Japanese bar industry continues to lure foreign women

By Harumi Ozawa TOKYO, AFP

Filipina hostess Jun panicked when she heard British bar worker Lucie Blackman had been killed and mutilated in a horrific attack that sent shockwaves through famously safe Tokyo’s bar industry.

But Blackman’s death did not stop the 32-year-old Jun from working as a hostess, a job that has provided a lucrative income ever since she first came to Japan 17 years ago.

“I don’t go out on dates with my customers,” said Jun, who only disclosed her first name, at a “Philippine pub” in a desolate Tokyo suburb.

“If they asked me out, I would make sure to bring a friend with me.”

Blackman, 21, disappeared in July 2000 while working as a hostess in Tokyo’s seedy Roppongi district, hoping to earn quick money to fund a trip to Australia.

After seven months of searching, with her photos pinned up on poles across Tokyo, her dismembered body was found buried in a seaside cave in Misaki, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Tokyo.

“I’ve heard one of my younger friends had a similar problem,” Jun said. “She was about to get drugged and taken to a hotel.”

Wealthy businessman Joji Obara was indicted for drugging 10 young women and videotaping sex with them, including Australian hostess Carita Ridgway, who later died at hospital.

Obara was sentenced to a life in prison last week for the assaults on five Japanese and four foreigners — from Australia, Britain, Canada and Ukraine.

But he was acquitted due to lack of evidence in the Blackman case, which drew intense media interest in Britain and Japan.

Japan has increasingly cracked down on bars hiring foreign women after Blackman’s death and an embarrassing US State Department report which blacklisted the close ally over human trafficking.

Japan issued nearly 135,000 “entertainer” visas, long a convenient shield to bring in girls to work as bar hostesses, at the peak in 2004, of which 61.3 percent went to people from the Philippines.

The number shot down by more than 26 percent in the following year, triggering protests in the Philippines where critics said innocent workers would lose their livelihoods.

But observers said a significant number of foreign women, particularly those from Asia, had already settled in Japan as bar hostesses, slipping through the control of immigration authorities.

“Westerners used to work on their tourist visas casually as they backpacked the world,” said Ryuji Demachi, a 51-year-old former freelance writer who specializes in Japanese nightlife.

“There is still a market for Western hostesses, but the places where they can work now have gone down to one-tenth from their height.”

Filipinas, Asians and Eastern Europeans are the most determined to make money and send it back to their parents or buy a house back home, he said.

Filipina hostess Jun is overstaying her entertainer visa, while her friend Gina, 35, is only on temporary release from immigration authorities, a status that could lead to her detention at any time.

A growing number of Asian bar hostesses seek the safer option of marrying a Japanese man to camouflage their work in the world’s second largest economy.