Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Bestseller by hearing-impaired Ginza hostess - truths and lies"

(Image borrowed from

Form today's Japan Today:

A two-hour TV drama that aired this month, based on the success story of a Ginza hostess who overcame her hearing disability through written communication with customers, earned high ratings.

However, some have publicly questioned the truth of her touching tale, including Kohei Hatsuda, manager of Ginza club “M” where the author of the bestseller, Satoe Saito, used to work. “The book describes her as the ‘Number One Ginza Hostess’ but a small club like ours can accommodate a maximum of 10 customers. There is no way that can make her the top hostess in all of Ginza. Her monthly sales were just about average compared to the other hostesses too.”

He criticizes the title of the book, “Hitsudan (written communication) Hostess.” According to the manager, “She rarely communicated with clients in writing. She can read lips to understand the customer and for the most part, she spoke back and wrote only when her words were inaudible and hard to understand. That was the extent of it.”

Of course, not everything about the 25-year old woman written in the book is fiction. Born in Aomori, Saito lost her hearing before she was 2 years old and attended a school with special courses for those with hearing disabilities. She learned to read lips and use her voice to speak. While in junior high school, she had conflicts with her mother, strict in her daughter’s education so that her disability would not become a lifelong handicap. Saito started smoking and drinking, quit high school and changed jobs several times, until she found herself in the night entertainment business. Her autobiography depicts her tireless effort as a hostess overcoming her disability, working at one nightclub after another using written communication to entertain clients.

When it was learned that she would be writing an autobiography, she had already left “M” and was working at another club, which refused to have photos taken for the book. The managers of “M” decided to help her out by letting the publisher do their photo shoots at their club. After the book came out in May 2009, many flocked to “M” to meet Saito, who decided to work there again.

But according to the mama-san, she had become arrogant, showing up at the club only once a week, and absolutely refusing to communicate through writing. “I asked her to communicate by writing because some came to the club out of admiration for her effort as depicted in the book, but she wouldn’t listen. She’d identify wealthy-looking customers and ask for gifts. Some of those men were clearly disappointed in her.”

The last blow was when she held a publication party, inviting the customers of her fellow hostesses. “In a place like Ginza where each hostess has her own clientele list, her action is a major taboo. The other hostesses were offended and then on Sept 30, she said she was quitting via email. After all the support we gave her, this is the outcome?” laments the manager of “M.”

The book’s publisher Kobunsha and the mama-san of Saito’s current workplace refute such critical comments made by her former employers, which happens to include the mama-san of an Aomori nightclub and first mentor who educated the disabled hostess in the know-how of the business.

But bottom line, that’s the nature of the night entertainment industry. Hostesses are for-sale goods from the club’s perspective, while the women who work there will find any means to achieve popularity and profitability. Vain or humble, true or untrue, it’s all about making money.

Read the story and reader comments:

I'm sorry I missed this one on TV. Why don't I hear about interesting things on TV until it's too late? But there is always the book to check out (see image above) and YouTube clips:

Not having seen the drama or read the book yet, I cannot comment about its portrayal of deafness, Deaf culture or sign language. I would imagine because of the extraordinary setting of the story that it might not have provide much information about the normal lives of deaf people in Japan. I wonder if this is another application of the deafness as deficit model where the poor handicapped person overcomes her disability and people feel good about it (and others make money from it...). Did anybody catch the drama? Comments, please.


Vera Mosley said...

I've worn hearing aids my entire life and I would have loved to watch this documentary. It would be interesting to find out what, if any, truth there is to her story. Overcoming a disability, or rather learning to deal with your own disability, is something that I've struggled with. Sharing your story, in my opinion, doesn't mean you are automatically capitalizing on it though. Interested to hear what others think.

visual gonthros said...

It was not a documentary but a TV drama. Along with the original book, one needs to questions why certain episodes were included and for what purpose. It's kind of like when somebody leaves a comment with a hotlink to their business... The post, and this blog in general, is interested in how deaf people are portrayed, from those who are culturally Deaf and use sign language to people who wear hearing aids so as to participate in the hearing world.