One night recently, after a rampage through Kabukicho, my friend Peter suggested a nightcap at a nearby kyaba-kura (cabaret club). But one, he said, with a difference -- namely, all the girls who work there are "new-halfs," or transsexuals. There was no need to blush or blink -- I had already been to Petit Chateau, Tokyo's most prestigious new-half club, which earned its reputation by hiring only the most beautiful Japanese "girls" (and by charging a flat 20,000 yen just to walk in!).

New-half clubs function like any hostess club. Customers are greeted and seated and tended to by as many girls as their pocketbooks will allow. How they differ -- beside the fact that their girls were once not girls -- is that they also feature a cabaret-style show. Periodically throughout the evening, the girls will be plucked -- en masse -- from their duties at the tables to get ready for showtime. But as dancing skills are obviously less important than beauty, these nightly pageants serve more to parade the girls in front of customers. After all, it would be indiscreet for the customers to peer into darkened corners in order to view the full menu.

Madam Papa, my friend's suggested destination for a nightcap, is no exception. Madam Bea, the proud mama of Papa, swept across the mirror-lined room in a flurry of chiffon to greet us with a volley of smiles and batting eyelashes. I say proud because, after arriving from the Philippines, she had started working here as one of the girls. But her intrinsically naughty nature and striking, Streisand-like good looks ensured her success with the customers -- so successful, in fact, that a few years later, when she heard the club might close, she was able to step in and take over.