A still from the new movie called Be My Guest, Be My Baby (フィリピンパブ嬢の社会学 in Japanese–“Sociology of Filipina Pub Girls”).
The other day, I was bicycling near our place and chanced upon a faded Philippine flag hung over a window on the second floor of a decrepit two-story building.
A Philippine pub.
Besides Filipino restaurants and stores selling Philippine products, just about the only places you’ll find a Philippine flag in Japan are pubs like this. Even the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo does not display the Philippine flag outside its building.
It wasn’t so long ago that these kinds of watering holes were found all over Japan and Filipino women (most of whom were hostesses in places like this) made up around 90 percent of all Filipinos in the country. Now most Filipinos in Japan (except for permanent and long-term residents) are Technical Intern Trainees working in factories and construction sites all over the country.
The heyday of Filipino entertainers have long since gone.
As their name suggests, Philippine pubs are drinking places in Japan that are staffed mainly by Filipino hostesses (the so-called Japayuki). In addition to eating and drinking and talking with Filipino hostesses, customers can also enjoy shows by dancers and sing karaoke.
Here is a brief history of the Filipina Japayuki and Philippine pubs in Japan largely taken from the Japanese Wikipedia article which, inexplicably, has no English version.
It is interesting to note here that while “Philippine pub” (フィリピンパブ) and “Japayuki” (ジャパゆきさん) have entries in the Japanese Wikipedia, “Philippine pub” does not exist in the English Wikipedia and “Japayuki” redirects to “Prostitution in Japan.”
Images in this article were taken from the new Japanese movie Be My Guest, Be My Baby, an improbable love story between a Japanese graduate student and a Filipina Japayuki working in a Philippine pub in Japan, based on the best-selling novel Sociology of Filipina Pub Girls (フィリピンパブ嬢の社会学) by Kosho Nakashima.
Be My Guest, Be My Baby is a love story between Shota, a Japanese graduate student whose research focuses on foreign female workers, and Mika, a Filipina woman who works in a pub.
In the 1970s, when Japan’s overseas travel boom hit, the Philippines became one of the most popular tourist destinations for the Japanese, second only to Oahu in Hawaii and Guam, partly due to its proximity to Japan. Manila, in particular, had a vibrant entertainment district that attracted many Japanese men. However, from around 1985, in the wake of deteriorating security situation in the Philippines during tail-end of the Marcos presidency, all travel tours from Japan were discontinued and the Japanese tourists largely stayed away.
Filipino entertainers’ deployment in Japan goes much earlier and started during the 1960s, when many Filipino music bands came to the country to work. Armed with entertainer visas, most of these Filipino musicians performed at cabarets, discos and clubs throughout the country. Then, from around the 1980s, businesses started hiring Filipino women as hostesses in their cabarets, in the beginning only employed as helpers.
At around the time of the bubble economy in Japan during the later half of the 80s, the number of Japanese and other foreign tourists from downtown Manila fell sharply, fueling an exodus of Filipino hostesses to Japan. Pubs staffed by foreigners or exclusively staffed by Filipinos appeared and became popular. Filipino women were particularly in demand in places where there was a scarcity of young Japanese girls, like the rural areas of Japan, and Philippine pubs began to spring up like mushrooms all over the country.
At its peak in 2004, more than 80,000 Filipino women each year were coming to the country on entertainer visas. Philippine pubs could be found throughout Japan, from frozen Hokkaido in the north to tropical Okinawa in the south, and even in the small island of Hachijojima down there in the Pacific Ocean. Only in Osaka were they not very numerous compared to other metropolitan areas due to the crackdown of Osaka police, who feared that they would become a source of funds for organized crime.
Trailer for the movie Be My Guest, Be My Baby (フィリピンパブ嬢の社会学)
Then, in 2004, Japan was named in the US Department of State’s Annual Report on Human Trafficking as a country that tolerates human trafficking. The report criticized the entry of tens of thousands of young foreign women into Japan on entertainment visas as “human trafficking for sexual exploitation, with no protection whatsoever for the foreign women victims."
In response, the Japanese government decided to restrict the issuance of entertainer visas. As a result, most hostesses, including those from the Philippines, were now barred from entering Japan.
In 2006, two years after the US government report, as expected, the number of entertainer visas issued in Japan plummeted to about 10% compared to the previous year, dealing a major blow to most of the Philippine pubs operating throughout the country. By 2007, most women working in Philippine pubs were not working on entertainment visas anymore, but were on part-time contracts.
Now, most of these women on part-time contracts were those who have obtained residence permits to live in Japan through marriage with Japanese men or having children with their Japanese partners, or those who illegally overstayed their visas after entering the country as tourists or some other kind of visas.
As a consequence of this change in Japanese government policy, the number of fake marriages to obtain a residence permit increased dramatically. There were even many cases where entertainers owed large sums of money to fake marriage brokers and were forced to work to pay off their debts.
During the heyday of the Filipina Japapuki boom, potential entertainers were recruited by special agents and Japanese brokers and promoters in various locations in the Philippines, mainly in the Metro Manila area, Angeles in Pampanga, and Cebu and Davao. These agents scoured local disco houses and karaoke bars for singers and dancers, and even magicians and comedians, and held auditions at the request of Japanese pub owners to find the best performers to be issued entertainment visas and sent to work in Japan.
The entertainers signed a contract with a Japanese promoter, and the promoter signed a contract with the pub. The number of people that could be invited under an entertainment visa was affected by the number of employees of the promoter, the size of the pub’s waiting room and stage. If illegal activities were found, the Immigration Bureau reduced the number of applicants or rejected all applications as a penalty.
On the other hand, the Philippine government introduced an official qualification system for entertainers departing the country, nominally to prevent amateurs from easily coming to Japan, but as usual, corruption and bribery related to the acquisition of qualifications became a problem. Also, because it was easy to obtain fake passports in the Philippines, there were many cases of women coming to Japan under someone else’s name even though they were actually under 18 years old.
The movie is based on the novel Sociology of Filipina Pub Girls (フィリピンパブ嬢の社会学) by Kosho Nakashima, which became a bestseller in 2017.
For many actual hostesses who came to Japan on entertainer visas, working in Japan for three or six months was mostly a blessing, despite the pressures of overcoming sales quotas, homesickness and the frustration of being in a foreign country. Many were lucky enough to be able to return home with cash that would be impossible to obtain locally, and the local auditions in the Philippines were always a big draw to many applicants. It is also true that at the farewell party on the last day before returning home, many Filipinos shed tears while giving thanks to the pub manager and their customers.
By Japanese standards, however, these entertainment workers endured awful living conditions. It was normal for 6 people to live together in a 2DK (two rooms, with dining and kitchen) apartment with bunk beds that was usually 50 square meters in size. They were paid around 40,000 yen and were given only one day off per month. This kind of rock-bottom wage was unheard of in Japan, but since the women were provided with food and shelter, they were able to save up their small salary and send money to the Philippines and eventually return home.
The women learned Japanese quickly by talking with their customers every day. In the beginning, there were some who came to Japan thinking that they could become singers without knowing that they would actually work as hostesses, but by 2000 they were under no illusions anymore. In most cases, pubs were mainly responsible for hostess duties for customers, and although they might sing karaoke with customers, it was increasingly rare for pubs to have showtimes on stage where they could sing and dance.
Since 2004, the Immigration Bureau’s investigations into illegal overstaying and illegal immigration have become more strident, and the requirements for issuing entertainer visas themselves have become stricter. As a result, many people working in the entertainment industry have been people who are already married to Japanese nationals and the average age of entertainers has risen rapidly, and the industry is no longer as active as it used to be.
At its peak from the late 1990s to the 2000s, there were other foreign women on entertainer visas that were coming to Japan including Russians, Eastern Europeans, South Americans, Chinese, Koreans, Thais, and Indonesians, but the majority were Filipino Japayuki.
Foreign entertainers working in Japan for several decades created many opportunities for Japanese to interact with people from foreign countries. There were also many regular Philippine pub customers and Japanese men who married Filipino women, and as the industry grew, it became part of the culture of the food and beverage industry.
The film is a portrayal of how people from different cultures can overcome their differences and prosper through “genuine heart-to-heart connections.”
Among the Philippine pub fans, there were many Japanese customers who tricked young, naive Filipino women into having sexual relations with them. On the other hand, there were also many Filipino women who took advantage of Japanese superiority complexes and foreigner complexes to deceive and financially exploit Japanese customers, gradually increasing the Japanese people’s dislike of the Philippines. This vicious cycle created a lot of prejudice against the Philippines and the Filipino people in Japanese society.
Also, there were some Japanese men who abandoned their wives and family and fell in love with Filipino women, which furthered the prejudice. There were even some supplementary social studies materials for junior high school students in Japan that explained that Filipino women who came to Japan with such entertainer visas were prostitutes, which added to the already negative image of Filipinos.
In the Philippines, the word Japayuki entered common use and often appeared in song lyrics and featured on TV.
Some unscrupulous business owners started running Philippine pubs, which have become lucrative businesses, and in some cases did not pay their Filipino workers, or kept them in house arrest in rented housing, or forced them into prostitution. Filipinos who escaped from such situations sometimes overstayed their visa and were arrested by the Immigration Bureau.
As of 2009, there were many cases of Filipinos overstaying their visas instead of returning to the Philippines, fearing that they would not be able to return to Japan due to restrictions on entertainment visas.
The starring roles are played by Koki Maeda, a leading actor in Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “I Wish,” and Reizel Ichinomiya, a Filipina actress who makes her acting debut.
In the Philippines, many women have successfully escaped poverty by working in Japan, and still more were aiming to come to Japan for the “Japanese dream.”
Furthermore, even among the top professional idol talents in the Philippines, many had experience working in Japanese pubs. In Japan for example, former entertainers such as Ruby Moreno has become famous TV personalities. Many entertainer training centers called promotions have opened in the Philippines, where thousands of young Filipino women from all over the country take singing and dancing lessons and aim to go to Japan.
Additionally, there are hundreds waiting to come to Japan as entertainers at karaoke bars, and pubs in the the Philippines. Many of them are poor young people who came to the city from rural areas, so their living and training costs at the training center are loans for promotion, and the system is such that the loans are repaid from their salaries after they work in Japan.
In addition to the above-mentioned debts, in addition to commissions from promotions to which they belong, the Filipino managers’ commissions account for 30-50% of their salaries (more than 50% depending on the contract), so their take-home income is very little (although you can earn a higher salary than working in your home country). In reality, many are paid 40,000 yen, with one or two days off a month, and was forced to work under conditions that did not meet Japan’s labor laws.
A portion of the travel expenses, accommodation expenses, and food expenses to Japan are paid by Japanese companies. In addition, it was common that the first salary would be paid before arriving in Japan. (There is often a misunderstanding that these are not paid to entertainers or are unpaid debts, but these are often a way for entertainers to receive financial assistance from their Japanese customers.)
At present, it is very difficult to come to Japan due to visa requirements such as J-BIS, which requires fingerprints to be taken when entering the country, and it is more difficult to come to Japan to work than in countries where visas are easily granted such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and the Middle East.
However, employment in these countries is in factories, or as housekeepers and other work and there are very few people working in entertainment such as Philippine pubs. Among them, in South Korea, almost all cases involve forced prostitution, even though the women are summoned for entertainment work.
Maganda Philippine Pub in Tsukuba City, Ibaraki Prefecture. Prices start at 3,500 yen per person per 90 minutes.