Chapter 7. Gomi Girl
I breathed short shallow breaths between my gritted smile, trying to keep my cool and look like I was enjoying myself, as the damp, fatty hand slid further up my thigh. Faking arousal was not going to help — I considered biting his face. How the fuck was I going to get out of this one? What if ‘Boss Matsumoto’ discovered the dirty secret hiding in my knickers? What would he do? Would he hit me? Would he throw me out of his car? Would I lose my job? I really, REALLY needed this job and hoped my cover would hold. As my heart raced I calculated the lead up to this moment — to all the decisions that had led me here.
At the age of nineteen I had arrived in Tokyo in the late winter. It was cold and had started to snow again. I had needed a toaster… everyone in Japan had a toaster. Toast in Japan is it’s own food group. Bread in Japan is thick, lusciously white and fluffy. My embrace of Japanese culture was incomplete without a way to toast these clouds of bread. As such my friends and I went out gomi shopping through the garbage piles in Ginza.
I had been suffering major culture shock from the minute I stepped off the plane into a sea of black heads. At five-foot-seven, and with the added height of platforms, I towered above the citizens of this city like an ent — a glamorous Gigantor!
I had grown out my Mohawk to a platinum, pin-curled bob and had replaced my fifties lingerie outerwear with men’s velvet suits and wide, psychedelic ties. This was my attempt at normal attire. On my regular commute on the packed subway I was often mobbed by swarms of Lolita-complexed schoolgirls — before being groped by overzealous business men, imaginarily raped at imaginary knifepoint by small swarms of Iranian hawkers, or being pestered for sex by horny randoms of all nations who believed the hype that all western vaginas were toll-free superhighways of sex.
I would have to adjust to my new status as a 3rd class citizen in Japan, which my father had cautioned me was one of the last bastions of misogyny. Feminism didn’t even seem to exist. Feminism here was an indulgent western ideology that was looked down on with contempt.
As for any maltreatment, I guess I had it all coming, and regardless of whether it all upset me or not I had to contend with it. After all… I was a gaijin. I was asking for it just by being there. Gaijin means ‘outsider person’ or more affectionately ‘alien.’ it is a derogatory racial slur used to describe non-Japanese people, particularly Caucasians. Alien is generally how we were treated. It was not without irony that I noted that night in Ginza that we, the refuse of society, were rifling through the refuse of our adopted country, for what to us were luxury goods. I felt like Blade Runner’s mascara-smeared Pris lost in a tumble of black shiny garbage bags.
It was 1991, and Japan was on a high, the Yen economically rivalling the USD and the Pound. It was incredibly expensive to live there, but I had committed, for reasons I can’t remember, to make Tokyo my new home.
It was perhaps that my options were so bleak in Australia, but here, at least I felt there was the potential for something good to happen for me.
As the visa was easier to get than London or the USA, many of us washed up here.
As was her style Talullah had gone completely AWOL leaving me with my design-less pride of motley gaijin. Our pack consisted of myself, a nineteen year old punk stripper, Terror, a Jewish English tutor, a famous swimwear model, Annalise, a Canadian drug dealer named Cloud and a Japanese misfit/ drug buyer named Tomo. We were out gomi shopping in the well-to-do area of Ginza where all of the best gomi could be found. We were a block behind another group of gaijin led by English cunning stunt Beverly, who was also out for the evening’s pickings. It was Tuesday night and like jawas, small packs of westerners could be seen scavenging through the garbage piles on the street for electronics that would improve their bottom feeding lifestyles. Gomi means garbage, and gomi shopping was how foreigners furnished their humble, tatami mat, rice paper walled, gaijin houses.
Beverly’s pack had sized us up, but were looking for VHS players, so weren’t in any competition. Our gomi shopping list was as follows: Terror needed a television, Annalise needed a ‘new’ fridge, Cloud was just coming along to see what trophies he could find and Tomo needed a cassette deck as the rewind on his walkman was broken and he was tired of rewinding his cassettes with a pencil.
The Japanese were so into the prestige of owning the latest model of any household appliance, they didn’t wait for something to break, they just threw it out when it had been superseded and bought the next model.
Thus the gomi piles were always productive and if you ever needed anything, you just cruised the streets of Nakano or Ginza on a Tuesday night to find your lute. There was everything a foreigner needed to stock out their ryokan- everything it seemed except a toaster. Tomo, a Japanese misfit, soothed my pain and, risking life imprisonment, passed me a spliff.
Japanese misfits were the few Nihonjins who would have much to do with gaijin back then. In most cases they were Japanese kids who had travelled outside of Japan into the big wild world, and had come back with expanded minds. Minds that didn’t squish back down upon return to their homeland. Japan is a land of paradox, a land where you can buy the wildest creations- such as a hat that dispenses tissues when you have a sniffle, or shoes for your cat to ensure it doesn’t leave paw prints on your floor, or fleshy stickers that stopped your nipples getting erect when cold… but outside of these absurdities Japan is a massively conservative society.
In Tomo’s case he had been to Jamaica and had come back an acid fiend with a love of reggae who only wore tie-died clothing on principal. There was no chance Tomo was ever going to re-squish. He was one of our rave buddies — not that raves were commonplace in Japan, but there was the odd attempt to make the magic happen. I missed raving. I missed dance parties. We all did. So it was a nightly occurrence that between Annalise’s knock-off time from the hostess bar at 3 am until 6 am when the trains started, we’d end up coagulating in empty nightclubs, taking tabs of acid supplied by Cloud and chasing the mirror ball around in circles.
Tokyo was a tease. This blinking neon utopia had everything that you never even knew you could want — toilet seats that warmed up and sang ‘welcome’ to your ass when you sat on them, underwear with fluffy animals that audibly wished you ‘good morning’ when you put them on, vibrator vending machines, octopus rape manga, designer Vivienne Westwood catwalk garments off the rack, love hotels where the room was a pool and the bed was a fake island floating in the middle, warm coffee in a can from machines in the street and the dawning of Tokyo…
Fruits and Lolita fashion — little girly frilly dresses for grown women sold side by side with Astro Boy lingerie and matching heels. Not that the shop assistants would let us try things on — we were gaijin — and ‘all gaijin are dirty.’
Tokyo, one of the then most expensive cities in the world, was not a fun place to have no money, and poverty in Japan was despised. So even though I had state of the art TVs, VHS recorders, CD players everything but a toaster it would seem— the kind of stuff I would often dream of owning in Australia… every night Annalise, Cloud and I would be scraping together the last of our pennies to miserably dine on cabbage soup and rice.
Six weeks after my arrival I was flat broke and finding a job as a showgirl had proved nearly impossible. Even finding showgirl venues was hard. All of the literature was in Japanese and most of the venues were underground. Besides that, the stripping culture here was vastly different to everything I had known. Japanese striptease didn’t seem to exist, not as I knew it anyway.
I was a bit surprised considering Japan is the home of Kabuki — one of the world’s first powerful burlesque movements. But more about that later… I didn’t know about Kabuki then, I didn’t know about burlesque.
I was pure in spirit and as a result completely clueless.
Stripping for foreigners did exist. The one advantage of being a tall, glamorous blonde is that you were a freak. And as a freak, people were prepared to pay big money to see you in a show. The money to be made from stripping in Japan, at this time in history, was astronomical!
If you wanted to strip, however, you needed a combination of the following:
You had to have an entertainer’s visa, which I didn’t have. You needed an agent, which I didn’t have. You needed to be a trained dancer, which I wasn’t… or you needed to have massive tits, which I didn’t. You needed to dance in spike stilettos, which I couldn’t. You needed to have three amazing chintzy sequinned costumes, which I didn’t like and didn’t possess. You needed a minimum of three acts, which I didn’t have.
You needed to have a tan and wear an impossibly high-cut G-string (the kind that remind me of what a Mozzarella cheese ball looks like when a wire is passed half way through it), which to me was anathema to good taste. No one needed to see that much of my asshole for their lives to be complete.
But being the determined stripper I was, I put my ear to the ground and started the hunt for work. Like every other part of the world the striptease work here had several different levels, payment styles and levels of safety. In fact it was my time in Japan that forged my habit of scouring every country I went to, to investigate the red light district and strip club culture. You can tell a lot about a culture’s attitude to women by how their strip clubs run. From what I immediately observed Japan didn’t like women much, but the men here had a strange fascination for ‘the other’ — ‘the other’ in this case being young white women. If you were a Japanese man, having a large-breasted white chick on your arm was as much a status symbol as driving a Porsche. For a strip club to have a tall, blonde, sexy, freak was a huge bonus… I just had to find the right club.
The first strip shows I encountered were housed within respectable reviews involving chorus line dancers. The strip itself was usually a choreographed number performed by one of the principal dancers in the troupe. It was faux stripping with all the tease and sexuality torn out of it. It was as cold as a Tupperware commercial — all teeth and automated sales techniques. The act would last 1 song as opposed to 15 mins and you had to audition.
The audition process was humiliating. I would go for job after job and have to audition in front of the entire cast of professional dancers, their sniggers deliberately audible over the sound of my music. Sometimes the casting panel would just laugh at me without even bothering to see me perform and I would leave dejected and demoralised. I would be told ‘no’ time after time. I began to understand the Japanese saying ‘the nail that sticks out would be hammered down.’ As a platinum haired fetish performer in a sea of bored brunette hoofers who did cheesy chorus work in shitty sequins, I was definitely that nail.
“Screw this hetro shit,” I thought. “These just aren’t my people.” My next port of call was the gay district. In Sydney I had often been confused for a trans performer so I decided to cash in on my androgyny and get work as a drag queen. In my life I have drawn upon my transformability in several moments of desperation and cabbage soup is definitely a sign things had become desperate.
I had been trained by the best of the best in Sydney — learning from Cindy Pastel, Brenton Heath Kerr, Miss 3D and Bernina Bod who were some of my guiding lights and drag mentors. They loved that Talullah and I would get dragged up, in female drag, and come play with them as very few women would back then. It was pre-Priscilla days when drag was not celebrated outside of it’s own clubs. The above mentors didn’t carry the open misogyny inherent in so many queer performers of that time and were open and kind, and all with the mad streak of genius.
So, I drew upon all of my knowledge and bravado, put on my slap and some sparkles, spoke in a camp lowered voice and strutted on down to Ni-Chome.
The way I saw it I wasn’t a woman pretending to be a man pretending to be a woman, I was reclaiming what was mine to reclaim. I just cut out the man and went on being a woman pretending to be a different kind of woman… an hysterical glamour-monster, a beauty with a personality of magnanimous proportions with so much air in my hair that my bouffant wig scraped across the ceiling of the stage when I walked out. The boss’ jaw hit the floor. Matsumoto San LOVED me!!! (I’ve called him Matsumoto after the character in Kill Bill. He was a big scary Jakousa fuck.)
In fact Matsumoto San was so into me I was getting increasingly worried — not only that I’d be discovered but also that I might disappear all together.
Gay in Japan is not as ok as gay in Sydney Australia — especially back in 1991. I had been spoiled by Sydney with its openly flamboyant, massively artistic, provocative, fabulously antagonistic, politically bent queer scene and the joyous laissez fair attitude of Sydney poofs and dykes.
In 1991 Tokyo Japan, gay was something entirely different. It was something to be ashamed of. It happened in dark corners, hidden and tolerated so long as it wasn’t out in the open. Unlike Sydney the Japanese had been kept in the dark about HIV and how it spread. Whist the rest of the world was coming to terms with the fact that this disease was not a selective Grim Reaper that sought queer hosts as a part of some religious punishment, Japan had no real discussion about it al all. I would hear things like “only foreigners can get AIDS” or that old catch cry — “Only gays get AIDS.” Add that to an all-pervasive attitude that queer sexualities should be kept hidden, I found myself in a darkened bar that was not so much seedy as it was scary.
After my audition Matsumoto patted my back as he talked me through the work I was to do. I was asked to pour gentlemen’s drinks and, as conversation was limited due to the language barrier, to smile sweetly like a drag robot — a dragbot. I would then do a semi strip/ drag number, three times a night, finishing each act by singing Japanese Karaoke songs about fishing. I was to start that night and would be paid in cash at the end of my shift.
Matsumoto also explained that occasionally I would be asked to play mini-golf on stage in a G-string… but that was only if a customer was celebrating his birthday.
I have to say I was really questioning my choices whilst I stood semi naked with a condom full of birdseed stuffed down the front of my G-string, warbling on about a golden tugboat, but I was getting paid so the show must go on… and on… and on… and for those of you who have ever been subjected to singing a Japanese Enka to a Karaoke machine, you know what I mean. I was having a hard time getting my head around it all. I knew things were going to be weird here, but the party was clearly just getting started.
The shows were definitely more my line of striptease. I got to choose my own songs and costumes. I was the support for the other drag artist who was a bitch- but she and the other artists were not what I had ever experienced in the queer world at home! The chorus was made up of sad looking lady boys and entrapped Philippine girlie boy/boylie girls/ I don’t even know what chicken and the egg story my fellow performers had.
Not one soul spoke English, and no-one spoke to me anyway — they wouldn’t even make eye contact including Matsumoto — a huge man who spent the end of the night driving me around in his car, enjoying the prestige of having a blonde dragbot by his side, but not speaking to me because it was my job as a ‘woman’ to entertain him- which was impossible as we couldn’t communicate. Which leads to the moment that opened this chapter as his hand lit upon my satin covered thigh and started inching its way up my leg toward my packed panties. I had no back up plan for this moment.
I knew that at any moment he was going to grab my birdseed cock and make a garlic-breathed move my way. All the stories of girls disappearing in Japan raced through my mind on that drive. I quickly spilt my drink on my dress, profusely apologising. It worked for the moment and he retreated his sweaty paw to his own groin and grunted.
Thankfully no garlic-infused moment came. I was offered the job and he dropped me at the fake address I had provided. He paid me the 10,0000 yen I had earned for my time in his club. Domo fucking arigato!!!! I was never happier to get out of a car.
That night Annalise, Cloud and I spoiled ourselves and dined on the salad buffet at Sizzler!!! This was the best place for foreigners to eat because they couldn’t refuse to serve us- nor could they refuse the four sumo wrestlers who joined us making the most of the ALL YOU CAN EAT FOR 10,000 yen offer. It was a feast!!! Squeezed between our new giant friends we gorged ourselves and stuffed whatever food we could into our backpacks. It’s kind of pitiful when Sizzler becomes your Maxim’s De Paris.
I never went back to that club in Ni Chome, so when the money ran out I took myself to the real red light district, sleazy old Shinjuku with the streets lined with blinking neon and sex shops. I passed a plethora of parlours with young bucked toothed girls decorating the doorways, their tiny bodies in cheap tiny dresses, handing out tiny fliers advertising the services they provided. In these clubs, nestled in amongst the vending machines dispensing used schoolgirl knickers and child porn magazines, was the odd strip club.
With portfolio in hand and a VHS of one of my acts, I entered one of the peep shows that Terror had heard about. The boss showed me through and in broken English communicated the conditions. It was a peep show.
The dancer was safely secured in an ovum styled room with little windows, and the men, again like little sperm, gathered around, one at each window, to watch. On the John’s side was a booth where the gent would masturbate, and on the dancer’s side, under each window was a little box with a hole in it. I puzzled…
I was baffled as to what it was all about as the boss showed me to one of the booths. There was a fist-sized glory hole under the window. Again I puzzled. Eventually the little screen went up and I could see into the room. The dancer didn’t strip — everything was already off. She looked bored — trapped — caged. She reminded me of a fish in a bowl swimming from window to window.
Eventually a hand containing a 10,000-yen note came up through one of the holes in the boxes. So I checked my glory hole and yes it led to the corresponding hole in the box in front of my booth. The dancer took the money, bowed and sat on the box, her pussy over the hole. The hand then having full access to her pussy did whatever it wanted for five minutes. Thoughts of Pope Joan and the papal genital check came to mind.
As tired as I was of cabbage soup, and as appealing as that 10,000-yen note looked, I declined the offer to work at this club and left the lights of Shinjuku behind me getting groped by fat, drunk businessmen several times on the way home. This little nail was certainly feeling hammered down by the end of that day.
Dejected I got on the subway and headed back to my dismal little gaijin house full of Tokyo’s off-casts and lay in bed watching VHS tapes of Terror’s shitty Jap-porn he’d lent me. I wish I had some toast. Life would be better with toast. I watched a highly un-erotic scene where a guy carrying a straddled girl was fucking her while he ran up them and down the stairs, her passionate groans sounding more like a stabbed pink poodle in a tumble drier. What the actual fuck Japan…? I didn’t understand Japanese attitudes to women or sex, and I was feeling very defeated.
I started to contemplate that a club that catered to my style of performance possibly didn’t exist in Tokyo. I either had to down grade my style, teach English or acknowledge defeat and go home. I’m not good at defeat. And I’d much rather show my vagina than actually have to talk to people, so I started to think I would have to fly home.
Suddenly Annalise came running in after a hard night at work. She had been a human mini golf course for businessmen who blew a ping-pong ball around her body with a drinking straw. I didn’t ask her what hole they were trying to sink their ball into. I asked if she could get me a job doing the same. She said better!! She had run into cunning stunt Beverly again who now worked at a strip club in the nightclub district that featured cult strippers from America. She gave me the number — that I immediately rang and made an appointment. A small silver lining appeared on my raincloud.
The next night, with my last 1,000 yen in hand, I headed towards this underground nook in small back street of Rappongi. I found a brown, nondescript building with nothing to suggest that it was worth noticing.
I knocked on the door and a rockabilly in a zoot suit with a chip in his teeth answered.
He took one look at me in my vintage clothes and Marilyn hair, and smiled a huge smile. “You must be the dancer we have heard so much about.” I gazed into the room beyond as I stepped inside.
On the other side of that door was close to what Alice might have seen when she finally got into that garden. There was a small, round, hot pink room, wildly decorated with palm trees and flamingos, a semi circular bar looking in on a gold kidney bean shaped stage.
In all of my dreams never had I imagined that such a stylishly kitsch strip club might ever exist. The boss approached me and I was greeted by an impossibly handsome man in an impeccable Armani suit. He introduced himself as Watanabe san, and introduced me to the mamma san, Non Chan. Traditionally the mamma san would deal with the hostesses, but Non Chan didn’t speak English. Non-Chan drank tequila. That was her job and she had started work early that day. Her beautiful eyes lolled in her head.
Shin looked me up and down. Non-Chan looked me up and down. And it seemed they thought the same as me; that I had come to the right place.
Shin smiled his impossibly handsome smile and uttered the words that would change my life “Welcome to Flamingo Bar.”
At Watanabe’s request Tetsu gave me a 10,000-yen advance. I left, smiling, radiating, and skipping down the street like Doris fucking Day as I made a beeline to my first consumer purchase in Japan — a toaster. I went home and made a culturally infused hybrid dish simply known as Vegemite Cloud Toast. I had finally arrived.