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.)**