44.Cabaret Belleamie dancers

The 100 or so prints decorating the walls of the third-floor toilet are reproductions of publicity photographs of dancers and performers of the Grand Cabaret Belleamie in Wakamatsu, Kitakyushu City. They were unearthed from the former employee dormitories.

The mostly black-and-white images show the troupe’s women and men in a variety of costumes, from tuxedo to half-naked, giving their best smiles and signature poses. After the club shut down, a friend of mine who bought the property was able to go through the cardboard boxes piled among vast amounts of stuff in the dormitory’s storeroom. It gave off the smell of live band music, hostess perfume, cocktails and cigarettes from 50 years ago.

By her count, the prints numbered about 1,400. It would have been nice if a local publisher had made a photobook of this history, but none of them did, so we decided to scan each one, copy the names on the backs and make an e-book containing all of them in PDF format (available at the shop on the ground floor). They represent a time tunnel to the night life of the 1960s.

About 90 percent of the performers are women, sometimes in dresses or kimono, because apart from a handful of singers and comic actors, the cabaret was a place for so-called ‘nude dancing.’ On the photographs, some of the stars have noted their specialities — such as ‘pink nude,’ ‘Westerner nude,’ ‘Nichigeki star’ — along with their names. There are also impressive catchphrases such as ‘candle nude,’ ‘luminous graffiti show,’ ‘gold dust show,’ ‘topless singer,’ ‘comical porn,’ ‘snake bed show,’ and so on, and one can only wonder what kind of tricks were being performed.

The term ‘cabaret’ derives from Japan’s pre-war café and dance hall culture, which developed further with the large ballrooms for the Occupation forces who entered the country immediately after Japan’s defeat on 15 August 1945. The American RAA (Recreation and Amusement Association), which operated leisure facilities for the Occupation forces, was established less than two weeks after the end of the war, with the purpose of ‘preventing Japanese women from being raped by occupying soldiers.’ It opened cabarets in Ginza and Shinagawa during the same year. The following year, 1946, saw the establishment of the Tokyo Cabaret League (later the Cabaret Association), which ran a total of eight venues, four belonging to the RAA and four for Japanese nationals.

Belleamie began trading in 1959, around the same time Tokyo’s glamorous cabarets, New Latin Quarter and Mikado, opened in Akasaka. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, Tokyo as of September 1960 boasted 1,743 cabarets among its adult entertainment businesses.

But with economic upheavals such as the dollar and oil shocks, the enforcement of the new Entertainment Business Law, and the diversification of night time entertainment with the birth of ‘pink salons,’ discos and karaoke parlours, the traditional cabaret began gradually to decline. Within the Showa era, it disappeared almost entirely. Belleamie began to deteriorate from the late 1970s and finally closed its doors in 1989. The previous year, Akasaka Mikado shut down, and the New Latin Quarter, which had quietly continued operations after the closure of its building, the Hotel New Japan, following a major fire in 1982 that killed 33 people, also switched off its lights in 1989.

The Cabaret Belleamie building has been demolished and nothing on the site reminds us of its glory. A funeral home now stands there.