What I Learned by Being a Red-light Hostess

October 14, 2011

RHACEL SALAZAR PARRENAS, professor of sociology:

“I spent nine months in Tokyo working as a hostess in a working-class club in one of the city’s many red-light districts, frequented by members of the yakuza, the Japanese crime syndicates. This type of place, in a seedy location, owned by a proprietor with a questionable background, was often assumed to be a site of forced prostitution.

In 2005 and 2006, I resorted to this work as a way of gaining access to the world of Filipina hostesses in Japan. During my first three months in Tokyo, I had struggled to meet hostesses willing to participate in my study of their conditions. My visits to clubs as a customer had not provided any solid leads. Attending church with fellow Filipinas had not gained their trust. Even hostesses whom I befriended had always declined my request for an interview. I had assumed that they had experienced emotional distress from the stigma associated with their occupation. I had come to Japan believing claims by other academics that “hostess work” was a euphemism for “prostitution.”

After I began working as a hostess, every person I approached agreed to talk to me. By the end of my study, I had completed interviews with 56 Filipina hostesses: 45 females and 11 male-to-female transgendered individuals. After working just one week in a hostess bar, I realized I had entered an unfamiliar sexual world, where people are more open about their sexuality, where both customers and hostesses seem to be ready for extramarital affairs, and where men can sexually harass women with no punishment.
This world has been condemned not only for its debauchery and criminal elements but also for “crimes against humanity.”

Japanese hostess clubs — specifically those that employ Filipinas, Eastern Europeans, Colombians and Korean women — have been labeled by the U.S. Department of State as hotbeds of sexual trafficking. In these places, women are not just endlessly harassed, but supposedly also held against their will, forced into prostitution and made victims of sexual violence by lecherous Japanese men.

For the full article (and Part 1 of the story), visit Bloomberg News.

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