Another year, another loss. That’s the way it’s been going for me in the 21st Century. White Rose is not a person, but my literal translation of Shiroibara, the unique Ginza cabaret, which closed its final curtain on January 10, to the familiar refrains of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” Suddenly, I am missing Shiroibara something awful.
“I need you by me, beside me, to guide me, to hold me. To scold me, cause when I'm bad I'm so, so bad.” Well put, Donna.
Full disclosure: a little guilt comes with my grief. No, I did not have an affair with one of the hostesses. Quite the opposite. I used to complain (to myself and friends) about the racket they made every night while I sat in my office a scant 10 meters away on Gas Light Street. They would do three sets every night and run the same material for about a month. So, including the daily rehearsals, I heard the songs an awful lot. And because I work late, usually until last curtain, I heard them every weeknight.
Often on a Sunday afternoon, I would find myself humming an old Whitney Houston tune, wondering how it got stuck in my head. Then Monday would roll around I would be reminded, over and over again, that, “IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII will always love yooooooooooou”
Music, when you’re in the right mood, is usually welcome, but on top of that was the revelry and rebellion that ensued after every Shiroibara show, when the guests and their hostesses spilled out on to the sidewalk, right below my window, to bid their raucous, long good-byes.
Doing their utmost to maintain the mood, the hostesses were always incredibly cheerful and upbeat. The customers, mostly men, were usually drunk, always loud and often obnoxious, as they refused to let go.
It was quite a cacophony, with taxis loitering like sharks, ready to whisk the salarymen home. The the hostesses stood by in revealing costumes, showing off all their curves, in all kinds of weather, without ever appearing to be even slightly chilled or inconvenienced.
Now the silence is killing me.
I feel like there’s a hole in my heart as big as the empty, ugly blue building, across the way. It’s a complicated edifice that looks much better on the inside. Seen from above, it’s a structure that would make Rube Goldberg blush. For more than a decade, I have had both the pleasure and horror of seeing the catwalks, ventilation tubes, wires and trap doors that decorate the roof (thankfully invisible to the patrons at street level).
Once, my nephew Will and I had a delightful, unrequited love affair with a dancer who, dressed in hot pants, would do her pre-show stretching on the roof. Within perfect sight lines of my 4th floor window, she seemed so close and yet so far. No matter how much we tried to pretend to work, she knew we were watching her and would always give us a wave and a friendly smile.
More than a few times, I spied building inspectors scrambling around on the roof, and I wondered how this place passed fire code and when Father Time or the authorities would finally catch up with them. I guess that day came, as management cited the building’s age and condition as the reason for closing.
Shiroibara had been around in one form or another since 1931. A respectable Ginza night spot to enjoy live music, professional dance shows and the unique companionship of hostesses, who were billed to speak to customers in their hometown dialects
About 200 hostesses were employed and 100 worked every night, included a lady who toured the tables for nearly 30 years. A hokey map on the front of the building indicated the hometowns of the current line-up. An easy come-on for Tokyo transplants seeking a nostalgic evening.
In my decade or so as a neighbor, I only managed to take in one show. It was the kind of place my mom and dad would have liked. A Broadway style review, but with popular and timely music. When Whitney died, it was Whitney Houston month. When Donna died, we had the Donna Summer review. Same with Michael Jackson.
Now, there’s only silence, and a fear for the next brand of cacophony coming my way. The two kinds of “music” Tokyo never seems to tire of: destruction and construction.