It’s possible that you don’t think of me as any kind of disco dancer. And you’d mostly be right. I’m pretty sure I never went to a disco in the United States. But… when in Japan you end up doing all kinds of things that you might never do in your bokoku. Of course this is mostly because you’re in a atarashii country which has new things to do, places to visit, foods to try etc. But just as my first lesson at Japanese cooking school involved (surprisingly) hamburgers, there was a time in my life that involved a disco. Both the hamburger and the disco were Japanese takes on Western stuff.
For those of you who know Kyoto, would you believe me if I said there had been a disco in Pontochō? Pontochō is that lovely little lane downtown that houses the kind of restaurants and exclusive bars that we think geisha and maiko frequent. Some places require an introduction and if you need to look at nedan, you’re in the wrong area of town.
Yet, in the late 1970’s there was indeed a disco not-so-hidden in a lower level of a Pontochō establishment. It was called Samantha. Or, in Japanese Samansa. They had a large collection of soul music and their focus was on Black musicians. It was a quirky kind of place but it did indeed have a small dance floor.. A friend of mine found it and we became jōrenkyaku there. Most of the time it was filled with single men. It was the first time I ever saw people dancing without partners. It was freeing. Lucy and I would often get out on the floor and dance with abandon.
I have no idea what the cover charge was because we never paid. In fact, we rarely paid when we went out in the evening. Even a raggedly hippie girl like me was enough of a bonus for any shop that they’d welcome us with open arms, and men would ply us with nomimono with few expectations. We were mezurashii and we soaked it all up. We were young and just loving it. Of course now we know that what we experienced was white privilege. But at the time we didn’t think twice about it. The scarcity of young foreign women worked in our favor. Looking back on this I feel like we definitely took advantage, but this was also a prosperous time in Japan and –okay, I should stop making kōjitsu. We had a blast.
I have no idea what happened to Samansa and how long it lasted. I moved to Tokyo while it was still popular and in Tokyo I’d sometimes find myself in the discos of Roppongi which were notorious in the 1980s. While there were many more gaikokujin in Tokyo, including military and rich expats, I still don’t remember ever paying to get into a disco. Privilege…. and I bet cute models are still reaping those benefits.
- bokoku – 母国 mother country
- atarashii – 新しい new
- geisha – 芸者 Honestly, if you don’t know what a geisha is, why are you even reading this?
- maiko – 舞妓 apprentice geisha and you.should.know.this.
- nedan – 値段 price
- jōrenkyaku – 常連客 regular customer. When you live in Japan you want a few places where they know you. It helps you feel at home there.
- nomimono – 飲み物 drink. At a bar it usually refers to alcohol of course, but it includes any kind of drink and is used broadly.
- mezurashii – 珍しい rare, unusual
- kōjitsu – 口実 excuse
- gaikokujin – 外国人 foreigner