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Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007

WORDS TO LIVE BY

Shori and Kazumi Tanaka


Shori and Kazumi Tanaka might be the most well-known couple on the nightclub scene in Tokyo's famed Ginza district. Each night for the last 51 years, 73-year-old Shori rushed from club to club to entertain as a bilingual singer while Kazumi, 54, was sitting pretty as one of Ginza's top hostesses. Since their marriage 32 years ago, the two have been moving together as one, day and night, in business and in private, with only sleep parting them. Their small bar, Yuki, opened 5 years ago, is filled with regulars, many of whom have been fans of the couple for decades.

Shori and Kazumi Tanaka
Shori and Kazumi Tanaka JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

A happy marriage is based on trust and freedom. Kazumi: In this business, going out for dinner with clients is normal. Actually, most of those men are his friends, too, and Shori is never jealous. He has no reason to be: To keep a business and a family together, a woman must keep her legs together, too. Shori: She is free to do whatever she wants, but I think she doesn't like anyone but me. I only love her, for sure. If something happens, though, never tell your spouse — why cause pain by admitting it?

Sex sells but we are not buying into it. Kazumi: Hostesses in other parts of town show lots of skin, but in general, Ginza hostesses have been known for their great style, not their bare shoulders. Of course, with the weaker economy, hostesses can't afford as many kimono anymore. Our girls dress in conservative suits with below-the-knee skirts and long-sleeve jackets or smart dresses. Shori: In Ginza we have a lot of pride, and that is reflected in how we behave and package ourselves. Ginza is called The World's Ginza because it's a very special place with hundreds of years of history of selling the best quality products and services from all over the world. We have 3,000 clubs within a few blocks!

Hobbies make a person happy, and a happy spouse is easy to get along with. Shori: Twenty-five years ago my son asked me to make a Zero Fighter model airplane for him. When I was done, I was hooked. I wanted to take good photos of it, but putting it on a table didn't do justice to its beauty. So I devised a few tricks with a fishing rod and a laundry pole, and the shots looked so realistic that everyone assumed they were aerial shots of real planes. One of my photos ended up in the hands of ace pilot Saburo Sakai, a famous war veteran who flew a Zero during World War II and single-handedly shot down 64 enemy planes. He even thought it was an actual plane flying and contacted me. We became friends and I made him a few models. Kazumi: I became an expert at handling these planes just to please Shori. I hold the fishing rods with the planes hanging from them, but I charge him 2,000 yen for every 10 minutes! His photos are amazing — he published a book on his favorite 100 planes and was even interviewed on CNN.

Never argue with a drunk. Shori: I don't drink alcohol at all, never have. I tasted it when I worked as a bartender at Itazuke Airbase in Kyushu 50-some years ago, but I thought it was just crazy water that didn't taste good and yet made everyone nuts. People say silly things when tipsy. At first I took them seriously, but now I know those ideas are not from them but from the alcohol. Kazumi: I drink with customers but the goal is to keep it light and to have fun. Unpleasant things go in one ear, out the other.

Never lend money unless you do not expect it back, ever. Shori: Whoever borrows money is desperate and has nothing. Therefore he has nothing to lose, right? It doesn't matter if it is a small amount for lunch because he forgot his wallet or a lot to rescue a business, if you give it away, say bye to it for good. I was cheated out of lots of money. For example, I lent 3.5 million yen to a friend, which he never paid back — instead he asked me for more! I couldn't say no because at that time I had the cash and he was my buddy. I lost over 20 million yen to him. Kazumi: I got so upset that I left the house for a week. When I returned, Shori didn't say anything, he just behaved like nothing ever happened. He is still friends with that guy. It can't be helped. It's over so we don't worry about it. He had better not lend anyone money again, though!

Don't believe those who tell you how rich they are. Kazumi: It's hard to tell a fraud instantly, but as a rule, rich people do not talk about what they do or how much they have. They are quiet about such things, while the guy who wants to impress will tell long tales of how successful he is, whether it is true or not. Shori: Even business cards can be fake, so we check really carefully. Most criminals pay about the first 10 times when they come to a club, then from the 11th time they want to just sign the bill and have it sent to their company. This carries on for a few times, but when the bill is mailed, the company and he are both gone.

Great things come in small packages. Shori: I walked into my neighborhood bank and saw her, this beautiful hostess from Ginza. It turned out we were neighbors. I invited her out for tea. I didn't smoke but she did, so after that I always had a carton of cigarettes for her as a small gift. I figured that if smoke got in her eyes, I'd have more of a chance. After a few teashop dates, I asked her out for a drink. What a mistake! Since I don't drink alcohol, and she can really handle her drinks, I had no way of making a move. It had been 6 months by then, and I was getting desperate to kiss her — but how? I was blindly in love and short so I had to find a step to reach her lips. She was a tall order, but worth it. Kazumi: He was really sweet. He took me on dates in his sports car, wining and dining me and was the perfect gentleman always. As time went by, I saw he was a treasure: small but with a big heart and huge personality. I gave in and he never let me down.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Weekend Japanology." Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/


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