When people think of the Philippines, more often than not images of clear turquoise waters, pristine beaches and active volcanoes come to mind despite the fact the ‘slums of Manila’ are well known around the world. More than 20 million people live in these abhorrent shacks while more still live below the poverty line. In an attempt to escape these conditions and send money home to their families, many Filipina women flock to Japan looking for work where they can find it. Many of these women end up working in what are dubbed Snack Bars or Hostess Clubs where they entertain a variety of male clientele. While their customers vary in age, occupation, social class and marital status, they do have one thing in common; disposable income. As a result, the women are able to send money to help their struggling relatives, however, life in Japan, away from their parents, husbands and children is, to say the least, complicated. This is compounded by increasing restrictions on immigration and the government’s tightening of security in regards to foreigners living and working in Japan. While, according to the women I interviewed, it was quite easy and inconsequential for Filipina women to obtain a counterfeit passport and working visa less than a decade ago, the women now working in these clubs are having to resort to more drastic measures in order to keep their jobs and continue supporting their loved ones at home. Not all Filipina women who marry Japanese men do it solely for the visa but there are many who do and each and everyone one of these women has an interesting story.
With this project, I wanted to expose what goes on inside these clubs which are viewed by many as questionable at best. Many of the women working in such environments are assumed to be prostitutes and are generally regarded with distaste by Japanese society at large. While the women I interviewed admitted that this does happen in some places, by and large, it is not common practice. The women in the club I visited were very light-hearted despite the struggles they have endured and genuinely enjoyed entertaining their customers. This ‘entertainment’ included pouring drinks, making small talk and the occasional karaoke duet. The men in the bar were lonely guys out looking for a bit of company and a good time. While the social stigma attached to this kind of work is difficult to deal with, the women felt it was worthwhile as it allows them to make what translates to a fortune in the Philippines. Their stories and actions show that these women are anything but the questionable mistresses of the night that Japanese society makes them out to be. They are caring and wonderful women just trying to make a life for themselves in a country that has more than theirs does so that their children do not have to go through what they did.