Once, I was invited out by a student called Yoshi. He was a short, squat man in his early fifties and was an ex-boxer. He had a rough, square face and huge calloused hands. He had spent two years of his life living in Los Angeles. He rarely ventured out of Little Tokyo and spoke almost no English, but he said he had always been treated with extreme kindness during his stay abroad and as such was keen to return the favour to foreigners in his country.
My work finished at nine o’clock and Yoshi met me outside the school. We went to a great little izakaya whare we ate tempura, sashimi, yakitori, grilled fish and several other fantastic little dishes all washed down with plenty of beer and sake. Yoshi wouldn’t accept a single yen in payment from me and, after settling the bill, announced that we were going to a snack, one, he said, ‘with nice ladies’. Then he sort of puckered up his lips and made little kissy kissy noises. I assumed we were off to see a strip show or some such and, already being a bit the worse for wear, gladly followed along.
We walked further into the town’s entertainment district, passing hostesses trying to lure staggering groups of businessmen into their bars, and went into a building which housed about nine floors of tiny bars. Each bar had a neon sign on the outside of the building and Yoshi pointed to one about three floors up which read, ‘Mini Manila’. You can imagine, then, how disappointing it was to enter a bar with such a name expecting to find myself being fawned over by scantily clad Filipinas, only to be greeted by what I can only describe as Fred Flintstone in a dress. Honestly, motioning for us to sit down from behind the bar’s counter was quite the most unconvincing transvestite I have ever seen! They call a transvestite a Mr Lady in Japan and this one certainly far more of the mister and less of the lady.
It was a long, dark, narrow bar and plush, purple velvet stools were lined up in front of the counter. There were no other customers, so it looked like it was just going to be an evening of Yoshi, me and a burly middle-aged Japanese man in an ill-fitting woman’s wig. He wore a pearl necklace with matching earrings, and a blue dress of the style favoured by menopausal women. He was a chap going for the frumpy housewife transvestite look. He hadn’t even bothered to shave, for goodness’ sake!
As we entered, it was clear that the transvestite knew Yoshi well. Nonetheless, I wasn’t sure how to react when Yoshi pointed straight at the poor man and burst out laughing. I mean, he did look a state, but you have to think that laughing blatantly at a hopelessly poor transvestite can’t be good manners, don’t you? Especially, when you are in his bar. Yoshi didn’t seem too bothered, though, and was having a right jolly chuckle. Then he blew him a kiss and received some coy laughter hidden behind a manly hand by way of return.
We took a couple of seats at the bar and a tall, elegant woman appeared from somewhere round the back – the kitchen area I suppose – carrying two plates with unidentifiable appetizers on them, two hot towels with which to wipe our hands, and two bottles of beer. As she filled our glasses from the bottles, Yoshi laughed again and said, ‘Boy’.
With this one, I have to admit it was very hard to tell. I looked closely, but her skin was soft and smooth in appearance and she was wearing a glamorous dress revealing an ample cleavage. I couldn’t tell if this one was a bona fide woman or what they call a ‘new half’, a transsexual, I think. There was perhaps a hint of an Adam’s apple but I’d never have noticed had Yoshi not kept saying ‘Boy!’ I asked Yoshi if she was really a guy and he was delighted. ‘Yes, yes! Boy!’ he said with great excitement. ‘Very pretty boy! Beautiful!’
Well, I must have been staring rather obviously at him or her, because she (we’ll just stick to ‘she’, I think) smiled and then pulled down the front of her dress to reveal her breasts. They certainly looked very real. She even gave them a quick little fondle but pulled the dress back up and administered a playful slap to Yoshi when he reached over the bar and tried to cop a feel. Over a few more drinks I discovered that this ‘new half’ had indeed once been a man but had saved up some money and was now a complete woman. ‘Everywhere,’ she said.
The beer continued to flow, and after an hour or so, the rubbish one, the stocky fellow, asked Yoshi if we would like a show. Yoshi agreed immediately and the pretty one disappeared out the back again. A little while later she returned wearing a Japanese yukata, still looking pretty as a picture. Well one in which the hands have been painted slightly out of proportion, anyway.
The ugly one put on some enka music and then the pretty one began to slowly peel away her clothes, batting her eyelids seductively at us as she did so. Yoshi was literally drooling now, saliva dropping out of his mouth onto the bar counter as he repeated, ‘Boy! Pretty boy!’ over and over. Well, the performer did indeed show us that she was a woman everywhere, although only as a very brief finale to her show before she ran quickly out of sight again as if suddenly realizing that she’d just done something very rude indeed! ‘Shitsurei shimashita,’ she said.
When she came back into the bar in her original outfit, she topped up our glasses and carried on as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. But that was because Fred Flintstone had now stepped out of the bar and I was soon to discover that I hadn’t seen anything out of the ordinary yet. The real show was just beginning.
There was a change in the music’s tempo. A fast disco tune was now belting out of the speakers. Then Fred Flintstone reappeared, still in his wig, still with his five o’clock shadow, but now kitted out in an extravagantly bouffant wedding dress, a tiara and high heels! He climbed atop the bar counter and then, hands on hips, proceeded to parade mincily along its length as though he were the most beautiful woman in the world. He sang along to the track on the stereo – words I couldn’t comprehend – and all the while his companion clapped her hands and whooped with joy in encouragement. He did a couple of full lengths of the bar counter and then on his third, and, it has to be said, admirably managing to keep with the beat, he paused right in front of me, hitched up his dress to reveal stockings, suspenders and a rather obvious lack of pants. And let me say here that this one certainly didn’t care whether we thought he was all woman or not. Then, still in time with the music, he thrust his pelvis towards my face. To be honest, I’m not sure I would have found it terribly funny were it not for the fact that I was very drunk, it was meant in good spirits, and he had attached a small bell on a string to the end of his willy so that as he thrust, the bell flew to within about an inch of my nose, made a slight ding and retreated back to its rightful position dangling between his legs. The entire motion was fluidly incorporated into his parade and was repeated several times during the course of his show! The ding seemed to fit in perfectly with the music and it was hard to be offended with such impressive rhythm!
And that was the show. When it was over, he just remained in his wedding dress sitting behind the bar, chatting away and pouring drinks. And then, when Yoshi vomited over himself, I felt we should probably leave.
It had been an entertaining night out, but got rather awkward when I saw Yoshi at the language school the next week. He was waiting in the lobby with a number of other students when I walked in with two female teachers and the young Japanese female manager of the school.
‘Oh, sorry!’ said Yoshi loudly, with a laugh. ‘Too much drinking!’
‘No problem,’ I said. ‘I had a good night.’
‘Yes,’ he laughed again. ‘Very pretty boys!’ and then he made a kissy kissy noise again.
As my fellow teachers and a few students turned their eyes towards me, I looked at the floor, puffed out my cheeks, exhaled loudly for a moment and then walked silently off to my classroom. What could I have said? ‘No, don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not what you think. They were transvestites!’