If this 1969 ad from Japan Air Lines seems outdated, think again.
My favorite part of the ad reads:
… you’ll always remember the way you got to Hong Kong–if you let us take you there. For the service on Japan Air Lines is legendary–starting with the classic bow of the kimono-clad hostess as she welcomes you aboard your Jet Courier. She’s been trained since childhood in the special Japanese art of pleasing guests… Why be a passenger on some other airline when you can be our guest?
Gosh, when I wore kimono 20 years ago, it was a struggle to walk down the street, let alone pour gin and tonics and carve prime rib in the aisles.
I stayed with my parents’ friends in Yokohama for a few weeks in 1990-91. Mrs. Nakajima dressed me in kimono, taking two hours to wrap me like a mummy, smoothing the couple of curves on my spindly 20 year old body. Wearing tabi with raised wooden zori was a sure way to trip and break my ankle had I not carefully shuffled along, holding onto Mrs. Nakajima and her two daughters. Plus, I hadn’t been trained to please guests since childhood.
In Hong Kong, almost 30 years after this ad appeared, classified ads there could specify a preference for women or male employees. One even listed a required shoe size.
But don’t get me wrong about the flight attendant profession. I almost answered an ad to be one for Dragonair, Cathay Pacific’s subsidiary airline, in 1996. The ad called for a woman fluent in English, proficient in Mandarin, and some Cantonese preferred, aged 21-35. At 25, I was about to graduate from my master’s program and wanted to remain in Hong Kong. I daydreamed about flying to cities on the mainland, serving ke kou ke le and chatting casually to passengers about the rapid socioeconomic changes in China. As the only gweilo flight attendant on Dragonair, my flights would become like a salon in the sky, with passengers pining to get on my routes.
Like the hostess in the JAL ad, I had been training since childhood in the special art of–putting family first. I was a newlywed, so when my other half scoffed at the idea of applying for the Dragonair job, I put it to rest then and there.