Deai kissa matchmaking cafes more than just a meet n' greet

In the wake of the September murder of a 22-year-old university student by a man she met at a deai kissa, or matchmaking cafe, the Mainichi ran an article (Japanese here) that takes a look inside the very same venue where the pair met. The cafe is still running business as usual, still turning a blind eye to the interactions between customers in their “meeting rooms”. The Mainichi article gives attention to two potential sides of the deai kissa coin, interviewing both a woman who waits for a customer looking to negotiate, and another who visits to escape the doldrums of life as a telephone receptionist.

But what really goes on in a deai kissa? Are the clubs as management makes them out to be–innocuous meeting places for would-be couples–with a stray shady deal happening now and then, or are they knowingly operated as hotbeds for prostitution?

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Singing cops throw away retirement plans to serenade fellow seniors

Could we somehow combine the two?

From the sugary sweet yet sexy AKB48 to… retired cops?! Yasushi Akimoto, the producer and director famous for pandering to the desires of millions of 40s and 50s-ish salarymen in a socially-acceptable way with the infamous Akiba-kei idol group, has set an October date for the debut of his next project: OJS48.

News of OJS48, whose letters stand for “OJi-San,” hit the Japanese media Tuesday. A bit of a misnomer, the group is formed by only 16 members but includes retired cops and detectives from across the country who call various departments of the police force their alma mater, from a force kendo instructor to a cop who worked the organized crime beat. Their debut single, “Shinkokyu” features main vocals by 63-year-old ex-Osaka detective Mitsuo Nakatani, who now works as a security guard in a shopping center and for the past year has been basking in the spotlight of an Akimoto-produced solo single. Interested parties can get a sneak peak of the signature OSJ48 tune on their Web site as well as catch a glimpse of the NPA “old boys” that have replaced days of shogi in the park with dreams of stardom. Those eager for a further listen can not only download the track early on iTunes, but also let everyone within an earshot know of their new “boom” with a “Shinkokyu” ringtone.

Unsurprising in a country full of endless entertainment tie-ups, the group is actually part of Akimoto’s new business venture of the same name as the single. The “Shinkokyu Club” is a community site started by the entrepreneur and pitched as a portal to help those in their Golden Years to make the most of their leisure time. “Why not stop now and then and take a deep breath?” the site proposes. After a glimpse up the frilly skirts of the AKB ladies, some Shinkokyu Club members might need to pause and take quite a few deep breaths.

It’s often joked that those gearing up to retire within the next ten or fifteen years are arguably the target audience for sultry teeny boppers AKB48, the similar NMB48, and actually-of-age SDN48. While a grey-haired troupe of senior discount card holders seems like a sudden and unusual jump, Akimoto could be hoping to spread his assets by mining a similar audience from a different angle. The producer’s first effort at a male idol group, OJS48 is obviously of a generation or two older than Japan’s other well-known artists within the Johnny’s empire. But despite the rising elderly population in the country, until now Japan has yet to give birth to much new entertainment oriented towards the demographic.

Will old folk shell out part of their pension to listen to retired police officers croon about the bitter-sweetness of life? Or will the sounds of these weathered veterans catch on amongst a younger crowd, in a sort of pop-enka revival that would ironically make OJS48 irresistible to the ABK48 crowd? Tie-ups, crossovers, graduation ceremonies, World Cup theme songs, products at 7-11–it will be interesting to see of OJS48 will be able to rock the idol formula used by the younger generation and put more money into Akimoto’s pockets.

Shafuu 101–Choosing a company for the new generation

Learning Japanese business culture is always a hot topic for those looking to deal on this side of the Pacific, but little do many know that Japanese young adults are almost just as confused by the the traditions and hype surrounding the complex world of Japanese shafuu.

In Japan, corporate culture amongst established companies is not something that is organically developed or that reads from the pages of a self help book. Traditionally there have been two kinds of companies: 体育会系 (taiikukai-kei, sports-oriented) and 文化系 (bunka-kei, liberal arts-ish). From the definition it’s likely easy to grasp the general concept, and while bunka kei companies are more desirable for those calm, artsy types who enjoy having a life outside or work, taiikukai-kei are renowned for providing the motivated with high-energy, aggressive environments in which they can shoot for the stars–but often not, because unlike Western companies, until recently most traditional taiikukai-kei companies feature lifetime employment systems, 年功序列 (nenko joretsu, seniority by length of service) and all those other ultra-Japanese business practices that have gradually become archaic. Taiikukai-keihere) companies are also renowned for they way they treat employees, going beyond the typical forced overtime and into the realms of abusive language and behavior to subordinates and even reports of regulated haircuts for new hires. (Read more about company culture and how it’s begun to affect young people

For May, perhaps to give April’s new hires a belated heads up that they may have made a bad decision, magazine Zaiten has a special feature on “Real Job Hunting,” featuring a fantastic chart, translated below:

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Fuzoku Friday: Desire proves profitable option in real estate sector

Just another night on Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya. The businesses are now making for an attractive investment option as a "recession-proof" revenue stream.
Just another night on Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya. The businesses are now making for an attractive investment option as a "recession-proof" revenue stream.

Weekly magazine Shukan Post reported in their April 30 issue on an interesting trend in the currently slow world of real estate investment, digging into the popularity of so-called “Loveho Funds.”

About as Japanese as a REIT can get, the funds work by grouping the capital of interested parties together and purchasing love hotels, instead of more typical investment property such as condominiums. Explains financial planner Masayuki Kidaira, “While condos and office space have their earnings determined by rent prices, love hotels are a business where earnings can be two or three times as much.”

One well-known fund is Initia Star Securities‘ “NEO HOPE” series of seven “leisure hotel” funds that began in 2008. Investments cost as little as 100,000 or 500,000 yen, and properties are purchased, renovated and run with investor money over the course of three years, distributing dividends twice per year. Yearly dividend yield ranges from 5 to 8%, much higher than a typical investment’s 2-3%.

But why do the hotels make such a good investment? First of all, they’re profitable: Love hotels employ a system encouraging use for only two or three hours at a time making for a high customer turnover. The business is also widely known as being one of a few lucky “recession-proof” industries. They’re also cheap to run, with the ability to employ a small number of foreign laborers because customers rarely interact with the employees.

Moneyzine also points out that, because love hotels operate under unusual regulations and commercial practices, the hurdle is high for those trying to enter with no experience. On top of that, very few large corporations are willing to invest a large amount of money in producing a chain of hotels because of the possible negative effect it would have on the company’s reputation. Thus, the relatively small number of hotel operators live without fear of new competition stealing their business.

Despite corporate hesitation, in recent times love hotels have lost much of their seedier image. In areas like Tokyo, “fashion” or “boutique” hotels offer stylish and exotic accommodations, brand-name amenities, and now give patrons a key so they may go in and out–all under the traditional “rest” and “stay” payment systems.

According to a 2006 Forbes article, however, love hotels and securities have met before. This time around, however, with their improved image and the sagging real estate market they may prove to be more attractive than before.

Modern love hotels are shedding their image of sleaze and going upmarket, like this Bali An "boutique hotel" in Chiba. The businesses are now making for an attractive investment option.
Modern love hotels are shedding their image of sleaze and going upmarket, like this Bali An "boutique hotel" in Chiba.

Fuzoku Friday: Girls with unhappy parents more likely to do compensated dating: Aichi police survey

The Asahi Shinbun posted an article about a survey done by the Aichi Prefectural Police regarding enjo kosai, or the practice of school girls exchanging companionship and sexual favors for money and gifts. According to the article, the survey focused on 100 girls between the ages of 13-19 who had been caught participating in deai-kei online dating sites.

Nearly 70%, or 67 girls, said that they would never want to create a family environment like their parents have compared to 18% of 100 girls in the same age range who were randomly surveyed. 46% said they were ignored by their parents (compared to nine in the random survey) and 36 girls said they were abused by their parents (compared to seven in the random survey).

The report went on to say that 77 out of 100 girls surveyed randomly said they were normally home by 9pm, while only 34 of those involved in enjo kosai answered similarly. Thirty-eight of those who had been caught said they often stay out past 11pm.

While the survey results aren’t anything startling or new–anyone working in child welfare or juvenile delinquency could tell you that an unhappy home environment and little parental involvement often results in youth committing crimes–this was still the first time a survey has been done focusing on girls who have been caught in enjo kosai.

“Many teenagers doing enko (enjo kosai) feel alone,” says Polaris Project representative Shihoko Fujiwara. “Kids may turn to prostitution because of a lack of social protection, in the cases of poverty or abuse, but a lot of them may lack self esteem because they’re never really treated as valuable by their parents.”

As an interesting aside, throughout both the survey and the article, girls who had been caught doing compensated dating are referred to as higai shonen (被害少年 – damaged youth). Some girls are technically in violation of deai-kei site laws, but they’re also victims of child welfare laws being broken.

Says Fujiwara, “For a lot of kids enko is a way to make money, but at the same time it’s self-destructive behavior.”

Some girls get wrapped up in en-deri–an abbreviation of enjo kosai delivery health–a service that provides call girls who are underage. According to the Sankei Shinbun, en-deri is a booming business that is easy to set up because entrepreneurs need only a single computer to get started, and employees, known as a “cast,” are easy to come by.

Says the article, in the case of one en-deri business, the girls were taking home 50% of their earnings. One 16-year-old girl reportedly made over ¥350,000 in 15 days–a feat for any high school student. Hearing a story like that, many likely wonder about the motivation of girls who turn to prostitution.

In the end, Fujiwara says there is no one factor to blame but that society as a whole needs to try harder to support children and young adults. “Right now society pressures just parents and schools to raise kids,” she points out. “But what if parents are abusive? There needs to be more social resources around kids within the community.”

The darkest month of the year

A blue light installed on the end of a JR train platform as a suicide deterrent. JR theorizes that the lights may help prevent people from jumping because of the color blue's "calming effect."
A blue light installed on the end of a JR train platform as a suicide deterrent. JR theorizes that the lights may help prevent people from jumping because of the color blue's "calming effect."

Weekly magazine Shukan Post’s most recent issue contains an interesting article about a topic that likely falls close to home for many dwellers of the Japanese concrete jungle. Train jumpers, a form of suicide Japan is arguably infamous for, are so common in the Tokyo area that we hardly blink an eye when we see a train delay due to the ominous “人身事故” (jinshinjiko–human accident).

In fact, in a recent news story covering an accident (its unclear whether it was a suicide or not) on the Tokyo Monorail Line on Tuesday, alternative news site Sponichi Annex actually quotes one bystander as saying, “駅に来て事故を知った。これから帰るのに、振り替え輸送の私鉄の駅まで歩かなければならない” (“I found out about the accident when I got to the station. I just want to go home, now I’ve got to walk all the way to a station on a different line”).

According to the Shukan Post, on average March has the highest rates of suicides of any month out of the year with an average of 100 people taking their own lives every day. The reason is unclear, they say, but may have something to do with the fiscal year, which ends on March 31. In a 2008 survey of population trends, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare lists suicide as the top killer of people aged 20-39. As the Post puts it, Japan is a country where “those in the prime of life choose death.”

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