When Yoko Kusaka moved to Bangkok with her family in 1996, she decided to pursue postgraduate studies in sociology, focusing on the corporate entertainment practices of Japanese companies in the city.
She was shocked by what she saw.
Her research centered on a district of Bangkok called Thaniya, an area packed with karaoke bars where Japanese businessmen entertain clients and visiting colleagues in a style they are used to at home.
“They invite important guests to Thaniya, where they can enjoy a purely Japanese style of corporate entertainment, including karaoke singing with hostesses,” said Kusaka, 40.
“They can drink and sing there with their guests on their companies’ credit just by showing their business cards, just as they do in Tokyo.”
But what shocked her more was how frequently such nights of corporate entertainment would end with Japanese businessmen apparently indulging in prostitution with Thaniya hostesses.
“I could not understand why the Japanese-style corporate culture was seen even in Bangkok and why Japanese businessmen could act so indecently there,” she said.
Kusaka’s research on why and how Japanese-style entertainment developed in Thaniya earned her a master’s from the national Chulalongkorn University.
Her thesis was recently published in Japan by Mekong Publishing Co. under the title “Thaniya no Shakaigaku” (“Sociology in Thaniya”).
According to the book, the number of Japanese corporations doing business in Thailand dramatically increased after the 1985 Plaza accord, in which world monetary officials decided to correct the excessive strength of the dollar.
The rise in the yen prompted Japanese firms of all sizes to open production bases in neighboring Asian countries, causing the number of Japanese firms in Thailand to almost double between 1985 and 1990.
Meanwhile, as demand for Japanese-style corporate entertainment grew, Thailand was taking steps to boost its economy through tourism, according to Kusaka. “The interests of the two sides fit together, bringing forth an exclusively Japanese pleasure spot — Thaniya,” she said.
As of November 1998, there were some 300 karaoke bars in Thaniya with about 10,000 hostesses, according to a Japanese man who ran a karaoke bar for more than 20 years in the district.
During her research, Kusaka received help from a Japanese businessman who frequented Thaniya, for whom she used the fictitious name “Mr. Ishibashi” in her book.
Ishibashi, a representative of a major Japanese firm, entertained customers and colleagues from Tokyo and other Asian cities several times a week in Thaniya.
From October 1997 to June 1998, he entertained 94 Japanese businessmen on trips from Japan and other Asian nations, of whom 68, or 72.3 percent, visited Thaniya.
Among the 68, 18, or 26.5 percent, left karaoke bars with Thai hostesses, which most likely meant they indulged in prostitution, Ishibashi reckoned.
“Although the average stay in Bangkok of the 94 businessmen Ishibashi entertained was 2.63 nights, a quarter of them took out hostesses, with three doing so more than twice. Given the data, I could not help doubting the purpose of their business trips,” Kusaka wrote in the book.
She said she was told in interviews with hostesses in Thaniya that many of them turned to prostitution because their basic wages were so low.
Japanese corporate culture stresses a sense of togetherness and harmony, so people collude with each other and sometimes lose their sense of justice, Kusaka said.
As a result, “company representatives in Bangkok each know which hostesses the others like, and it does not seem to be shameful to lure a hostess out of a bar for prostitution even in front of their colleagues,” she writes in the book.
Considering the current close relationship between the two countries, Thailand should “no longer be a place where Japanese businessmen can feel immune from shame,” she said.
“It will inevitably damage bilateral relations if they continue to behave indecently,” she warned.
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