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Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2006


Hisayo Takano

Hisayo Takano is the owner of Club Akasaka, a hostess bar in Tokyo that many of her customers call the best "clinic" they've ever known. It's where they come to regain their strength. Others compare it to the Shoukasonjuku, because, just like at that famous 19th-century school for young leaders, clients here can learn from each other. She's had several careers, including being a flight attendant, but she is happiest to be called a "counselor" and a good mother to her three boys, ages 15, 26 and 29.

Hisayo Takano

Being a mama-san is like being a student at a top university and getting paid well. Every night I talk to fascinating, intelligent men, who treat me with respect and even part with their hard-earned money to thank me.

Less is more. I'm most comfortable with just chatting with one or two customers so we can have deep discussions.

Youth is beautiful, but with age we get much wiser. Now I am good at my job; when I was younger I probably wasn't that great.

Only a good listener can be a good hostess, but she also needs to have a good heart. I have employed a few thousand girls in my clubs, and I know that people respond to honesty and kindness.

Life doesn't go as planned. The richest man can lose it all at any moment so to depend on the power of money is foolish. My job is to give hints to my customers so they can survive future hardships.

When I think of something, I act immediately. I never prepare anything in advance. One day I just got a divorce, grabbed my two sons, who were 3 and 6 at the time, and came to Tokyo without knowing anyone or anything.

I had never planned on becoming a hostess-bar owner. Once I was settled in Tokyo, I got a realtor's license and one day, through that job, I found a tiny bar. It was only then that I thought about becoming a mama-san.

Not having money and struggling to get by is good for people. I learned a lot that way.

When I divorced, the judge cracked a joke, saying that I had boarded the wrong ship. He was correct, even though it was a fancy luxury ocean liner. I always thought a little ship could be great fun, too. Now I am in a rowboat out on a lake, and it is just perfect.

I absorb men's stress, which is something their wives can't do because most wives don't work, or don't work as hard as their spouses so there is no way for them to understand the level of stress their husbands feel.

Men love hanging out with me because I am very much like them. I don't act weak yet I am feminine. Many women use their femininity as a weapon against men but I never do that. I don't pretend to be cute. I am masculine and easy to be friends with.

I get tired of everything after about two years. During the seven years of my marriage I designed and built three huge homes and after my divorce I moved more than 20 times, had eight clubs, a hair salon and a relaxation spa. Yes, they were all great financial successes, but I got bored with all of them. Once I succeed, I lose interest. I get excited by the challenge of building businesses. To make it a success, I use all my energy and once I reach my goal, I am out of there.

I was a chain smoker of men. I knew it was destroying me, but I couldn't help it. From one to another, I was so busy I had no idea what I was doing.

Men might look dumb, but they aren't. I think there is no need and no way to manipulate them. There's really no way to fool people for too long, anyway.

Bad guys make great teachers, but hopefully all you learn is not to be like them. Anyway, the lessons cost a lot so I doubt that they're worth it.

In life, it's easy to get sidetracked. You get off the main drag and it is dangerous and fun, but so hard to go back. So why get off the main road? Because it's exciting.

First impressions don't mean too much. People are a gamble and the most we can see is 50 percent; the rest only becomes visible later.

It is time for parents to take full responsibility for their children's actions. This means if a child does badly at school, beats up other kids or locks himself in the bedroom for years, well, guess who is at fault? The parents -- not society, not the teachers, not the other kids.

The bubble economy changed people. Japanese changed for the worst, especially women, because they got a lot of money without much effort. They became more calculating and demanding and a lot less gentle and delicate.

Japanese are more emotional than logical. We used to have the concept of giri, the kind of touchy emotional feeling and sense of duty and obligation to return favors. When we still had our giri, we had good teamwork, but now both are gone.

I couldn't wait to get older. I knew only old age could slow me down and hopefully save me. I wanted a quiet life, some peace. Now I am closer to my concept of utopia.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology" www.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/japanology_e.html

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