Walking the tight street of kabikucho, Shinjuku, I can’t help but notice her. To hide my interest, I lower my head ever so slightly to shelter my gaze at the curiosity before me. A svelte young women with curled hair cascading down her neck and shoulders like bronze tendrils; round face brushed with powder, blush, and faint eye shadow. Every part of her is decorated; even her manicured nails have tiny silver heart and star shaped charms glued to the pink background. Her tall heels click against the cement as she walks, grasping the arm of an older, grey haired man in a business suit. When he mumbles something to her she smiles widely, showing her crooked teeth–a sign of her kawaii, her cuteness. On her right shoulder hangs a pink Chanel purse, the silver double Cs flashing in the evening sunlight.
There can be no doubt as to her profession. A hostess, a woman who is paid to talk, drink, and feign interest towards the men who dote on them. Just a few short steps away is another one, the only noticeable difference in appearance being her blond hair and darker eye shadow. They are pastel flowers standing out among a city of black and grey, their fame small but iconic.
Yet what overshadows this glittering world of fantasy are cultural roles that silently guide women into choosing what is considered traditional, unselfish duty; the housewife, the rearer of a proud nation’s children, given the highest respect in society or the career-woman who is independent but trapped. There is no middle ground in this ”clean” world, but in the underbrush there are roles for women who are unable or unwilling to conform as economics have forced many women into the clubs where they can earn a high sum and renown.
I came to understand the complex situation from friend of mine, a hostess named Miu . When I first met her through a mutual friend, her boyfriend at the time, she insisted that she was a waitress at a club named The Black Horse. It was only after her relationship ended that she confided her true profession to me. A university educated woman, she laments “It’s really hard to find a job. Once you get the interview, there are three or four more before you’re offered a job. But, I don’t always get that far because there are a lot of other people who get there first. I want to work for a communications company but I can’t find a job there so that’s why I took the one at the club.”
In this setting I am sitting across from her in a small café in Harajuku as she pauses to take a small bite from her cheesecake. No one would recognize her here as anything other than normal, with her dyed brown hair tied into a messy bun and make-up free face. The small signs of her occupation are her tired eyes and a diamond bracelet wrapped around her left wrist. When I ask “Do you like working there?” she lifts her eyes up to the sky, placing her pointer finger on her chin as she thinks of an answer. She doesn’t look at me when she speaks, “It’s a good salary and if I don’t make enough from the customers, they give me presents that I can sell.”
A beeping tone coming from her smart phone grabs her attention. She slips the bejeweled object—the cover adorned with glittering sequins and plastic jewels— from her black leather purse. She smiles and taps the screen quickly and then drops it back into the bag. “Sorry,” she offers, “just one of my clients. I think it’s nice sometimes to be treated like you’re important. I don’t want to be number one but there are other girls who do because they like all the attention and the money gets better.” In her I see the dichotomy of wanting a mainstream career while also reveling in the glamour of a job that provides what many seek: celebrity.
Yet there is another seemingly innocent avenue towards the same level of fame that comes with being a hostess. Using the internet, girls create individual websites and profiles in the hope that it will gain them popularity and at times it does. In the case of Mai Kotone, she began very small until her online profile ballooned into a blog that receives up to 10,000 hits per day  She has since created CDs and performs many songs live, charging up to 3,500 yen (about forty US dollars) for tickets, speaks on the radio, and makes many television appearances. Her rise has given way to a business catering to girls who want to “make it”.
In Akihabara, the Electric City, a three story café sits in a tall, thin building: Akihabara Backstage Pass. It is remarkably bright, lit with wide lamps overhead, the walls white and pink like taffy. Behind an ice cream bar are a few young girls wearing sleeveless white blouses and plaid school girl uniforms. All of them starry-eyed with fame envy. Like a restaurant menu, each aspiring idol is featured in pamphlets that are passed out on the streets, on a poster in front of the café, and online.  Within the café the girls are met by their internet fans, some few, some many, while others are “fresh”—new girls without a profile who want to become the next big Net Idol. Yet just across the street their specially crafted character cards sit in hobby shop glass cases, propped up to show the special Christmas edition of each girl wearing a red and white bikini with a Santa hat cocked to the side of their heads.
In the case next to it are small plastic figures of half naked women in revealing postures, many of which sit with their legs spread to show a detailed rendition of the female genitals.
What is perhaps the most disturbing is not that they are unhidden, but that at least half of the figures are of pre-pubescent girls. Here lies the visual cue of the cost of the avenue towards a unique form of celebrity. Looking for money and fame, young women in Japan are becoming ever more sexualized in a society where few other options exist. Hostesses and Net Idols, while legally adults, dress and act like young girls to exemplify the characteristics of kawaii to gain attention from men and women alike who share the same interests. In this distinctive culture where the appearance of success overshadows gender equality, many of Japan’s young women are finding few roads to personal achievement and so they take the ones open to them, however contradictory those roads may be.
 Name has been changed to protect privacy
 Kotone, Mai. 2012. Kotone Mai. http://ameblo.jp/kotonemai/