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Saturday, 10 February, 2001, 15:29 GMT
The dark side of Tokyo's hostess bars
Sophie Blackman
Sophie Blackman went to Tokyo to look for her sister
Lucie Blackman's death has highlighted concerns over the vulnerability of foreign women working in the murky world of the Japanese bar trade.

Young women such as Lucie can earn up to 60 an hour sitting and drinking with patrons at the hostess bars in Tokyo's red-light Roppongi district.

It appears to be easy money for little more than pouring drinks, helping customers select karaoke songs, lighting cigarettes and laughing at jokes.

Lucie Blackman
Lucie Blackman went been missing in July
But the cash, and the risks, increase if punters ask the bar to release hostesses for dinner dates, known as dohans.

It is these dates that are most lucrative to the bars and girls are often under great pressure to convert drinks into dohans.

Dohans not only make money for the bars, they make money for hostesses.

Tokyo is an expensive city and they pay up to 700 a month for a tiny room, usually shared.

To pay this and earn money to continue with the travels that usually bring them to the city, they need to earn as much as they can.

The risks are obvious and bar owners insist that dohans are arranged only with trusted customers and that all precautions are taken.

Vulnerable

But ultimately money is the driving force behind Roppongi's hostess bars and often safety comes second.

The risks of going off with a stranger are multiplied for the many hostesses who do not have proper visas.

Like illegal immigrants everywhere, their status outside the law makes them easy prey.

It is difficult for them to seek the protection of the authorities, leaving them vulnerable.

Tim Blackman
Tim Blackman: Wants more protection for hostesses
Lucie's father, Tim Blackman, has accused the Tokyo authorities and hostess bar owners of turning a blind eye to the disappearance of a number of women, not only his daughter.

He wants to ensure that his daughter's death was not in vain.

He intends to launch a campaign to regularise the legal situation of Western women who work in bars and clubs without proper work permits.

"They are in a vulnerable situation and have nobody to appeal to. We have to change the law," he said.

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