I answered an add in the newspaper looking for singers and dancers for a three month contract in Japan. The pay was AUD$700 per week plus accommodation, half board and the opportunity to earn “tips”. To be honest, I had a dark feeling about the whole thing from the first. Dany, the choreographer and tour manager was shifty and sweaty, over enthusiastically brushing over details.
I “auditioned” for the role of singer and got it. I put auditioned in quotes because only one other girl showed up on the day. I sang to a karaoke backing tape and totally failed the dance part of the audition.
I was happy to get the part. I needed to get out of Sydney. Casey and Paul were in London. I was working as a giant puppet called Johnson The Pink Elephant, in a children’s theater production, performing in theaters across Australia. Johnson & Friends was a popular children’s TV show in the 90’s. I was earning okay money when were were touring but there was too much time off in between tours to save up enough to do anything. And I needed to get out. To see the world. To give myself a chance to be somebody. I needed to be around Casey. And Paul. I was 20.
We were to rehearse on the Gold Coast in Queensland. One week of rehearsal turned into 4 weeks. We weren’t rehearsing as much as we were waiting to get our visas. It felt dodgy. Dany felt dodgy. His wife felt dodgy. Dany was always talking fast and smiling a lot while feeling ever on the verge of a rage meltdown. They lived in a Mc Mansion in the suburbs. A Mc Mansion with hardly any furniture in it.
It felt dodgy but I had committed. I had given up my flat, given away or sold all of my belongings, quit my pink elephant job. I didn’t have anything to go back to and giving up would have been an irreconcilable failure.
Actually, I was in between tours when this all started. I was working for a photocopier company. Don’t ask. I can’t remember much and I definitely don’t remember what the company was called. I worked on the phone connecting repair technicians with jobs. It was an awful job. I used to walk all the way from my apartment in Kings Cross to St Leonards and back — two hours each way — every day, for weight loss, to walk off hangovers and to buy myself calorie credits for the nights drinking ahead. I drank no more than one bottle of white wine on an empty stomach every night which I would fill up from a cask so I could monitor how much I was drinking. I started missing every Friday from work because Nadir & Leonie and I would go out and get wasted every Thursday night at Zoom. I was in love with Nadir. Leonie was in love with me.
I had friends who had done tours like the one I embarked on. They spoke of adventure, sisterhood and really good money. Earning extra money by getting the male patrons to buy us drinks was made clear from the start and I didn’t even bat an eyelid. My alarm bells did not ring one chime. Its only now that I realize that this made me an escort. I agreed to go to Japan, sing in a cabaret show and work as an escort? Holy fucking shit.
When we finally got to Japan, we were picked up from the airport in a van and told we were being driven to the Onsen (Japanese Spa Hotel) where we would be working for the next 3 months. We drove for 9 hours. To a town called Shidotaira on the north island of Hokkaido.
As soon as we arrived the managers asked us to give them our passports and flight tickets “for safe keeping”. This is when my alarm bells finally went off. I did not give them my passport or my ticket and I advised the other girls not to give them theirs either. They didn’t push and I kept my passport and my ticket tucked into my underwear at all times.
On the first night the hotel managers looked at our “show” and cut it down from 45 minutes to about fifteen. Just long enough for the guests to see and choose. We were pretty bad. It was humiliating. At least if our show had been good it would have kept some dignity.
I didn’t see any way to get out of it so I decided to work hard every moment I could, make as much money as I could, spend as little of it as I could, eat as little as I could and just get through it. I took on a morning and an evening shift working in the kitchen, washing trays and dishes. At night I worked singing and dancing in the show and then singing karaoke with the men in the bar afterward. I went power walking every morning after my shift in the kitchen. I took laxatives and purged the very little that I ate every day. I wasn’t losing weight fast enough so I even gave up drinking alcohol for a few weeks. I think my survival instinct was kicking in by then, directing me to keep a clear head so I could find a way to get myself the fuck out of there.
We were supposed to be paid once a week but Dany was only giving us our per diam allowance, coming up with different excuses every time we asked him where the rest of our money was.
The staff were getting more pushy and impatient with us, the guests — 80% of whom were men — were getting harder to keep away. There was a presumption that we would have sex with them for money. One of the girls who came with us did. I was scared. The other girl in our troupe was even younger than I was. She was drinking heavily all day, every day. She was broken and breaking more every minute. I knew I had to get her out of there and I had to get myself out too.
I had made a connection with a young man who had come to the Onsen as a guest one night. He lived in the town next to Shidotaira. His name was Hideto. To this day, I don’t know how or why I trusted him. He had a gentle way about him. Maybe it was a combination of divine intervention and having very little value for myself. He asked the hotel management for permission to date me and took me out twice. He was very kind and funny and curious and really, a perfect gentleman. He never even dared to touch my knee.
The day before our next date a whole plethora of divine intervention came together and I grabbed it all with both arms.
I had made lunch for everyone and when I knocked on Dany’s door and poked my head in to let him know that he could join us, I found him sitting on his bed counting stacks of American Dollars. I asked him what (the FUCK!) he was doing and he jumped up and told me how wonderful! How great! He was just counting all the money they had finally given him for us. He offered to “keep it safe” and started to tell me that maybe I shouldn’t tell the other girls. I pretended that I didn’t understand that last part and started celebrating loudly and telling the other girls to come! Look! Our money is here!
We ate lunch. Dany and Dianne invited us to play tennis with them the next day. I declined because I was working. And planning. Virginia declined because she and Dianne did not get along. I was starting to see a way out. I agonized all day about whether or not to tell Dianne and Virginia that I was leaving. I decided that I may not be able to trust either of them. I didn’t know whether I could trust Hideto to help me escape either but I decided I was going to try.
I had a dream that night. In the dream I was asleep in my bed in the same room, in the same apartment that I was actually asleep in. Virginia, pale and broken and crying in her sleep in a bed next to mine, just as she was every night. I dreamt that Dany, the Onsen managers and the guests were knocking and yelling at our door, trying to break it down and get to us, make us do what they wanted us to do. I stood up out of my bed and roared. I became a Lion in the dream and I tore them all to pieces. When I awoke, I felt the power of the Lion was in me. I know, I know it sounds corny but I swear that is exactly, word for word how it was and how I felt.
As soon as Dany and Dianne left to play tennis I went to my room, woke up Virgina and told her I was leaving. I told her there was no time to explain or to answer any questions. I told her she could come with me but only if she could shove her belongings into a bag right now and run. And that’s what we did. With hotel staff running along behind us, yelling I don’t know what, we ran. I timed it (when I say “I” I mean God) so that, fingers crossed, Hideto would be there waiting when we got to the hotel entrance. He was there.
When he saw me, he got out of his car. I said, Hideto I need your help. He opened the boot of his car, helped us to throw our bags in then we all jumped in and he drove. Only then did ask me what I needed. He didn’t ask me what had happened. He didn’t ask me to explain. I told him that we were in trouble and we needed his help. He took us to a train station a few stations down the line from Shidotaira and helped us to buy tickets on the bullet train to Narita Airport, Tokyo. When we said good bye he asked me if I had a photograph of myself that I could sign and give to him. I gave him a head shot and signed it Love always, Caitlin.
My memory gets choppy from here on. We got to Narita without incident. We went to the ticket counter with our tickets and they issued us seats on the next available flights. Me to Sydney and Virginia to Melbourne. I don’t remember if we told them what had happened or why they were so accommodating. I remember sitting in a bar at the airport, drinking Sake and smoking cigarettes feeling equally powerful and terrified at the same time mindfully staying in open, heavily populated areas. Afraid that the people we were working for might be looking for us and try to take us back.
Virginia and I were going home but neither of us had anywhere to go once we got there. She was running away from a controlling, abusive mother and I was running away from a destructive family, loneliness and nowhere to go. When I arrived in Sydney I stayed with Nadir and Leonie for a few nights. I had enough money to either pay the deposit on a new flat and start again in Sydney or buy a ticket to London with very little change left over. I decided to go to London. I couldn’t face the thought of having gone through all of that for nothing.
I arrived in London a few days later with 200 pounds in my pocket and no visa. I met up with Casey and she let me move in with her right away, sharing her bed until I got on my feet. I got a job on my second day in a private members club in Soho and met my next addiction: cocaine. London was a fucking mess. So much piss and shit and blackouts and shame. I don’t even remember half of it, I was wasted most of the time. We were all messy but Paul and I were the worst. We were both also the best at covering it up and pretending it wasn’t that bad or that whatever terrible thing we had done to ourselves hadn’t really happened at all. We weren’t really hurting anyone else at that point but we were really hurting ourselves.