YOKOSUKA: Through the eyes of a "reporter"
The following was in a magazine I picked up at the commissary while I was in Yokosuka in 1958. I shared it with my barracks mates and we all got a big kick out of it. Whenever a descriptive account contains the words, "NAVY" and "LIBERTY" together, you can bet your mess kit that something sensational will appear. Most folks will recognize the embellishment--others call it B-S!
I still look back, trying to compare my memories with the written account which follows. One thing in the article that has the ring of truth is the "SCHOOL TEACHER." She plied her trade next to the RTO station.
YOKOSUKA CRAZY TOWN
It's got the most honest businessmen, the politest pimps, and thousands
of alluring women who never say no to an American GI—or his money
Yokosuka boasts our planet's happiest cocktail hour, too. From 5 to 7 every evening, strip-tease shows blossom. The Japanese stripper's idea of a proper performance is to rid herself of all her clothing in the first eight bars of music, then writhe and undulate, naked, through the next 56 bars.
The daredevils who pilot the town's taxicabs must be survivors of the Kamikaze Corps. A hop of two blocks, or 20, is a spine-chilling thrill. Yokosuka's cabbies consider a dexterous pair of hands the answer to every traffic situation, and it's at least an even bet that every pair of brake shoes is as good as the day the cab was new. Horns blare continually and sound but one warning—"Here I come!" After that, the pedestrian is on his own.
About an hour from Tokyo by train, and surrounded by cave- and tunnel-riddled hills, Yoko has a population of 250,000. Most of its attractions are centered down town, as are some 200 of its 250 licensed bars. In an area smaller than two square miles, there is more fun to be had on a 24-hour pass than in any other Japanese city. Sex is a basic part of the economy, and even a respect able girl doesn't simply say no. Instead, she tells why her answer has to be no. Usually, she either prefers Japanese lads, or she has been conned by an enterprising Yank before. Face-slapping and injured looks aren't in the Yokosuka girl's character. A polite refusal, together with a winsome smile that seems to say, "so sorrry it can't be yes," is the roughest rebuff an admirer is likely to receive.
Even when thousands of men hit town at once, I have never heard of one merrymaker ever having been rolled. And any number of amorous Americans have been staked to 100 or 200 yen for cab fare the morning after by their ladies of the evening before—on the sound and proved principle that a thoroughly satisfied customer. treated cordially, will return again.
The politest pimps in the world ply their trade in Yoko. There are no furtive approaches or sidelong whispers. From a distance of 10 to 20 feet, they hail you politely and ask for a moment of your time, please. When you stop, they move in slowly, averaging a bow per yard until they are at your side. Then, in genteel tones, they smilingly inquire, "You like to meet nice, clean girls? See good movee? Watch The Schoolteacher?" This last character is an exhibitionist who puts on such erotic shows that her fame has spread throughout Japan. To compete, her rivals followed a procedure dear to the heart of U. S. entertainers—they studied her act and copied it. Now, so many alleged "School teachers" exist that the original has been lost in the shuffle. The pitchmen who claim to work for her would fill a good-sized arena.
Prostitution, as a way of life or of paying the rent, has existed in Japan for centuries. No one thinks it strange that 55,000 ladies of the evening have formed a union, with paid lobbyists and all. These lobbyists have been active lately, button-holing national legislators. An anti-prostitution law goes into effect next April, so the girls are demanding compensation. They are basing their case on the indisputable fact that the government is throwing them out of work, and they want the Japanese Diet to pass a law granting them a subsidy they call "new life" money—six months' normal earnings for each prostitute. They may get it before the shouting is done.
Yoko pros, however, are not sweating over the out come of this legislative hassle. Many plan to settle down with one "boysan," thus insuring themselves shelter, three square meals a day, and "presentos" of clothes and electrical appliances. When one girl explained this to me. I said, "The Japanese police will really crack down on you then. They'll arrest you for adultery." "Nebba hoppen, Chief-san!" she told me. "Girlsan and boysan get house. Move in. Boysan; he go put in chit to marry girlsan. Always get copy of chit for him self. Japanese police come house, girlsan show chit. Police he go away. Everything genkidesu (fine)."
During the three months or more it takes a GI marriage application to go through the mill, the girl will have it made. If the chit gets approved, her boysan may actually marry her. If not, so what? Girlsan will just get another boysan.
Like any other service town, Yoko has its share of uniform-chasing delinquents, overseas equivalents of our wartime V-girls. Proprietors of cabarets don't dare let them in, fearful of incurring the displeasure of their hired girls and of the police. The teen-agers don't have any money to speak of, so they hang around the modernized tea rooms. They deadbeat the places the way some of our kids do at soda fountains, playing the juke box and slipping outside once in a while to take a swig of saki in a dark alley. They like to sing along with the records. It gets to be a long time before you forget what "Sixteen Tons" and "Yellow Rose of Texas" sound like when they're caroled in shrill, teen-age Japanese.
Later on, the girls move out of the tea rooms into the pachenko parlors, something like our penny arcades. Pachenko machines are similar to our pin-ball machines. The kids get the nick name "pachenko girls" from their skill at this game. Since they are not allowed to loaf while waiting for a pickup, they can make ten or 20 pachenko balls last them until a passing sailor or GI says hello.
Most pachenko girls, of course, have picked up Occidental eating habits and, like their Stateside counterparts, they are not slow to order steak when taken out to dinner. A U.S. import that is winning increasing popularity in Yokosuka, appearing even on minus in authentic Japanese restaurants, is Southern fried chicken. One spot called The Italian Village does right well peddling pizzas, a dish that seems to be heading back to Italy the hard way.
Everyone is polite in Yokosuka, including the black marketeers, who'll buy or sell anything that can be carried down Honcho Alley. Most merchants are honest, too, which comes as a shock to servicemen who have been around. Nearly all items are marked—and with only one price. The merchants are trusting, too. I paid for a drink at one little place with a 1,000-yen note just after it had opened for the day, and the barmaid went next door to change the money, leaving me free to lift her entire stock of liquor if I chose.
Cabaret hostesses and bar girls work on commissions, with hostesses getting fees for sitting and dancing with customers. In addition they get a percentage of the drinks served at their tables. Unlike the B-girls in most countries, they drink exactly what they order—no flavored tea, colored water or diluted shots for them.
Japanese girls grow morose and maudlin when lit, and crying jags get to be a community affair. When one girl is tearful, others usually join in out of sympathy.
Few Yoko girls use their given Japanese names, preferring instead to adopt those of their favorite local or American movie actresses. The town crawls with Marilyns, Lindas and Hedys. They change their adopted names as the mood strikes them, with whimsical service men often lending a hand.
One madam asked my opinion regarding a slump in her business. It didn't take long to discover the cause for her slack trade. She was located next door to an expensive house and her girls simply couldn't meet the competitors' looks, charm or class. I pointed this out when I next saw Mama-san, and recommended two great American institutions: easy credit and installment buying. She was quite impressed and I've felt guilty ever since. If she puts my tongue-in-cheek suggestion into effect, it could shake up the local economy something fierce. I find myself speculating as to whether someday Yokosuka might end up plastered with posters like our "FLY NOW—PAY LATER."
The Japanese seaport is perhaps the only foreign city into which Americans have not successfully introduced hillbilly music. Rock-and-roll is king, with rhythm-and-blues coming on hard, and Japanese jazz has started developing its own sound after absorbing the best from other countries. Hillbilly music has its faithful adherents, however. They wander down to the little Marukin Tea Room every Sunday afternoon to hear Yoshi-nobu Sekiguchi pick a mean guitar and sing, "Love Me Tender." [Actually, that was Yoshihara Ichiro]
As every town doe, Yoko has its characters. For example, there is Testo, a beautiful and incurable optimist who has been conned again and again by servicemen. She hangs out at the Marukin, unaware that the word is out on her all across the Pacific. The standard approach is for a guy to tell her he has just arrived in Yokosuka for duty and is looking for a "steady girlsan." Testo gives him an evening he will never for get, gratis. Next morning, as he leaves, she gives him a list of things they will need to furnish their house. It includes a stove, refrigerator and an American-style bed. Sometimes a whole week passes before she realizes she has been duped again, and she heads back for the Marukin, hope springing eternal in her well-rounded bosom. [I never heard the town referred to as "Yoko]
There is only one public dance hall in all of Yokosuka, a strange thing when you consider that Japanese girls have an innate sense of rhythm and grace and are groomed through heredity and environment to follow the male's lead.
The answer is simple. Trade isn't continuous enough to support more than one ballroom. The boys stay there only long enough to pick up a few steps, then steam downtown to spend the rest of their time with the cabaret hostesses and bar girls.
Yokosuka has developed a completely new industry in Japan—the "GI geisha."" The formal Japanese geisha, skilled in the art of pleasing men who desire the benefit of female company beyond the physical plane, has her counterpart in the cabaret girls who work the town's top spots. When the gloss wore off the Occupation, and the Americans wanted some talk and some laughs from their girl friends, a new breed of companion was developed to meet the demand. Hostesses in the Trade Winds and the Hotel Kanko are charming and educated, with looks enough to staff a charm school anywhere in the world. Some are proficient in several languages, as smoothies often find out when they try to snow under the English-speaking hostesses by using high school French or Spanish. It's not at all unusual for a bunch of the girls to take three or four months off to enroll for a short semester in a Japanese college. Their familiarity with classic English authors is surprising. It's not unusual for a man to see a pretty girl lay aside a copy of Dickens or Thackeray to join him for a drink.
This industry has a future, too, so long as Americans go to Japan. The anti-prostitution law will not affect these girls, since most of them attend strictly to hostessing. Hostessing pays $150-$300 a month, with basic living expenses only $25-$50. Some will retire in their mid-20s to make respectably marriages. Many will become couturiers, since dress designing seems to be the, most popular aim of career women in Japan.
And that's Yokosuka, where the old-style tea houses provide you with a steaming, scented oshibori—an oversized terry cloth napkin, for refreshing your face with a facial before ordering; where the lady hired to help rehabilitate reformed prostitutes was arrested within a month for procuring herself; where a spell in a steam cabinet, followed by parboiling in a stone tub of scalding water and a complete massage can be had for less than $2, with interesting extras available for those who want them.
It's where more than a few girls get monthly gifts of money via U.S. mail from appreciative lovers who have since gone back to the States with happy memories; where nice girls average $10 a month in earnings and bad girls 30 to 40 times as much; where the hostesses at the Kanko Hotel, all stunners, kick off the evening by assembling on the dance floor for a mass cha-cha-cha, thus giving the customers a complete rundown on what attractions the place offers.
It's where tangerines are gobbled by the ton in a belief that they will prevent wrinkling of skin; where the equivalent of our Good Humor Man hits the street about eight p.m., selling osoba, hot soup made of noodles, meat, fish, bamboo, onions and seaweed, and doesn't quit until four in the morning; where guys who never had more than a pair of Levis to their name sport cashmere jackets at only $25 a throw and buy astrakhan coats for their lady loves for $75.
That's Yokosuka, where the Yankee dollar is still worth a buck—and you get value received for every penny of it. Liberty, anyone?
[SAGA Magazine, Jan 1958, pg. 24, 61-62, by Joseph D. Harrington]
A gift for frequent patrons
Derick S. Hartshorn -