Hooters in Tokyo: Sexist, but what did you expect?
Hooters Tokyo arrived in Japan October 25 with a reputation that preceded it. After all, sexism is embedded enough in the chain of restaurants for it to have been described as a “breastaurant” by one of the company’s lawyers.
Walking into Hooters with an open mind is impossible. It is a place where two things are on the agenda: boobs and beer.
Unattached from reality?
Stepping into the new Akasaka restaurant to preview a recent training session for Japan’s first “Hooter’s Girls,” one is left a little, well, bewildered.
The store, complete with 50 women in training, seemed like part sexist theme park and park tacky display in a discount store, all run by scantily clad women who, while obviously good to look at for hot-blooded males, seem somewhat detached from reality.
The restaurant enters a country where “mizu shobai” (water business) has long made up a not insignificant chunk of the economy. “Snack bars,” “cabaret clubs,” “hostess bars” and “soap lands” all fall into a category of business in which objectifying women is, to greater and lesser degrees, part of daily operations.
So is Japan the correct place to open a Hooters?
“We don’t want to be branded as [a bar that men go to in order to objectify women] in Japan,” says Mark Imacho, a manager at the restaurant. “We want to be a place that families come, not only men, where they can meet girls with big personalities really.
The restaurant is decked out in bright orange colors normally seen in the Halloween sections of stores such as Tokyu Hands, but the pictures, posters and paraphernalia that adorn the walls leave one with few illusions.
Girls in bikinis cavort with celebrities in framed pictures, T-shirts boast that the store is “delightfully tacky, yet unrefined,” and signs display cheap sexual innuendo -- “Hooters: best breast and wings in town."
A way for Japanese women to expose themselves
Its soft-porn decor makes the place seem seedy, and Imacho admits a gender equality award is unlikely any time soon. “There is definitely sexism here,” says Imacho, one of six managers that will be working at the Akasaka restaurant.
“We try not to emphasize that, but ... it’s hard. We know most of the customers here are going to be coming for the girls. But I don’t think it’s all bad, especially for Japanese women. They are not as outgoing as American women and this is a way for the girls to expose themselves to society,” he says.
It sounds surreal. But one Hooters Girl, “Sara” Kanako Adachi, 25, had her reasons for joining the company. And they were nothing to do with money troubles or struggling to find work.
“I used to work at All Nippon Airways as a member of the ground staff, handling tickets, making announcements and stuff like that. I’ve been a big Hooters fan for years, but there wasn’t one in Japan. Hooter Girls have a healthy, feel-good image so I always thought I wanted to work here," she says.
“This job is about making people happy, it’s different to other restaurant jobs. And if you are making people happy, you will become happier yourself. I don’t care if most of the customers will be men."
A lack of equality
Imacho insists that before becoming a Hooters Girl, the interviews of the women are about more than mammary glands. “We tell the girls how much they will be paid and ask them if they will be comfortable wearing in the uniform,” he says.
“The girls know what they are getting into. I normally also ask them ‘why Hooters?’ and the reply is normally that they visited a branch in the States and thought it was a fun place. And if it’s fun for a Japanese girl to visit a Hooters in the States, why can’t it be the same in Japan?” he continues.
The restaurant’s ethos may be a perfect match for Japan. Of the 28 nations where Hooters has branches -- including China, the Phillippines and the Dominican Republic -- only Guatemala and South Korea rank lower on the recent Global Gender Gap Index produced by the World Economic Forum. Japan came in at 94.
Not a cabaret club
The chain, however, is looking to avoid the reputation some
of the franchises in other nations have gained.
“Our main competitors are Hard Rock Cafe, TGI Fridays and places like that. We are nothing like a Cabaret Club, and we don’t hire girls like that,” Imacho argues.
“We want to emphasize hospitality, fun and an escape from reality, and try not to go overboard with the image of Hooters. We don’t want that in Japan,” he says.
And with a plan to open a store a year for the foreseeable future, and few raising their voices about sexual discrimination at Hooters, it seems they are here for the long haul.
As Imacho says: “Most people are really excited. We haven’t really encountered a problem.”