Three days ago, I wrote about drinking in Snack Bars in Japan. Snack Bars offer drinks and snack foods, but often charge hourly fees for enjoying their atmosphere, and more importantly, the ladies employed by the bar to drink and chat with customers. More famous than Snack Bars are the upscale version… Hostess Clubs.
Hostesses are employed by clubs to entertain male guests, by pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes, and of course, flirting with them. In some ways, hostesses are like a modern evolution of the geiko (also known as geisha). However, while a geiko devotes her life to learning the traditional arts, a hostess’s career is not unlike fireworks; bright, dazzling, and somewhat brief. They also face some of the same difficulties; big paychecks eaten up with big expenses, and a lot of late nights.
The Price Of Fun
Going to a hostess club is not a cheap endeavor. You can expect to spend hundreds of dollars for an evening of entertainment in the average hostess club, or even tens of thousands in a high-end establishment. There are often entrance fees or hourly fees based on the prestige of the hostess you’re with, sometimes a bottle fee to keep your own bottle behind the counter, and of course, the drinks themselves cost money. Furthermore, you’re expected to purchase drinks for the hostess as well as yourself, and these drinks may run $20 a piece.
The hostess club atmosphere, however, is designed to make gentlemen guests feel like kings. Hostesses flirt with them, ask them to talk about themselves, and (appear to) hang on their every word. They laugh at jokes whether they’re funny or not, just to be polite, but it’s important to remember that hostesses are real women, not just dolls; they can’t stand to be cursed at, told crass jokes, or suffer through men trying to show off how cool they are or how much money they have.
TV and movies often depict a view of hostess clubs managed by yakuza. While this is not a common occurrence, the typical shakedown in media is for a customer to be pulled aside by thugs and presented a bill with an entrance fee they were never told about, drinks they never ordered, or an hourly fee that’s above reason. While you could run afoul of these kinds of scams in a low-end club, most reputable businesses avoid these practices because it’s far more important for the hostesses to build a rapport with returning customers.
Easy Come, Easy Go
Hostesses often make a great deal of income for relatively little “work”. Their jobs require no special education, little training, and are often available to any woman over 18 as long as she’s pretty. Most girls can make a few thousand dollars a month, but some of the top hostesses can make as much as $300,000 in a year.
In addition to their hours worked, hostesses often make commission for the drinks their customers order. So, if a customer orders a $15 drink for himself, and a $15 drink for the hostess, she’ll split the $30 income 50/50 with the club. This encouragement to drink, however, often causes issues for the hostesses. Alcoholism and liver disease are rampant in hostess clubs, though many clubs mix low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks for the hostesses so they can work longer without getting drunk.
Another health-stressing factor comes with the long nights. Even if the club closes at 2am, many hostesses will go out with customers afterwards to other bars or clubs. These outings are not “dates” in the classic sense, nor are they prostitution; reputable hostesses avoid sleeping with customers, because they understand that they’re marketing a fantasy, and once the fantasy is attained, it’s forever lost. Sleeping with a customer is typically the end of that customer’s visiting the club.
It’s also common for returning customers to give gifts to hostesses they like, or take them out shopping on outings. These gifts are often designer accessories and clothes, and hostesses will be sure to wear the items a few times to make sure they’re seen. However, gifts do tend to pile up. Many hostesses regularly sell the gifts they’ve received to second-hand stores, receiving a fraction of the value of their designer handbags and such, but it’s better to have the money than to have a closet full of fifty Gucci purses.
Furthermore, women are expected to maintain certain standards of beauty. This means getting their hair done, always wearing nice makeup, professional manicures, expensive evening gowns, and jewelry.
What’s In It For The Ladies?
Of course, we’ve talked about hostesses and their gentlemen guests, but isn’t there anything out there for women? As a matter of fact, there is! The “host clubs”, while fewer in number, provide similar services for women, often catering to career women who have a lot of disposable income but little time for dating.
Hosts face many of the same issues as hostesses; late nights, alcoholism, and a constant need to provide an ideal atmosphere for the ladies they’re spending time with. They also are under pressure to remain stylish and handsome, and this often means keeping a constantly updated wardrobe, having their hair done professionally, and even manicures.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on Drinking In Japan! Tomorrow, the posts will be drifting back to other themes, and next week the posting schedule will return to normal. I may write additional Drinking In Japan articles down the road, but for now, I’m excited to write on some other subjects.