Published Aug. 7, 2008, on The Santiago Times
(Ed. Note: Anita Alvarado is most commonly known as the Chilean Geisha. From a poor background, she gavebirth to her first child at a young age and began working as a prostitute to support her child. In 1992, when she was only 19, she emigrated to Japan, where she continued to sell her sexual services, but quickly became one of Japan’s VIP prostitutes, involving herself with mafia clients and eventually marrying into money. She is a well known, controversial figure, often in the Chilean spotlight for being born a poor woman and using “scandalous” methods to catapult herself into the upper class.
Santiago Times journalist Elaine Ramirez updates the Alvarado saga below.)
She shamelessly married for money, lived off embezzled funds from her Japanese sugar daddy and has arguably become Chile’s most famed former lady of the night.
But behind the hawkeye cameras of reality TV where she knows no shame, Anita Alvarado raises her seven children in a tranquil, southeastern Santiago gated community, still hunting for the man of her life.
Now 35 and a household name in both Chile and Japan, the “Chilean Geisha” still talks freely of the days she poured wine and lit cigars — among other services — for the now-imprisoned Yuji Chida to make ends meet for her family. If only in attempts to stretch her 15 minutes of fame into 15 years or so, the prostitute-turned-celebrity boosted her own notoriety by writing a national bestseller, releasing a 10-tune album, playing a movie stripper and toting a reality TV camera crew on her voyage to visit Chida last year in a Japanese prison.
And she did it all for her kids, she says.
“When I needed help, no one helped me,” she told The Santiago Times. “I never, ever wanted to not have the money for medicine for my kids or to take them to a good clinic. But now when my kids get sick I can say yes, yes I have the money. And I don’t have to ask anyone for it.”
Born and raised with four sisters in the poor southern Santiago borough of El Bosque, Anita Alvarado strolled from the shadows of the night into the limelight in 2001 when Japanese reporters were chasing the embezzlement scandal of Alvarado’s husband and former client, who had stolen 1.45 billion yen (then US$11.6 million) from his company.
But it was her notoriously brazen tongue and unreserved character that magnetized Chile’s media so strongly. That, and her sheer candidness to show and tell all on television.
“Because it scares them. Because I like to see the sensation of them saying, ‘Oh, what is she doing!’” she reasoned. And her actions prove even more outlandish, because she’s fearless of getting kicked off TV. “If they don’t want me, fine,” she said nonchalantly.
Without knowing a word of Japanese nor having any higher education, the 21 year-old bounded across the Pacific to Tokyo in 1993 after a customer at a Santiago restaurant where she was working asked her if she wanted to come back to Japan with him. “This Japanese man was in charge of bringing girls to Japan. He asked me if I wanted to go, and I said yes,” she said. “It was fast, I didn’t think much.”
In Japan Alvarado held a variety of jobs, from waitressing to housekeeping, collecting pocket change to raise her two children. But desperation seeped into Alvarado’s veins when she couldn’t afford to help her oldest child Angie, who had fallen ill to a flu. The mother jumped at the chance to help her daughter, no matter the cost.
“I was a bartender, furniture maker, housekeeper. I did everything,” she said. “My girl was dying… When the opportunity presented itself to become a prostitute, I said yes; I didn’t doubt it. I didn’t doubt it at all.”
Waitress by day and prostitute by night, Alvarado found that money flowed in much more freely with her new job. It wasn’t long until she encountered Chida, a wealthy accountant for a public housing corporation — whom she resented, she said.
“He was always sweet, but he didn’t understand me. I didn’t like him,” she said. “I lit his cigar, poured him wine, gave him other services. I attended to him, but reluctantly.”
But Chida seemed to think the contrary, showing a fancy for her by treating her on dates as the two got to know each other. Though she was never in love with him, Alvarado eventually asked the successful businessman to care for her and her family. She married her client in 1997.
It was not until Alvarado had returned to Santiago that the Aomori Prefectual Housing Supply Corporation discovered in 2001 that Chida had been funneling himself nearly 1.5 billion yen since 1993. Alvarado and her three children, using Chida’s “gift” of US$100,000, had moved into a comfy mansion in the high-class Chicureo borough in the hills of northern Santiago. But once news broke out about Alvarado’s lover’s funds, swarms of press people, both Japanese and Chilean, crowded the gates guarding her condo.
“I didn’t want to [talk], because no one knew what I had done in Japan; my family didn’t know. They thought I was working somewhere else,” she said. But to protect her reputation and insist she didn’t know about Chida’s plan, she confronted the crowd of paparazzi and quickly rose to front-page notoriety throughout Chile.
The media wave died down shortly after Chida was incarcerated in late 2001, but Alvarado’s bold character stuck in the minds of Chileans. Alvarado even lost her mansion when Chida’s company sold it off in 2006, but what was left, she says, she kept.
Celebrity turned into a tiger whose tail slipped out of her hands in 2002. “When I saw that Chileans thought that I had been a blatant prostitute, that I went to Japan to find someone with money and gave him incentive to rob,” Alvarado decided to give her own version of her story. Her autobiography testifying her experiences in Japan, “Me llamo Anita Alvarado” (“My Name is Anita Alvarado”), topped sales charts in Chile.
A few years later Alvarado encountered legal battles of her own, after two girls from her El Bosque barrio sued her for allegedly influencing them into prostitution in Japan. But all she did was give them a way to get there, Alvarado told The Santiago Times.
“They thought I went to Japan, married someone and returned with money. I remember that they asked me to take them, and I told them no, because things weren’t easy over there.”
But a friend of Alvarado’s in Japan suggested that they come work with him in a factory for Japan’s ANA Airways, and merely asked Alvarado to lend the money to get them to Japan. What happened once the girls got there was out of her control, she said.
“So they went to Japan, and the money they made was better than what they got in Chile…but they could make money even more easily and rapidly doing other things,” Alvarado said. “So who got the blame? I had given them money to go to Japan. So all the responsibility for justice fell onto me, just for lending them money to leave.”
The case against Alvarado was dropped in 2005 because the accusing girls lacked sufficient evidence to place guilt on her.
That same year, Chile’s (Catholic Church) Channel 13 discovered the case and ran with it, painting a story about a girl who Alvarado had brought into “white slavery.” Outraged, Alvarado filed suit against the television network for falsely accusing her of white slavery.
“They said I was the one who had been prostituting them. So I sued them because the Catholic Channel can’t tell me what I had done. First, they should try to find evidence before accusing me. I sent the girls money, but that doesn’t mean that I was prostituting them, that I influenced them into prostitution.”
Alvarado took CP$700 million (US$1.37 million) as a settlement from the case.
Alvarado returned to the spotlight in Chile again last year when she took a Chilevision (Channel 11) camera crew to Japan with her for a multi-episode stint on “The Beautiful People,” a reality show featuring Chile’s celebrities, past and present.
Fighting off Japanese paparazzi and capturing a few shots of Alvarado less than scantily clad, the crew accompanied her to the gates of Yamagata prison, where Chida was serving his 14-year sentence. And there, for just over an hour, Alvarado ventured alone to see her husband of 10 years, who she admittedly never loved and hadn’t seen in some six years.
“I had no idea that my husband had stolen. I didn’t know who I was marrying, and to show it we went to Japan with the TV station,” Alvarado explained. “The experience wasn’t cruel because there had been so much expectation… It was good, but it was really sad.”
Chida, now 50, has nine years left to serve. When he tastes freedom again in 2015, Alvarado has no idea what will happen. Although there are no plans for divorce so far, he is definitely not the now and forever kind of guy, she says.
“I’m married but we’re not together…Imagine: 14 years imprisoned. Many things have already changed,” Alvarado said. “I have dated a lot, and I am going to meet people. But I still haven’t found the person to share the rest of my life with.”
For now, the stay-at-home mom skis, travels, spends summers in her house in Valdivia and cooks for her seven children, ages 2 to 18, of four different fathers (none of whom are by Chida). While still living off Chida’s money and the settlement from the court case against Channel 13, Alvarado makes money from TV stints and by renting out properties, she says. And she now plans to open a Caribbean restaurant bar in Santiago’s La Florida borough, where she now resides.
“I was a prostitute, and it was good, but now I’m not… I like taking care of my kids,” she told The Santiago Times, while stewing a beef and potato soup for lunch.
While her children are accustomed to their mother’s fame, Alvarado keeps her celebrity and family life separate. “On reality TV, I show or say or do what I want them to see,” she said. “In my house, I’m the mom. I’m not the same person, like on television…They are two different things.”
Alvarado is not stepping out of celebrity life in Chile anytime soon, as she is now assisting in the creation of “La vida de Anita Alvarado,” the teleseries of her life-to-date that will run for about six months. In the process of relating her story to Chilevision creators and directors, Anita plans to return to Japan to visit Chida this coming September. In the meantime, she must choose who will play the most important people in her life — childhood friends, family, lovers, children, clients and husband.
Above all, she must find the person who can play her character, better than she can herself.
By Elaine Ramirez (firstname.lastname@example.org)