Miwaku-Tekina: Whatever You Wish
Chapter 2: Miwaku-Tekina
Osaka’s Kita District bristled with skyscrapers. Here, a generous number of corporations shared the neighborhood with bright neon shopping outlets, museums, and entertainment venues. The wealthy saw Kita as their playground, for it was where they both made their fortunes and then spent lavishly to divert themselves.
Travel a few blocks southwest from the dazzling architecture, however, and the district’s character changed. Buildings were squatter, clustered closer together. The streets narrowed, and in many places were cracked and broken. Streetlights rarely worked.
Off Gawataki Rd, the dubiously-named Imperial Hotel stood, vainly pretending to be a monument to class and elegance. Once, the hotel had proudly served aristocrats and titans of industry... but that was long ago. The current clientele was far less grand. Most only wanted rent their rooms by the hour, paid strictly in cash, and rarely signed the guestbook.
One of the side entrances of the Imperial was a set of plain, green doors, with flaking gold paint. There was no sign announcing that this was the entrance to Miwaku-Tekina, a hostess bar. Miwaku occupied three floors, with no windows that faced out to the street. Customers found this establishment through its reputation; all other passers-by did not even realize there was a working business behind those doors.
The first two floors were for entertaining paying customers; the third floor contained some private suites, and then a small, shabby office. Like every room at Miwaku, this office had seen better days. Frayed carpets, furniture with small dents, and a tiny kitchenette were somehow arrayed around the little room. Everything in the office was tidy and spotlessly cleaned, just frayed with age and much use.
On the walls were a few electronic paintings, currently switched off. Like the Imperial Hotel itself, these paintings had once been the rage, decades ago. Each painting was an elaborate system of tiny, multicolored electronic lights, arranged so that when they blinked in sequence, they created an eye-pleasing swirly pattern. A handpainted screen was placed over the lights. When switched on, the paintings had a faint psychedelic effect... which is probably why they were popular in the 60s. But were regarded as lame and retro today.
Like the electric paintings, Miwaku’s general manager also seemed like a fugitive from a much hipper past. He was Hayato Hatanaka, a lean and scrawny fellow. Although he was a mere forty-five years in age, his face was worn and etched as if he were much, much older. Unusual for men of his age, Hatanaka’s smooth, black hair was very long, and stretched down his back in a tight ponytail. He wore a traditional business suit, modest by Japanese standards, but one that was well-cared for and hung on his frame like a second skin.
Hatanaka was tense. He leaned against the office desk, jutting out his jaw, and twirling a lit Parliament cigarette between his fingers. The expensive cigarettes were the only serious vice he permitted.
“This is risky,” the Japanese man muttered aloud. “Once the clients find out, well... we could lose control.”
“Perhaps you should not worry,” his companion said. “The situation, after all, is already out of your hands.”
Hatanaka turned his head, eyeing the other Japanese person in the room. This was Ms. Natsuki Fujimura, a slender woman of only thirty. Elegant yet conservative in appearance, Ms. Fujimura projected a cool, detached air. What thoughts lurked in her head, Hatanaka could not say. Ms. Fujimura stood before the kitchenette, her skills hands setting a classic, dark red teapot onto a tray.
The Japanese manager took a draw on his cigarette. “What do you mean?”
“Miwaku cannot earn a profit, not on our current trajectory,” Ms. Fujimura replied absently. She was selecting a small teacup from the cupboard. “But if we were to expand the additional services...”
“Our clients would expect and then demand those extras,” Hatanaka huffed. “And then there would be no going back.” He scowled.
Ms. Fujimura bowed her head, a demure sign of respect. “As you say.”
She lifted the tray, then approached Hatanaka’s desk. The club manager watched her precise movements as she set the cup before his chair, then poured with the elegance of a master.
“It is my suspicion,” Ms. Fujimura said as she worked, “that the clients will pay even more than we anticipate. Our finances will be most profitable, indeed.”
Hatanaka scowled, “I will say again—“
There was a soft knock at the door. Both Hatanaka and Ms. Fujimura looked up in surprise.
“Were you expecting someone?” Hatanaka asked, quickly stabbing out his cigarette.
Ms. Fujimura frowned, shook her head, then moved to open the door.
Standing out in the cramped hallway was Ayaka and Lori. Both wore simple but sleek party dresses that matched their heels and nails. Lori was in red; Ayaka in light crystal blue. The American’s dress had a high collar, and her pinned-up blonde hair allowed a few curly strands of hair to hang down about her graceful neck, not unlike a weeping willow tree. It was hard to say which young woman looked more beautiful.
“Ah,” grunted Hatanaka. “I’d forgotten.” He gestured for the women to enter.
Lori allowed Ayaka to lead, as Ayaka had social precedence here. The American girl carefully stepped into the office, bowing once as Hatanaka’s hard eyes swept over her. But he bowed back.
For as long as she lived in Japan, Lori never quite got the hang of bowing. In other cultures, you bowed to a superior to show allegiance. But in Japan, everyone bowed to each other. That simple bend at the waist denoted respect and appreciation. But knowing when to bow or how low to bow... well, that was a puzzle. The general rule of thumb was to bow whenever you didn’t know what else to do.
“Thank you for this meeting, Hatanaka-san,” Ayaka said, bowing once more. “You have always said that you would hire another hostess, should I—“
“You didn’t say she was European,” interrupted Hatanaka. “Swedish?”
Lori glanced at her roommate. Japanese custom dictated that she had to wait to be acknowledged before she could speak. This was hard, as Lori was brought up in a family where everyone just yelled out opinions at the drop of a hat.
“Er, American, Hatanaka-san,” Ayaka corrected.
“Hmmgh,” mumbled Hatanaka, folding his arms over his chest. “American. Well, she is very pretty. Very pretty.”
Lori, uncertain how to accept this compliment... or if it even was a compliment... simply bowed.
“But the customers will never accept an American hostess,” pronounced Hatanaka. “Never. She’s too...” He searched for the word. “Too intimidating,” he finished. “The customers, they want a sweet, submissive girl.”
Lori resisted the urge to argue. Ayaka turned in her direction, indicating that now it was appropriate for her to speak.
“I assure you, Hatanaka-san,” the American student said smoothly, “I’m sure I can please your customers.”
Miwaku’s manager blinked in surprise. “Your Japanese is quite good,” he said. “Hmm. Very well. You can be a bikini girl at the bar.”
From Ayaka’s chagrined expression, Lori could tell that this was not an attractive proposition.
Hatanaka spread his hands, almost in apology. “Our customers are Japanese,” he explained. “They expect Japanese girls, and they want to be treated like Japanese lords. Foreign girls... they just make a mess of things.”
Hoping she sounded respectful, Lori replied with care: “I understand, Hatanaka-san. Perhaps you should know that I have come to Japan since I was a young girl. I have lived here for six years; I am a student at Osaka University.” She lowered her voice slightly. “I know how to flatter and please Japanese men.”
Hatanaka’s surprise was uncontainable. “I see...” he said slowly, then slid a curious glance at Ms. Fujimura.
The older Japanese woman’s face was completely unreadable.
“Very well...” mused Hatanaka. “Have you learned—“
“Forgive me, sir,” Lori said, bowing. “Ayaka has spent the last several days instructing me. I know I am ready.”
Almost amused, the Japanese man rubbed his chin. “We shall see,” he said.
With crisp, deliberate movements, he retreated to sit behind his desk, carefully setting aside the teacup. “Go to the kitchenette,” he instructed. “Select a second cup, then pour the tea for me. If you succeed, you may work here for one night, provisionally.”
Lori slid a triumphant glance at Ayaka. She lifted her head, her demeanor practically announcing, ‘I got this!’
“You did well,” Ayaka complimented Lori with approval as the two young women descended to Miwaku’s main entertaining room. “Hatanaka-san rarely makes new hires upon a first meeting.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Lori, doing her best to steady herself. The carpet on the stairs was uneven; it made walking in high heels rather treacherous.
“Just don’t get cocky,” Ayaka advised. “There’s still a long way to go.”
The two women entered the main barroom, almost ready for the evening clients. The chamber was a wide, sprawling space, with a low ceiling and stuffy atmosphere. A run-down bar dominated the center of the room, but there were plenty of private little booths tucked into the corners. Small tables lined the walls. Every piece of furniture was chipped at least once, and no two pieces perfectly matched. Faded ink paintings of Japan’s samurai past hung on the walls.
The room was occupied by perhaps two dozen young Japanese women, all wearing small, slinky dresses, all in heels and makeup. Several were checking themselves in pocket mirrors; others were patting their hair. One particularly ambitious lady was carefully adjusting her cleavage, perhaps making sure the padding in her bra was comfortable.
Curious, scrutinizing eyes fell on Lori. The American student smiled faintly, but none of the women smiled back.
“They resent you already,” Ayaka murmured. “Don’t worry, they resent all the new girls.” With a glance at Lori’s chest, she added. “But they wish they had your big tits.”
“They’re not that big!” Lori whispered back, half in exasperation.
“In Japan, your boobs are huge, sweetie,” Ayaka replied dryly.
The lights dimmed, and three more young women appeared, all dressed in string bikinis. In a flash, Lori knew they were not Japanese; they were too dark and too curvy. Perhaps Indonesian or Polynesian? The bikini girls hurried to the bar, lit long sticks of jasmine incense, then began walking around the entertaining room, carefully spreading the fragmented mist everywhere. The lights were dimmed.
“They’re making the place dark and smoky,” realized Lori.
“Of course,” grumbled Ayaka, smoothing her dress over her stomach. “If the customers realized what a dump this place was, we’d all be out on the street.”
One of the bikinis drew a velvet rope across the stairwell. A sign saying “PRIVATE FANTASIES” hung from the rope.
“What’s that?” Lori darkly asked Ayaka, and nodded at the sign.
“Huh?” Ayaka replied, momentarily distracted because she was checking her nails. “Oh, right. Up the stairs are the entertaining rooms. If a client likes you enough, and he pays the house fee, he may invite you back there.”
“Ewww...!” Lori recoiled, not certain that she liked the sound of this.
“Oh, the entertaining rooms are just miniature versions of the main floor,” Ayaka assured her. “If a customer wants one, it just means that he doesn’t want to be seen. Privacy and all that. Very Japanese.”
“Uh-huh,” said Lori, not convinced.
“Well, there’s a million yen price tag before he can set foot in one of those,” Ayaka said airily. “So its pretty unlikely you’ll be invited to visit one. Don’t worry about it. Now, before I forget...”
Ms. Fujimura suddenly appeared from a door behind the bar. With a disapproving air, the prim woman strode quickly through the crowd of hostess girls.
“Its almost six o’clock, ladies,” she said, her voice slightly tense. “Is everyone ready?”
No-one responded, but all the young ladies immediately put away their accessories and fell into a kind of military formation behind the tall businesswoman. Ms. Fujimura moved into Miwaku’s large greeting foyer, towards the double doors which led outside. The hostesses followed her without a word. Meanwhile, the bikini’ed girls hurried to behind the bar. Soft jazz started to play on the club speakers.
“Oh,” Ayaka murmured to Lori, lightly touching her friend’s arm, “I almost forgot... Once the customers arrive, we can’t talk to one another. At all. You have to pretend like we don’t know each other.”
“Why?” Lori asked, bewildered.
“We’ll intimidate the customers,” said Ayaka, shaking her head and rolling her eyes. “Some of these guys are shy—REALLY shy—with women. You always have to make sure—“
“Quiet!” barked Ms. Fujimura, shooting an acid glare at Ayaka.
The hostess girls fell silent. They formed a single line, all facing the entranceway. Lori noted that most girls lowered their heads and stood with one leg forward.
Ms. Fujimura’s mouth tightened, but she said nothing more. With quick, precise movements, she released the locks, opened the double doors, and smiled warmly at the small crown outside.
“Gentlemen,” Lori heard her say in perfect, formal Japanese, “welcome to Miwaku-Tekina.”
And then the businesswoman retreated. The customers entered.
Lori had no idea what to expect. Her first glance at Miwaku’s patrons was almost disappointing. They were men... average, middle-aged Japanese men. All wore coats and business suits, with corporate ties and designer shoes. Most were incredibly skinny, their necks turtlelike in their shirt collars. Some wore glasses; some were embarrassingly short; some were very bald; some had overbites; some sported pencil moustaches; some stooped a bit when they walked; some smiled reflexively, as if they weren’t aware what their face was doing. One absently mumbled to himself in an almost constant narrative.
Not one of these men had an ounce of charisma. Oh, their fine clothes suggested that they commanded respect and fear at their places of business. But here, in the presence of the Miwaku-Tekina sirens, their arrogance melted away and they were no more rowdier than bashful sheep.
There was a slightly awkward ballet as the customers handed their overgarments off to Shiori, the coat-check girl, and then paid the twenty-thousand yen cover charge to Tsumugi, the admissions girl. The hostesses waited patiently, casting their alluring eyes.
And then finally, the first customer stepped forward, beaming at the row of loveliness before him. He was perhaps the shortest man of all, with thick glasses, pockmarks on his face, and a bulging Adam’s apple.
The man made eye contact with a stunning, willowy girl not far from Lori. The girl coyly smiled back, then blushed and lowered her eyes. Her performance was spot-on.
Immediately, the customer turned beet red, and a boylike smile spread over his face. He said nothing, but extended his hands toward his chosen companion, who glided forward. In once smooth motion, she took his arm and gently propelled him off to the bar, back in the main room. The customer never had a chance to resist.
Ayaka slid a glance at Lori. ‘That’s how its done,’ her expression said.
Now the customers were stepping forward eagerly, selecting their dates, and retreating back into the shadows of the club. A tall, thin chap without a single hair on his head suddenly appeared before Ayaka, and she quietly giggled in pleasure as she accepted his arm. The two turned, and were gone.
Feeling surprised but heartened, Lori shifted her weight on her hips, tossed her blonde curls, and lowered her head just slightly.
By nine PM, the American student was still without her first gentleman client. Oh, Miwaku’s patrons gaped at her. But none ever approached. Giggling didn’t help. Swirling her shoulders didn’t help. Coyly eyeing them while playing with her curls didn’t help. Lori was ogled, but then rejected every time.
The other hostesses were having far more luck. They dutifully stood by the entrance, smiling and subtly flirting whenever a new customer arrived. If a gentleman wished to conclude his evening, his lady would escort him back to the front door, wish him well, then resume a position in the greeting line for her next meal ticket. Some girls had “dated” three gentlemen already.
Doubt began to eat at Lori. She looked into the main barroom, now filled with maybe fifty gentlemen, all falling under the charms of the Miwaku women. Feminine voices lilted in the air, usually saying things like, “Oh, you’re so funny,” or “you remind me of a former crush,” or “I just feel so comfortable with you,” or “well, you must be so much smarter than I am. Tee hee hee!” And the customers were red-faced, smiling and relaxing, and spending freely.
There was a certain art to what the hostesses did. These men, Lori recognized, were powerful in their occupations and their home lives. Yet they willingly came here to be flattered and reduced to blushing boys. They lost track of the time and the yen that flowed from their wallets, and they didn’t care in the slightest. It was like they were tranquilized.
Across the barroom, Lori spotted Ayaka. She was fawning over another tall Japanese fellow, easily twice her age, with thinning hair and wearing large glasses. The customer allowed Ayaka to take his arm, then reached to caress her cheek.
Instantly, Ayaka slapped him! Once, right across the cheek!
Lori stared, shocked to the core. Surely Ayaka would be fired... right?
The customer recoiled, but a desirous smile crossed his face. He hung his head.
“There, now,” Ayaka said firmly. “Bad boy. Behave yourself.”
“Yes, mama,” the customer sheepishly replied.
Ayaka nodded, signaling that she was satisfied. The two resumed their conversation. Yet Lori could tell; the man was itching to caress her again. And get slapped again.
Lori pursed her lips, studying her roommate. There was something different about Ayaka, something... regal. She held her head high. She flashed her eyes in a demanding way, and her voice had a hard edge in it. She was playing the dominant role!
The realization stunned Lori. Japanese women were NEVER supposed to be the dominant ones, particularly in service settings like Miwaku-Tekina. And yet, there was Ayaka, acting like a queen. Her customer positively loved it.
‘I have a lot to get about Japanese culture,’ Lori thought sourly. No doubt if she tried to slap a customer, Ms. Fujimura would chuck her headfirst into the back alley.
A scrawny businessman entered the club, almost trembling as he handed his coat to Shiori. He was even shorter than Lori, with a tiny goatee, big buck teeth, and ears that stood out like wings. His hands hung limply from his bony wrists, a sign of insecurity. But his suit was very expensive, and there was a perl clip on his tie. A high-roller.
‘Maybe what I need is a little American sizzle,’ Lori mused. It was time to change tactics.
Swooping down on the new customer, Lori fixed him in her brightest smile. “Welcome to Miwaku-Tekina,” she beamed. “I hope you will find our modest hospitality to be to your liking.”
With confidence, she took the little man by the arm. “May I show you our establishment?” she murmured, standing close. “Or, if you wish, I can arrange for one of my girlfriends to show you. But I was hoping you might pick me.” She added that last sentence in a whisper, making sure to lower her eyelids and blush slightly.
The Japanese man gazed at her, transfixed. “I’m... Yuki Nakashima,” he mumbled, unable to tear his eyes away from Lori. “I am the Executive Manager for Development at Nishini Technologies.”
“EXECUTIVE Manager?” Lori breathed, allowing her smile to widen. “Oh my goodness... You must be responsible for so many people!”
Mr. Nakashima broke out into a befuddled grin. “Do you like sake?” he asked hopefully.
For a Thursday, Miwaku-Tekina turned some brisk business. Three hundred forty-seven customers came—hardly a record—each spending an average of nine hundred thousand yen.
The last customer was politely ushered out shortly after midnight. After he was put into his coat and then into a taxi, Lori immediately noticed all the other hostess girls visibly relax. Easygoing smiles melted. The young women rubbed their own necks and lower backs, weary from a long night of performing. Some were more than a little tipsy.
Ayaka appeared at Lori’s side, looking beat. “How’d you do?” she asked wearily.
“Good, I guess,” Lori replied. “I saw four gentlemen, two who wanted to brag about their promotions, two who were so tongue-tied, they never once looked at me.”
“Nice,” complemented Ayaka. “I knew you’d be a natural at this.”
The Miwaku women were paid in cash, once Ms. Fujimura worked out everyone’s cut. There was a brief closing ceremony as the prim businesswoman handed each hostess a scented envelope and a stern reminder to keep up the good work. The minute the young women had their envelope, they snatched their coats and vanished. It was half-past midnight.
“Every night is different,” Ayaka said to Lori, discreetly slipping her own envelope into her purse. The two roommates were in the foyer, waiting on Shiori to find their overcoats. “Your cut is twenty percent of what your customer spends, minus his admission. I don’t know how they track it all, but I’ve never heard any complaints.”
Curious, Lori started to peek inside her own envelope.
“No, don’t!” Ayaka said quickly. “You’ll insult Hatanaka-san. Count it at home.”
Lori nodded, embarrassed at her greedy display.
Stifling a yawn, the blonde woman said, “Hey, can I ask you something else about this job?”
Ayaka glanced about. All the other girls were tired; none were eavesdropping.
“Sure,” she allowed.
“That tall guy,” Lori said, “the one losing his hair, with glasses. The one you slapped. How did you—“
“Slapped?” frowned Ayaka. “What do you mean, slapped?”
Lori hesitated. Had she committed another faux-paus? The last thing she needed was to disgust Ayaka with more ignorant behavior. “Forget it,” she said quickly.
The two roommates fell silent, wearily reflecting on the day. Lori found that her hand was gratefully fingering her envelope from Ms. Fujimura. It felt thick.
Smiling to herself, the American student began to think of those Manolo Blahniks which matched her flowered blouse...