What I learned About Connection In A Japanese 'Girl's Bar'.
I gained access to places that few women or foreigners are allowed to enter.
A portly man in his fifties had just turned away until I dished out my Japanese skills. “Well, do you know anywhere that you can recommend foreigners?” His eyes beamed open while his stern face turned into a gentle smile. “In that case, come with me” He ushered us into the cramped Information Center lobby.
My years of exploration in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho made me aware of a reality – foreigners are only not allowed if the potential cost is more than the reward.
Let’s take the case of a soft-spoken Singaporean businessman with a nice watch, maybe can speak a little Japanese. Money is nothing to him since the Yen hasn’t seen growth in nearly three decades. He’s Asian, wealthy, mannered, and likely to not cause trouble. The women employed will probably have little issue with him. I have no doubt that out of the thousands of Girls’ Bars, Cabaret Clubs, Snack Pubs, and Escort services in Kabukicho that a few wouldn’t mind relieving him of his cash.
It becomes a bit hairy for a group of twenty-something army bros on a night out in Tokyo. You know the types, they call Japanese citizens “the locals” and wouldn’t know the difference between Hanguel and Hiragana? Yeah, they would have a tough time getting into Japanese-ran night establishments in Tokyo. Sure, they have more cash than they know how to deal with but the problems that they have the potential of causing–are not worth it. It’s far easier to say “Japanese Only”
I hadn’t had much experience with Girls’ Bars. I’ve been to Male-staffed Host Clubs twice or thrice with a group of friends. My friends once threw a surprise 19th birthday party for me in Little Seoul at a cafe staffed by cute Korean guys. That was fun.
Yet before this night, I never sought the more popular, female equivalent.
The man staffing the information center sat us on a couch. Like everyone else, he wanted to know why a Black woman could speak Japanese. I typically opt for “I studied in Tokyo.” It’s a simple yet honest response that grants me a bit of cultural capital. Maybe I could be Michelle Obama’s grand-niece twice removed or something. The reality is: I took private Japanese lessons in Michigan since I was 11. I worked as an Idol in Tokyo since I was 18. The bulk of my Japanese ability comes from hustling sugar daddies and working as a hostess. Overall, I’m still not amazing at Japanese. Far more than enough to navigate Kabukicho.
“What’re you guys interested in? Wanna drink?” He had a huge smile on his face and his demeanor went from 0 to Japanese omotenashi as soon as he realized he could make money from us.
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