Melo Imai is not a woman who’s camera-shy. At the age of 18 her snowboarding halfpipe skills earned a spot on Japan’s 2006 Turin Olympic team, and before departing for Italy she fired up her fans at a pep rally by rapping about her passionate intent to do her best.
Despite her confident enthusiasm, Imai came home without a medal. While it’s not unusual for less successful Olympic athletes to have to transition to other careers after their moment in the spotlight, Imai’s new line of work was eyebrow-raising, as she began working in a hostess bar, and later the wide-ranging sector of non-intercourse sexual services collectively known as fuzoku in Japan. “I needed money,” Imai explains. “I couldn’t even give my friend a wedding gift” (in Japan, wedding guests customarily give the newlyweds a cash gift of roughly 30,000 yen US$270).
Imai was remarkably successful in her new career. “After the Olympics, I was making as much as a company president, and sometimes I’d go party at a host club and drop one million yen (US$9,090) in a single night,” she recalls.
In 2017, Imai took part in the 35th All Japan Snowboarding Championships in Gifu, and she didn’t just compete, she dominated. In the women’s halfpipe final, Imai’s best score out of her two runs was 90.75, far ahead of second-place Momoa Mori’s 76.75. Perhaps even more impressive is Imai’s claim that she practiced for just four days before handily winning the competition.
Imai’s winning run