Japan’s ‘modern geisha’ to form labour union

Japan’s bar hostesses, often dubbed “modern geisha”, plan to form their first trade union next month to fight for better wages and conditions, a labour official said on Wednesday.

Many “kyabakura-jo”, or cabaret club sisters, complain of unpaid wages and sexual harassment by their customers and employers, said Takeshi Suzuki, a senior official of a Tokyo-based union for part-time workers.

“We are seeing an increasing number of complaints filed by hostesses as the economy gets worse,” said Suzuki, whose organisation plans to open a separate chapter for the bar hostesses in January.

“Some said they get paid nothing after their managers charge them for the expenses of flowers, hair-dos and make-up.”

Kyabakura, similarly to the geisha of old, provide company to male clients, serving and entertaining them. They are often portrayed in TV dramas as enjoying a glamorous and well-paid lifestyle.

Despite the image, their working conditions remain lawless, said Suzuki.

“We have received complaints over baseless fines, charges and excessive quotas to get drink orders (from male clients),” he said.

“Some of them said they have been told to provide an extra service called ‘accompanying’ male customers, such as going on a date or to a hotel.

“Many hostesses, in their teens and early 20s, have been forced to believe they can’t do anything about their atrocious working conditions and demands from employers. But they can fight against them.”