Jun 262007

In my recent post on Interesting Facts about Japan, I mentioned how the Japanese “cool guy” image varies drastically from that in the US. I also mentioned how these Japanese “cool guys” can often be seen shamelessly prowling the city streets at night, hitting on every female (or pair of females) who happens to cross their paths.

Well, by total coincidence I stumbled on a fascinating documentary today that sheds quite a bit of light on the subject. I’ve heard a number of different stories about who these guys are – everything from students just looking for some female companionship to Yakuza recruiting for their newest sex clubs. But by far the most common theory I’ve heard is that these persistent young trend-setters are what’s often referred to as “Male Hosts.”

Many people have heard of Japan’s hostess clubs, places where men of any age can go and pay exorbitant amounts of money to do little more than sit and chat with attractive young females. To most Westerners, this sounds like a ludicrous notion – who would pay $50-$100 an hour for simple conversation? But what you’ve got to keep in mind is that the Japanese social and labor systems are very different from those in the US, often leaving workers so tired, so stressed, so lonely, and so miserable that the prospect of having a gorgeous twenty-year-old lavish them with attention is worth virtually any price tag. I’ve actually known one or two hostesses during my time in Japan, and the way they always answer the question “What do hostesses actually do?” is “We sell dreams.” For as long as the customer pays his bill the girls hang on his every word, laugh at his every joke, pour his drinks, light his cigarettes, and treat him like he’s the richest, most famous movie star in Japan. And even though he knows deep down that it’s all just for show, he’s perfectly okay with it – because at that moment he is happy.

If you think about it, we’re really not all that different in the US. Whenever we pay $10 to see a movie about a criminal genius stealing millions of dollars, we’re suspending disbelief – we’re shutting out the real world and projecting ourselves temporarily into the fake but entertaining world that’s being presented before us. Whenever we turn on a video game and plow down alien spaceships with our mouse and keyboard we’re doing something that everyone knows is impossible, yet it still offers some release from whatever troubles we may be having back in the real world. And whenever we read a book about climbing Mount Everest we’re satisfying a curiosity about what it might be like to climb the world’s highest mountain, even though actually doing so may be well out of our physical or financial reach.

This is precisely what Japanese hostess bars provide to their male customers: the ability to feel what it’s like, even if just for the 2-hour length of a movie, to be the most popular guy around.

But then, what about the hostesses themselves, staying awake night after night trying to come up with new ways to convince their balding, overweight customers that they’re the sexiest men alive? For the hostesses, there are hosts – who just like their female counterparts accept ludicrous amounts of money to provide a place to laugh, play, or just relax after a hard day (or night)’s work. The women buy themselves a prize-winning prince charming of their very own, a man who will say just what they need to hear, just when they want to hear it.

And just like the hostess clubs, the amounts of cash running through these host bars can be staggering. But who cares? After all, the hostess probably got paid that same amount just one night earlier.

It’s really an interesting and strange feedback cycle that I never even knew existed, but the more I think about it the more sense it seems to make. Just as an entrepreneur reinvests his earnings to expand his business, these young hosts spend their money on Armani suits, Dolce & Gabbana belts, and Prada bags to make themselves look “cooler” for their female customers; to grow their businesses and advertise their products: themselves.

For a really interesting look into the world of Hosts and Hostesses in Japan, check out The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief.

(Above is a trailer; the full documentary can be viewed here. But I recommend checking out the trailer first.)**

  9 Responses to “Hosts and Hostesses”

  1. Speaking of perversions in Japan, here’s an article about a VERY strange encounter that occurred at the AM/PM convenience store right down the street from where I work. Apparently, a young part-time employee was caught taking an upskirt photo of a girl using the ATM, and when she yelled out “Call the police!” the employee himself took off running to report the incident. After which he was obviously arrested.

    Some very strange folks around here, I’ll tell ya.

  2. Actually, many of the women who go to host clubs are actually hostesses themselves, or mama-sans who run hostess bars. The money that goes into the host/hostess world tends to travel in circles. After they finish the night preening over aging salarymen at their hostess club, they go to a host club to be preened over themselves.

    Also, if you talk to some hosts (I have known a few) you’ll find that it’s NOT just talk. They have a lot of sex with their female clients. Hostesses do too, of course. Soaplands, prostitues, hostesses… the lines all get pretty blurry.

  3. Alanna: That’s exctly what I was saying…?

    “For the hostesses, there are hosts – who just like their female counterparts accept ludicrous amounts of money to provide a place to laugh, play, or just relax after a hard day (or night)’s work.”

    “…It’s really an interesting and strange feedback cycle that I never even knew existed”


  4. Great article, Justin. The host/hostess micro-economy is definately something that fascinates me. Money goes from Salaryman to hostess, from hostess to host, from host to Gucci/D&G store etc.

    Not actually been to one of these places before (I have better things to spend my money on currently), but it is on my list of things to do before I leave Japan.

    Keep up the excellent articles:)

  5. Hi, I have recently been reading your blog – this post was an eye opener for me! I’ve heard of hostess/host clubs before, but I always thought it was just harmless chat. Thanks for sharing the link to the video!

  6. I want sex with hostesses.

  7. Dave: Those poor, poor salarymen. They just seem to get the short end of the stick no matter which way you cut it.

    I’ve never been to a hostess bar either, but my friend said they’re actually pretty fun. I just think I’d feel retarded paying so much to TALK to an attractive girl when the streets are literally packed with them over here…especially considering that for the same cost of a one-hour conversation I could probably spend a week traveling around Southeast Asia!

    Heekun: Yeah, it’s pretty interesting…I guess they really can go either way though: harmless chat, or less harmless, erm, …

    Nick: Haha don’t forget, this is a public post, buddy πŸ˜†

    (But yes. So do I. :P)

  8. My main question about host/hostess bars is: what about STDs? ;P Also, I just watched that documentary myself, and apparently they try very hard not to have sex with you because they figure once you’ve achieved that goal, you won’t come back and they’ve lost that income.

    I went to a hostess bar with a group of guys in 2001. Back then I’m not sure host bars were as prevalent; our instructor (who took us to the hostess bar) didn’t mention them. But I imagine the experience is similar. We had to pay a fee just to be there, and then for overpriced drinks and snacks, while the girls fawned over us. Two of them tried to talk to me, but I don’t drink and I’m an introvert so it didn’t really work out. Plus, I was dealing with some issues over how much of the friendships I had experienced while in Japan were actually real. It felt like people were just interested in me because I was a foreigner with long blond hair. I didn’t know if anyone actually liked me. And being an introvert, it’s not like I had shared much, I suppose. So sitting there singing karaoke in a hostess bar with girls who I was paying to talk to me felt really, really pathetic. I wondered if, in a way, all my relationships in Japan would be commodities. Would people treat me well because they wanted English practice, for example?

    I guess those issues are why I didn’t really keep track of anyone after I got back to the States, which is a shame.

  9. you now play the xbox hostess game! for real! it’s called dream club, i like the blue haired hostess Reika

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