When I was in Tokyo for the first time in the winter of 1992 I came across many late teenagers who appeared to be totally stressed and fatigued.
It was explained to me that they were in the final stages of the long process to enter university.

I heard bizarre stories that it was not unusual for parents to enlist their fresh-born babies for acceptance tests to be taken 18 years into the future. Those tests were said to be so tough that japanese kids are actually just going to school to learn for these tests.
My host, a Japanese guy who grew up and went to school in Germany, was currently studying at Tokyo University.

Of course I was curious how he managed those tests, without ever going to school in Japan. He told me that his main study was German language and history. He apparantly received his test-papers, read them, corrected them and walked out. This must have been so embarrasing for his tutors that they gave him his immatriculation right away.I was also told that many families would/could only enlist their son(s) for the university. Either for financial reasons or some sexist bullshit.

So when the girls would finish school they would find work as "Receptionists" in the countless department stores and shops of Tokyos sprawling, five city-centres. I came across this brigade of incredibly beautiful, immaculately groomed and uniformed girls everywhere. It was not unusual to be greeted by 8 or 10 of them while entering a shop. They would stand there, neatly lined up, they opened the doors for you and would tell you how pleased they were to open the doors for you.Nobody could tell me about the career possibilities for these girls, each of them looking like a supermodel or at least a Stewardess from the most luxurious first-class Airline.

Apparantly they are expected to find a man and marry. After all, each new year brings an abundance of highly educated young women who were not enlisted for the university test upon their birth..
These wonderful pictures are taken by japanese photographer Junko Takahashi. The book The Receptionist is her first to be published in the USA.

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