A story by Mieke Aarsman
What if you were a Japanese girl , desperately looking for love, or at least a good-looking, stylish male conversation partner that will tell you you’re the most beautiful girl they’ve ever seen (small difference?), what do you do? Apart from going to bars and meeting ‘normal’ guys, Japan offers the possibility to spend time with a professional, a so-called ‘host’. These ‘hosts’ work in ‘host-clubs’, and their purpose is to entertain the female guests and make them feel special and keep them coming back for more. In that sense, its set-up is not very different from hostess-clubs or ‘kyabakura’ (abbreviation of ‘cabaret clubs’ or clubs where girls entertain men).
Interested in the phenomenon of ‘paid love’, I have paid a few host clubs a visit. Typically, it is women providing paid love for men, but here it’s the other way around. In fact, men are not allowed into the clubs unless they are very clearly gay. I experienced this problem myself when I tried to find a host club in Kabukicho (the most popular spot for entertainment of the genre in Tokyo). How does this world go about its business, and what makes it tick?
Step 1: Customer selection
Host clubs don’t just let anyone in. They make an effort to only approach those girls that they think they can make money from. They will hang around the streets of Kabukicho (or any other area close to their club with a lot of people) and approach rich-looking girls. Looking for Gucci-bags, Prada shoes and Versace eyewear, they quite aggressively try and lure these girls into their clubs with ‘special price’ offers or other perks. Since the real money is made from regular customers rather than one-time customers, curious foreigners (who might not even speak Japanese1) and straight men looking for a good laugh are to be avoided. When I went with a group combining these elements (3 girls and 1 straight guy, all Dutch) it proved impossible to find a club that would ‘host’ us for a couple of hours… However, on another occasion, our friend had to insist that he was 100% gay before he was welcomed.
Step 2: Payment
When the customers are inside, they pay a fee per hour the first time they come. The price depends on the popularity of the place and the quality of the hosts. Prices range from 2000 yen (about 20 euro) to about 6000 yen per two hours. However, after this introduction, fees rise about 10 times. However, only the guests have a drink at this point. If you want to treat your host to a drink as well, fees rise. And if you really want to make a good impression, you should treat yourself and your host(s) to a bottle of Moët & Chandon or Dom Perignon (going up from 100 euros per bottle to around 1000). It is the champagne that the club makes the most money on. When the next table orders a bottle, your host might have to excuse himself to toast with your neighbours. The fastest way to get him back, is to order a (more expensive) bottle. When your neighbours get lonely, they will then order another (more expensive) bottle, until the most expensive bottle (or the limits of one’s wallet) is reached.
Step 3: Entertainment
In exchange for the patronage of the customer, the host will provide a number of services. Basically, fulfilling the role of an interesting conversation partner is no. 1. Furthermore, they will play (drinking) games with the customers, sing karaoke songs, dance and the like. But all the while, the hosts are trying only one thing: to make the customer fall in love with them.
Step 4: Love games
When the hosts get a customer to fall in love with them, this means she will come back for more again, and again, and again. Desperate to be liked back by her favourite host, the customer spends copious amounts of money trying to win his favour. In the clubs where I personally went to, all the hosts had a clearly distinct ‘character’; some were cheeky, others shy, some were funny, others were the intelligent type. Whether they are screened and hired based on these qualities or just act them out, all customer’s preferences are sure to be met. I’ve been told numerous times that they’d fallen in love with me at first sight, that I’m prettier and more fun to talk to than other customers and that talking to me does not really feel like working. Cynical as I am, I cannot take this any other way than smooth talking me into a big bill. But it seems to work for a lot of customers.
When a girl is particularly interested in one host, she can have him called back to her table (for a charge). The host that has the most spending ‘patrons’ is the no. 1 of the club and thus the most expensive to call. Naturally, calling the no. 1 host to your table and treating him to a (few) bottle(s) of champagne works as a kind of status symbol for the girl in question as well. Many go with groups of friends or co-workers. Being able to spend that money without as much as batting an eyelid proves one is doing well in their own business as well.
However, to this world of glitter and glamour and expensive champagne, there is a downside. According to a famous documentary on host clubs (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bL1pA0McgvM), a large part of the customers of host clubs are women who work in the world of paid love themselves, often hostesses or prostitutes. In search to be recognised and treated as a normal girl (instead of a product) they find a kind of solace in the concept of host clubs. Taken in by the hosts and their sweet talk, they spend so much money that they have to make more hours themselves to keep up the lifestyle. In the end, this results in a kind of cycle in which money is continuously circulated in the same industry.
However, there is nothing like a first-hand experience. Because of the introductory price it is not very expensive and includes ‘all you can drink’. However, you need to able to speak (basic) Japanese. Because of the system it is not profitable for clubs to serve tourists that are only in Tokyo for a few days, so they do not typically cater for English speaking customers.
Here are some links to popular host clubs
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