works nights). Poking my head out I asked him to wrap it up for the morning and after more vocal escalation I turned on the cranky bitch and yelled for them both to hear that I had to work that morning, followed by an ever mature sliding door slam.

I called the beau during my lunch to see what was going on, maybe apologize for getting nasty and receive an apology for being kept up, but I really wanted to ask about something that had been niggling at my mind since hearing it. I had heard the beau asking BD what their parents had said to him and at one point he said, "Green-eyed doesn't think that." What do I have to do with it? I predictably worked myself into a tizzy over this, for what consideration to me would be given in a situation I am not remotely involved in? I am thinking the worst, that the beau's parents think I won't want to marry into such craziness or worse, that I am going to feel bad/jealous that I'm not ringed and pregnant despite having been with the beau for more than a couple months. When asked about the precise nature of what I apparently didn't think, the beau told me we would discuss it later and not over the phone. Fan-fucking-tastic. Points to those who guess right and to be continued...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Daughter, sister, girlfriend, Kaisha ho...aunt?!

Pop that cork gentle readers, a baby's on the way! Not from me obviously, for I take my birth control pills with the vehemence of a crack ho who needs her sweet fix every night, but from the beau's younger brother who in all his irresponsibility probably thought the pull-out method would work indefinitely. Cheers! L'chaim! Kanpai!

Lolicon (the brother) called me last night to tell me the news and I couldn't say anything but congratulations while setting my voice at an unnaturally high enthusiastic pitch. And you know what? If they are happy to have this baby and get married, well good on them and best of luck. Their choice isn't one I would necessarily make but, as my friends and I used to obnoxiously shriek at each other when learning French for the first time, chacun a son gout!

We haven't met the mother-to-be yet, for by my estimation, they have been dating and/or casually fucking for only a couple of months tops. According to Lolicon, she is hotter than the opera singer who used to call the beau onii-sama (lit: honorific older brother), and best of all, legal! She can smoke, drink AND make babies! I can't wait to meet this woman.

Lolicon said they were going to call their respective sets of parents today to break the news and discuss whether to hold the wedding ceremony before or after the little one is born. I am extreeeemely interested to hear how this all goes down with the beau's parents. That could be the understatement of the decade: I've been texting the beau every five minutes to ask whether he has gotten the call from his parents yet. You know the one, they have just heard about Lolicon's inseminating prowess and then call their oldest son the beau for a post mort.

I don't have any money riding on this, for I was too sleepy when the beau got home last night to place bets, but I figure the parents' reaction could go either way. The beau's parents are strict but fair, they tend to approve when, if you do something, you at least do it right. Follow through so to speak. Given Lolicon's baby mama's age and the fact that they are planning to get married, I've got to assume the shit won't hit the senpuki. I am hoping for some choice words said in confidence to the beau (and by extension, me), but since these two are going to do the "honest thing" and get hitched, the parents will probably be excited to have a grandchild more than anything.

I would be remiss if I left out how this could affect me, but rest assured I will tell you. At the moment it is too early to predict what will happen, but up until now I have maintained a position of privilege as the steady, responsible and educated age-appropriate girlfriend of the beau, despite my white ass (face, and everything really). I have been the parents' kimono-tying princess and this may all come to a halt once a union is made and a baby birthed. In terms of age, the baby mama trumps me by being older, but I think according to the Confucian rules, the fact that I am the oldest son's partner trumps her age seniority. Who the fuck knows what happens to the rules when a grandchild is born. I could be overreacting but I get the impression that for many people here, carrying on the family line is held above personal and professional ambition. The beau's parents are lovely and some of my favourite Japanese people of all time so I won't be so quick to write off their feelings for me, but it will be educational to say the least, to see how things unfold and whether the baby mama usurps me in their affection. I say with none of my usual sarcasm that I hope not.

How has the beau reacted to all this? In summary, iin janai? This is basically the equivalent of "why not?" The beau, after an involved and complex calculation of the baby mama's age, Lolicon's propensity for underage girls and the estimated duration of their courtship, has concluded that they might as well have the baby and get married. I know dekichatta kons are all the rage at the moment but I can't help but feel a curiosity for the situation. Are they in love? Were they looking to the long-term before a baby was conceived? I suppose these questions are too impractical here in Japan where after a certain age, people are relieved when someone gets knocked up.

Never one to leave you on a sour note, let me just say that the beau has threatened to gift the child a bunch of bananas, for in his words, it will probably look like a monkey.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Drinking in alleys

I've hailed the joys of drinking in narrow alley bars before, and it appears to have not been just a phase. A few weeks ago the beau and I had a rare Saturday night together so I suggested we start the evening off at nonbei-yokocho in Shibuya. The beau, while able to get down and dirty with the best of them at Yoshinoya, is a bit of an elitist when it comes to drinking establishments. To him, sipping a bourbon while rubbing shoulders with the other customers (closer to molesting really) along a narrow bar counter is not a good time, nor something one would actively seek to do. Admittedly, the kind of establishments one finds in nonbei-yokocho are frequented by a certain set: the ojisan set, the cool, jet-setting gaijin set and the young hipster Japanese set. The beau, bless him, is not part of said sets. He has, however, learned to play along when I suggest trips to the countryside to eat bamboo shoots, jaunts in dark narrow alleys and evenings in sweet-smelling hookah bars.

I am always surprised to find a seat when I drink in nonbei-yokocho. Given the lack of space and proportion of regular customers, I often show up assuming I will not be able to start off at my first bar of choice. Strangely though, despite nonbei-yokocho's appeal and begging to be in a guide-book uniqueness, I have gotten a counter seat every time. This past evening, I looked out the window and saw a pair of frat boys walking through the alley taking pictures, which made me realize that despite its allure, many people will show up only to leave sono after, feeling intimidated by the intimate atmosphere at most of the bars and restaurants.

We began the night at a place whose name I can't remember for the life of me. The regulars are always friendly and despite some awkward silences at first, we were soon engaged in conversation with the customers on either side of us at the counter. One poor ojisan was berated by the others for asking me where I was from despite having just been asked twice by other people, but the conversation was light and playful. The (apparent) owner is a hip older Japanese man who showed up with a dark-haired Russian woman in sunglasses and hummed an enka tune from behind the counter. After a few drinks we headed over to Tight were we met a cool Middle Eastern and French-Japanese couple. Located on the second floor on eye level with the train tracks, I felt like I was in a childhood treehouse, but with alcohol and trippy graphics bouncing around a plasma screen.

I am always so warmed by my experiences in these tiny bars. Unlike the glam restaurants and bars whose atmospheres discourage interacting with other customers despite the tables (sometimes) being very close together, at the small bars of nonbei-yokocho, you can't help but talk to your fellow customers, and conversations are surprisingly honest and revealing. It's a Japan away from Japan.

As the name implies, Tight is very tight and was made more so by the arrival of three more customers. The beau begged claustrophobia so we paid the check and headed off into the darkness. Approaching the entrance to the alley I asked him whether he would ever come back with me and he avoided the question by asking aloud why people like drinking in such confined spaces. I think in a city like Tokyo where anonymity is prized, drinking at one of these small places allows you to connect with others in a brief and fleeting way, even if you join one bar's small community for only a couple of hours. Whether he comes back with me or not, at least I coaxed him out of his comfort zone, showing him to an unknown nook of the city.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keeping it in check

Just in time for bonenkai season! I don't think there will be much of anything at home for people this month, which is usually packed with end-of-year parties for every compartment of life. I really enjoy what could be called the Metro's naivete in saying "let's be careful not to drink too much" in small print on the poster. I have an inkling it could take a bit more to undo years of a practically institutionalized encouragement of alcoholism.

What do we have to look forward to at Chez Geisha this month? Hopefully more writing, for one. I haven't posted as much as I would have liked this year so there's no other way to fix that other than an end of year blitz! And speaking of getting blitzed, we can all look forward to stories from this year's Kaisha Kristmas, which is coming up this month. I almost have to bite my pillow I'm so excited to see what will happen this year! Last year they did the schoolgirl uniform thing so this year maybe we'll be treated to Professionals dressed as maids and some ugly cross-dressing renditions of Madonna circa her most recent album cover. The possibilities are endless!

There won't be a trip up North this year, I am spending my first New Year's in Tokyo (not counting the one when I was 20 and started the night off with the madness at Shibuya's crossing followed by inebriation at Pure and phone calls in the ensuing days from boys I couldn't remember)(I may have fallen down some stairs too). This does mean that I probably won't have any tales of the beau's lolicon brother and his underage exploits. Fear not however, for I believe last night the beau told a half-asleep me that the brother may have impregnated someone, so we could be in for a dekichatta-kon (shotgun wedding) in the New Year! (I'll have another post on general sexual health and the use of condoms in Japan coming up shortly.) The good news is, the woman is 27!

New Year's this year is thus a toss up between an event I can wear a sparkly dress to and a small gathering of friends at home followed by a shrine visit at midnight, which I have never done - and yet I dare to call myself a foreigner in Japan! Luckily, champagne knows no cultural boundaries and will be appropriate for either.

This year I will try to refrain from posting about Christmas although I can't promise anything. You know I love to give in to impulse. Hell, I might even indulge in some fried chicken.

Have you noticed the increasing cold, Tokyoites? There's no better cure for cold weather than snuggling up to men with candy-floss hair. That's right! I am reviving Project Host and there will be a visit to a host club this month to look forward to. I can barely keep from clicking my pointy toes together in anticipation!

Last but not least I am trying to finish my kitsuke master course but it may have to wait until January. My favourite kimono bought when I was a student at Waseda doesn't fit as well as it should, so I am hoping to have it taken apart and stitched back together again in time for the New Year. Knowing Japan, traditional seamstresses are probably booked through January so its formal debut may have to wait too.

It's going to be a busy month gentle readers, I hope you're all staying warm and well fed!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Maybe these people aren't so bad afterall

Another day, another nomikai with my BFFs at the Kaisha. After what sometimes feels like a lifetime of nomikai, I have learned that to be fashionably late is to have a better chance of actually enjoying yourself. For at the Kaisha, when the reservation is for 7.30, all the Secretaries gather together and move en masse to the restaurant, with a few older male Professionals flanking them to make sure they don't get lost. Or poached.

Upon arrival at the banquet room, there is mandatory milling about and twittering behind raised palms, until the male Professionals insist that everyone find a seat, anywhere. There is then pairing off and choosing of team members, as the Secretaries distribute themselves among the tables. The first hour is never much fun, for the party starts off like an old reluctant train until it's wheels are oiled by free-flowing alcohol and the arrival of the younger Professionals. The it's off the chain, I mean tracks.

You see, at these events the Secretaries never drink much, some for legitimate reasons and others because they do not want to appear too human, female, like one of the guys or all of the above. Usually about half an hour in, the rest of the male Professionals (with a few young females among them) decide to grace us with their presence and it is precisely here where the combination of people sitting around you will determine what kind of night you'll have. Will you end up going home by last train or falling out of a cab after cross-dressing karaoke? It's a fine line.

It's not that the male Professionals are all hot studs with impeccable conversation skills, but they tend to bring the life (or death) to the conversation and I generally have a better time talking to them than to the Secretaries. This is where timing and guesswork comes into play. If I arrive with the Secretaries, I must be strategic and sit by those who work for good Professionals, for it is a general rule of Kaisha thumb that Professionals sit in close proximity to their Secretaries. To do this, you must research beforehand and ensure you know every important name and face so you don't get caught at the table with the 20-year old Secretaries who have nothing to say for themselves and the old Professionals who have nothing to say for anyone.

At this last nomikai, I was seated at a middle of the road table. I have recently become friends with a Secretary who is a little more seasoned than the others and a genuinely lovely person. She was sitting at a so-so table but when she motioned me over I couldn't refuse (plus the older Professional who had called me Princess at the last gathering was there so who was I to say no?). Then a friend of hers who saw I was joining the table got the free English lesson equivalent of dollar signs in her eyes and scooted over, penning me in for the night. What ensued is formula really, the same questions got asked and answered and no real conversational ground was covered.

As the party broke up and I was getting my coat, a well-meaning but obnoxious Professional came over and asked if I was heading home. At my affirmative answer he informed me that himself and a few others were having a small intimate party at Princess Professional's secret pad if I was interested. The fact that words like "gang bang" were going through my head at that moment must have registered on my face, for he quickly assured me I didn't have to go. Lovely Secretary then came over and explained that after most nomikai, Princess Professional invites a small group of people to his penthouse for drinks and did I want to come. That sounded a little more reasonable and not as sinister as Obnoxious One's proposal so I said yes.

Minutes later I found myself experiencing what the rich and famous must live with every day in Tokyo: lofty night views, floor to ceiling windows, vaulted ceilings and multiple bathrooms. Heavenly hea-ven. Most of the other Secretaries invited to this intimate party were newbies and from their high-pitched sighs you could tell they were learning on the spot not to accept any less from a partner. Now that they had tasted the fruit of Princess Professional's labour, they were going to set out to snag a Professional of their own. It was incredible to see how quickly their minds worked.

What followed is old hat really, champagne was popped, French red was poured and the high flying mingling commenced. Things went fairly smoothly until Obnoxious One's line of questioning got a little too intense, to the point he was insisting we go out and meet the beau that night. I have now learned to keep my mouth shut about having a boyfriend, for it just opens the door to questions I don't need to answer from the people I work with. Luckily he got distracted and cornered a doe-eyed Secretary on the balcony while the rest of us carried on inside. The ultimate moment of awkwardness came when people began asking about Obnoxious One's whereabouts and Lovely Secretary went out on the balcony to find them there alooone. They promptly came back in and everyone pretended nothing had happened. And really, nothing probably did happen but after hearing Lovely describe it to another Secretary the following day at lunch, it was clearly thought of as strange and awkward that the two of them had been out on the balcony alone. To have been a fly on that balcony...

As for me I managed to grab the last train home, unscathed. I enjoyed the conversation at the Princess Pad (which, by the way, is separate from the house he shares with his wife), and took every opportunity to "up" my profile at the Kaisha. I figure I only have a few chances each year to get out the Good Geisha Word, so if the gossip mill is working, at least I can try and influence what is said about me. It probably won't make a difference but if it means one more person talking to me or at least acknowledging my presence at work, I have come to think of it as progress.