First of all folks, I must say that writing this is taking me back to places in my head that I really don’t want to be taken back to….
Guest post by DEARHAM-SAMURAI
Back in 2008, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads. I was studying Japanese at a language school and was in the precarious position of deciding whether to place my priorities on studying or finding full-time employment. I was still teaching English (who isn’t?), but my actual working hours were circumscribed by both the visa laws and my actual attendance at my language school, who believe me, took a very dim view of anyone who sunk below the sacred 70 per cent attendance rate.
Of course, I had no qualms when it came to taking ‘left handers’ around the watchful glances of those lovely people at the immigration and I was more than happy to work ‘under the table’. However, the hours I was able to work at my teaching job were far too sporadic to satisfy the company or more importantly, enable me to earn enough to live on. The boss wanted me to work full-time, which I just couldn’t. After all, as a student you’re expected not only to devote yourself entirely to the cause, but also to have sufficient funds to support yourself for the duration of your studies. You also have to prove this requirement, which although isn’t exactly the most perplexing of tasks – fudging a bank balance – in the not too distant aftermath I was effectively reaping what I had sown. I was flat broke.
Obviously, it goes without saying that rent still needed to be paid. Also the bills were escalating and my main meal every day, if I was lucky, was marmalade on toast. And all that before even a drop of ale! In fact the biggest issue of all here, was that my Saturday night drinking fund was non-existent. Oh yes, those were barren times alright. Back home I’d have simply gambled my way out of poverty, but as that particular avenue of pleasure had been cut off to me here in Japan, I had to find other ways to fit square pegs into round holes.
If you can’t speak Japanese well enough, there aren’t many options other than English teaching. There are of course the financial ‘headhunter’ jobs being advertised left right and centre, enticing you in with promises of untold wealth and benefits. It is then you discover that 100 per cent of these easy-to-get jobs have an entire salary based on the dreaded C word – commission. So short of that, the only other option that is frequently seen advertised is McDonald’s. Very feasible in terms of the required language skills but I don’t think any self-respecting Westerner would lower themselves, and I’m certainly no exception. Sure, it might not have the same stigma attached to it in Far East Asia as it does in the West but it’s Maccy D’s! McDuck’s! I’d jump on a plane back home before even contemplating joining Ronald’s mob.
It was then that I remembered the girlfriend’s family business – running a hotel. I want to state here that she has long since been an ex girlfriend, and I will refer to her as the ex from now on. (haven’t heard a dickie bird from her since 2009, and long may it stay that way!) For my own intents and purposes this helps to clarify and reiterate the fact that she is indeed an ex. Anyway, this hotel was something she always seemed a bit hesitant to talk about. When the inevitable question about family occupations reared its head, she used to clam up. “Why?”, I thought. “What’s wrong with a hotel?”, I wondered. Nowt, obviously, but when I probed into it a bit more, it transpired that the hotel in question was a ‘love hotel’, and as we all know, in Japan, to talk about such things is considered a faux-pas.
As the ex’s parents owned a hotel, albeit a love hotel, it suddenly dawned upon me that hell, I COULD WORK THERE!! I thought that this could be an easy way into a Japanese job without all the added on bullshit of interviews and robotic hypocritical bowing to people who you’ll inevitably grow to resent. Not to mention having to comply with the Japanese notion of appearance based discrimination – that photograph at the top of a resume for example. And let’s not forget how one usually has to acquire such a photo – sitting in a train station photo booth with their legs on display, for every Tom Dick and Hirosaki to gawp at as they push and shove their way through the heaving masses. Nope, I couldn’t be arsed with any of that. And let’s face it, witnessing the full extent of the intricacies and hanky panky of a love hotel would satisfy even the most reluctant curiosity, yet alone a testosterone fuelled foreigner more or less still fresh off the boat. And, as I had decided, it would all be under the pretext of trying to “further my Japanese language ability, by working in a Japanese only environment”.
The thought of me working in a love hotel amused the ex no end and she wouldn’t even entertain the idea of asking her mother at first. I was adamant though – like a dog with a bone with it. I would constantly harp on about how in order to become proficient in the language, it was essential to be completely exposed to it – warts and all. So she pestered her mother on my behalf. The old devil took some convincing, but after a constant barrage of pleas from her daughter, she finally succumbed to letting me become one of her employees! The good fortune didn’t end there either, as my pay was immediately escalated to \1500 an hour, a full \500 more than any of the current incumbents. A pay rise before even setting foot in the joint! It’s ‘who you know’ in this world. Always has been.
It was the first time I had met the ex girlfriend’s mother, and she hated me from the off – nothing to do with me being a foreigner I hasten to add – probably more down to the fact of her being the proverbial shoulder to cry on in the aftermath of most of the ex girlfriend’s previously failed relationships. To put it quite simply, she was a seemingly overprotective ogre who would sit there imperiously – her eyes peering at me with disdain, piercing right into my soul. I don’t think a “you’re not good enough for my daughter” type demeanour has ever been more evident. Not to me anyway. She might have been the owner but it was the ex’s brother though, who was my superior. Everyone’s superior in fact. As is the case with many young guys, put them in authority far too early, especially presiding over people who have a lot more sleeps to their name than they have, and a bit of an issue will no doubt ensue. He would try and patronise everybody, by sitting there barking out orders in a cold condescending manner. Yup, he was a prick. He was slightly older than me I should add, and even though he was the ex’s brother I pretty much quashed any hopes of ‘bromance’ after about 30 seconds of meeting the douchebag.
There were four other staff on the pay roll.
Watanabe san – a pleasant enough old guy whose shift coincided with mine more than any of the others. Always referred to himself in the third person as some indeed do, but with the added “san” honorific for extra measure!
Goto san – middle-aged chain-smoking redhead, the type of woman who challenges your brain to try and fathom out if she was a catch 30 years previously. To be quite frank, as far as work was concerned she was about as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike. Which of course would be quite apt.
Fujisaki san – a stalwart of the entire enterprise. In her seventies, and in her 40th year of cleaning for the hotel! Yep, the daft old bat had spent more than half her life here mopping up semen drenched tissues, when most of her fellow septuagenarian by now were no doubt travelling around clogging up various world heritage hot spots courtesy of their “bubble era” shaped nest eggs.
Semba san – a legend! An avuncular jolly old soul who took the act of ‘skiving’ to epic proportions! The only one who could speak English too. How often was my shift arranged to be on the same night as his? Nowhere near enough for my liking. Funny that.
The hotel itself was located in Koiwa, on the Sobu Line. Koiwa is a shithole, especially by Japanese standards. As for the hotel itself I wasn’t impressed at all. I’d been in a few love hotels as a customer and was used to the odd theme place of course but I was yet to come across (really, no pun intended) that Ferrari shaped bed that I once read about, or indeed anything resembling the inside of a planetarium where one can gaze, no doubt intoxicated, into far flung constellations while they’re hammering away. Maybe as an employee, having behind the scenes access to such an establishment, I might finally stumble upon one. Alas, any thoughts of embellishing one’s amusement were suddenly shot down in flames when I was given the tour. It was as basic as basic gets as far as the rooms were concerned. The only thing distinguishing this love hotel from a business hotel were all the various ornaments, junk and irregular tat that adorned the corridors. Stuffed owls that looked as though they’d been pilfered straight from the halls of Hogwarts, golden spray painted metal cats caked in dust and Samurai swords that would have looked less out of place in Tokyu Hands. Hell, there was even a menacing Siberian Tiger guarding the entrance! So to re-iterate, no, this wasn’t an extravagantly themed fantasy abode. It was more ‘Bed & Breakfast’ in Bognor Regis.
I quickly made a decision that as Koiwa wasn’t exactly known for its local gaikokujin, I absolutely under no circumstances could become known as “that gaijin who cleans in a love hotel”. I had to make sure that if I happened to see any ‘guest’ while meandering around the corridors, I had to be almost in complete disguise. I bought a cheap hat – one that I could quickly pull down over my eyes if the opportunity arose. And as the law of averages dictates, it would indeed arise, and short of donning full-on Ghostbusters get-up, this was as good as I could muster by way of a virtual cloak of anonymity.
Two of the floors had a store room, which were effectively the hubs from which all cleaning operations were dictated. Little lights on a metal panel indicated which rooms were occupied or needed cleaning. Fujisaki san was my trainer, as I was told she was the most efficient. She had better bloody be, after 40 years of it! She should be able to replenish condoms in her sleep! My biggest obstacle actually was understanding any small talk – anticipating whether anything said was an attempt at humour, making sure I showed the appropriate respect and so forth. The actual work didn’t need much explaining as let’s be honest, a chimpanzee could do it.
My main role in this establishment was pretty straightforward. I was to clean the bathroom, stock the amenities and help fold the sheets. As for the bathroom I presume I was given this particular honour due to a unanimous belief amongst the veterans that this would probably be the area least likely to be contaminated by bodily fluids and thus contravene any health and safety issues. Yep, I had to wash the bath, floor and walls with detergent before rinsing it away. Drying it could be a bit of a ball ache mind you, making sure to eradicate every last droplet. Then it was a case of tidying up, replacing the soaps, combs and hair nets and systematically aligning the bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. A ‘piece of piss’, as we say back in England. Quite therapeutic in fact. Mentally switch off! Think about the weekend’s forthcoming football! Japanese love their baths too. The Western notion of throwing your jeans on and legging it ‘out the door’ after bedding a ten ton munter seems to be lost on the Japanese. Indeed, no matter the caliber of the conquest, more often than not they’ll plump for a leisurely soak as opposed to bolting for the exit. So all in all, the bathroom always needed cleaning – a chore which I could drag out as long as was necessary.
The first task upon entering a recently vacated room was to get the windows open. The smell of sex whacked you full on in the face immediately. I’m embarrassed to admit it but my excitement was actually at its peak at this stage, especially if I’d already seen who the recently checked out occupants were on the CCTV or on reception. “What ‘goodies’ had the amorous couple left behind?”, I wondered, curiosity rocketing. As you can imagine, there’d often be soiled knickers, ripped fishnet stockings, dildos – you name it. I should point out though, not that it needed pointing out, that I was under strict orders never to touch any of this garb for ‘health and safety’ reasons. Cleaning up after the prostitutes was the worst, as not only was the mess at its most abhorrent, it would be accompanied by the pungent odour of that sickly vomit inducing sweet perfume that ladies of the night seem to insist on drowning themselves in. Also whilst standing in there, if you were really lucky, you could sometimes hear the various screams from neighbouring couples. However as the bedroom was for the more experienced employee and not my assigned responsibility, I shuffled towards the bathroom after my initial and one could say “perverted” inspection.
My favourite role was to sort out the amenities and drinks. The endless supply of beers, coffees, pocari sweat and rubber johnnies were available in each of the two main stock rooms. It should come as no surprise that a good proportion of these ended up in my rucksack. Perks of the job, some might say. Goodness knows how much I managed to save on teas and coffees that month. And as for the condoms, it’d be tantamount to a year’s supply! I could justify tea-leafing the johnnies, as I was using them with the ex girlfriend. “Robbing from Peter to pay Peter”, was the way I looked at it.
As mentioned somewhere above, if time permitted I was also required to help change the bed sheets. Remember when your mother used to ask you to help her with this ever so child-friendly household chore? Well, same chore, different end of the spectrum. And it was during one of these chores that provided the best moment of this entire month-long escapade:
One night, around 10pm I was on the late shift with Fujisaki san. As I had just finished helping her fold the sheets, I noticed a small minibus pull up at the traffic lights next to the hotel. We were both right next to the window – an open window. Being 10pm, the hotel was lit up like a Christmas tree, in full view of this minibus. Now obviously you all know the facts at this point, but imagine if you were in that minibus. Here was this young blonde foreigner, with a Japanese old lady, in a love hotel. A young foreigner would surely NOT be working in a love hotel would he??? I doubt it’s ever happened in history. So God only knows what sudden graphic images were manifesting themselves in the minds of these innocent gawpers, but I guarantee that they were putting two and two together, and getting the answer very, very wrong….
One of the most prestigious jobs while working here was sitting on reception. Obviously you don’t have to be Einstein to figure out why. For anyone who is as prone to extreme bouts of bone idleness as yours truly, this was a cushy number indeed. Sitting there, not having to lift a bloody finger! All I had to do was man the switchboard and take the money from the guests. In fact the only time the phone ever rang was when the ex’s mother called in. Oh yeah, and the Yakuza. Yup, quite often actually, there’d be an irate pimp on the other end of the blower demanding that his protegé was showered, covered in perfume and bra and knickers put back on ready for the next client, as it was “TIME UP!” I’d simply put them through…
I’ll be honest, it was pretty interesting at times, me being Johnny Foreigner and having to deal with guests who constantly had to do a ‘double take’ to see who it was who’d just given or taken room keys from them. I didn’t feel the need for any disguise whilst sat perched on reception however, as for all they knew I might well have owned the place! Haha! I am pretty sure the natural authoritarian aura that I (possibly deludedly) presumed I exuded whilst taking their money would cloud any other sudden preconceptions. A gaijin sitting there like he’s ‘King of the castle’ projects a very different image to one being caught on the landing with a mop and bucket. All of it a pretty surreal experience.
Nearly all Japanese love hotels (or at least those that don’t come blessed with automatic room selection systems) have a very small window for the receptionist. This is in order to keep all interactions with the public to a minimum. The windows are situated at around waist height for the guests, so there’s no face-to-face communication. This way, the environment is kept as conducive as possible to any extra-marital activity, a fact further enhanced by a radio channel available in the rooms by the name of “Alibi FM”!! Yeah I’m seriously not making this shit up, ALIBI FM!! This hardly innocuous channel would provide a perfect backdrop to any late night calls back to the wife wouldn’t it? The sound of a busy train station and all its cacophony being one of quite a few examples that might go some way towards adding a certain gloss to the fib!!
Of all the types that came through the doors folks, middle-aged salarymen, waiting for their “derihera” girls were always my favourite. The awkward feeling of shame that they’d exude as they explained that their ‘companion’ would be arriving a little while later always amused me. They certainly weren’t trying to practice their English on me on this occasion! Haha! Without even saying anything it was a chance for me to take the moral high ground – moral being the operative word considering my eye line was level with their belt buckle. Whenever a single bloke checked in, we had to make a note of it. There was a red and green ‘naughts & crosses’ type apparatus for this very purpose. Single customers were to be given a red peg, and under no circumstances were two men allowed to check into the same room. (Two women entering together, on the other hand, was considered perfectly acceptable) Then we’d replace the red peg with a green one, when the girl arrived. Then there were the prostitutes themselves. Always, they had a clearly miserable disposition about them. Who wouldn’t, if they knew what chipolata-endowed bespectacled white shirted specimen lie in wait for them upstairs? On one occasion, one of the working girls came in showing off her cleavage in a Union Jack dress. I didn’t know whether to be completely disgusted or break into a rendition of “God save the Queen”!
The novelty soon wore off and it wasn’t long before working here really started to grate. I was there pretty much every day for a whole month and even though it was piss easy work, I very quickly got fed up of the same rooms, the same smells and the same meaningless chatter. Not to mention all the unnecessary preamble rituals before and after with the ex’s idiotic brother. Skiving with Semba san was fun mind you. We would even watch the TV to stave off the boredom! A guy after my own heart he was. Incidentally, it was Semba san that showed me the enormous stash of porn videos located in the cellar – VHS videos that these days are neither use nor ornament, except for two bored workers that want to kill time. I would also be lying if I said that none of them made their way back to my house either…
Overall I am pleased I had the experience of working here. My English teaching school were eventually able to assign me with more hours and therefore put me back into the gaijin rat race. However working at the love hotel was certainly more interesting than the average job, and it certainly served the purpose of providing me with ample beer tokens along with an inside glimpse into the seedy world of illicit debauchery that goes on, bubbling away just out of the watchful gaze of Joe Public. And to think that there are people who are filling in application forms for the Golden Arches…
Have your own insane Love Hotel story? I’m betting you do. Leave it in the comments and you could win and all expense paid trip (paid for by you) to some dump in Tokyo to have drinks with us! Irresistible!
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