A Peek into Japan’s Nightlife: Host Clubs

Alcohol, sex, music – these are common factors when it comes to what night clubs appeal to. Then again, what may be popular in the nightlife scene of one country may not be as popular as what goes on in another country. This has much to do with the nation’s culture, history, and the trends it follows. In East Asian countries such as Japan, there is an industry that is involved with the evening entertainment sector that is booming – and that is industry is all about Host and Hostess clubs.

What is A Japanese Host Club?

A host club (hosatu kurabu) is a place where females go to when they want to pay for conversation and drinks with a man. In Japanese, it is written as “ホストクラブ”. There are also hostess clubs available, where the roles are turned around; men come in and pay for a couple of drinks and a flirty conversation with a hostess. As for both clubs, conversations can range from anything you want, however, most hosts make it their policy to stay classy. Clubs are not limited to straight sexual orientations; transgender women hosts are an option in some bars.

People who frequent host clubs aren’t usually your typical everyday folk. Most of the time, clients have a lot of money to blow, as 2 hours with a host can set you back 2,000-6,000 yen, depending on the bar you go to. Costs skyrocket after 2 hours, once customers get to the phase of buying their hosts a drink. Perhaps you could call it “paid love”, as those whom you hire act pretty much like your boyfriend(s) for the entire night.

You won’t find host clubs in the rural parts of Japan. The denser the population is in that city, the more likely there’s host club nearby – which means there are many of them around the Kanto and Kansai regions. Kabukicho (a bit of a red-light district) in Tokyo, Namba, and Umeda in Osaka are notorious for being home to quite a few host clubs.

The History of Host Clubs

Why is this brand of marketing oneself for something that is supposed to come naturally only popular on this side of the world? Turns out, it has its roots in history. During the 17th century, the infamous Yoshiwara, which was known to be Edo’s red-light district or “yukaku”, already had establishments just like these ones - however, hostess clubs were more popular.

Perhaps this trend of night-time entertainment emerged from the underlying misogyny that was inherent in Japan’s traditional period. Females weren’t as respected as much as they are now; they weren’t allowed to study and were always considered inferior to men. Everyone was also socioeconomically ranked. Thus, women’s companionship was considered a commodity to men. Also, the higher the rank of a woman, the more she was worth.

Lines were blurred between prostitution and entertainment, usually the former would be reserved for those who were less well-off, while better treatment considered “art” was saved for wealthier women. If prostitution was legal and limited to only some areas, currently, it is completely banned. Yet it is still considered legal to pay for the non-sexual company with someone and make a business out of it. This is especially popular now in Japan, where people are much less likely to pursue committed romantic relationships, but still, want someone to socialize with.

More About the Hosts Themselves

Sometimes teased as pretty boys, the host’s main job is to give you light entertainment. You pick out which one you want to spend your evening with. They don’t go by their real names, they usually pick one from their favorite show or a popular icon. They will pour you a drink, make conversation, and in some cases, perform for you (magic tricks, a song, a dance number). The age range of the average host is from 18 to 26. Donning long-sleeved polos under vests or black suits, and sporting semi-long bleached hair, hosts are easy to spot.

What’s an Experience in A Japanese Host Club Like?

When you enter the club, you’ll see an array of faces plastered on the wall, all of them available hosts. Then you will be given a menu, from which you will select a person - a “shimei”, or nominee, whom you are expected to return to the next time you go back to that club. This nominee ends up becoming your main host for the night, or director. In Japanese, this nominee-turned director is called “Tanto”. Sometimes, the tanto has younger hosts who are subordinates that help him out; they are called “herapu” – a Katakana word borrowed from the word “helper”.

The hosts get a commission from the drinks you order, on top of the price you pay for everything else. There are different drinks and routines that go with buying these drinks, such as “champagne calls” and “champagne showers”, which entail a special performance. Price offers and performances vary from each club. You may notice that when you order a drink, the entire table - the tanto and his herapu – all drinking and splitting the same small bottle of beer, scotch, or cocktail. While you enjoy each other’s company, you won’t notice how quickly time goes by.

It’s advised that you be careful with how much you order and how much time you spend here. Your bill can easily amount to huge figures if you’re not careful. Then again, no one really thinks about figures when they go to a host club. The point is to enjoy yourselves and get to know your hosts. After your service is done, you may even go with them for the “after”, which usually consists of karaoke or a meal.

What Is the Difference Between a Host Club and A Strip Club?

A host club and strip club are not the same at all. While a host club has little to no sexual themes, a strip club is mainly sexual themed. In host clubs, there is no nudity and no sexually suggestive dancing. Hostesses are not allowed to touch or be touched by those who hire them for etiquette’s sake.

Japanese Host Club Choices – Are There Websites?

When it comes to host clubs, there is some research you can do before diving into this world. Though not many people know about it, there is a site that is entirely in Japanese that helps you look at the available host clubs around your area in Japan. 

In case you have a hard time understanding the different labels, look at the site on a browser that supports translating Japanese to English. From then on, you will get to sift through the different clubs all over both Kabuki-Cho, and the entire country of Japan. From there, you will see ranked photos of the different hosts, personal information about them, and where to find them.

A Documentary About the Host Club Scene of Japan

A documentary called “The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief” was made public last 2006, addressing what life is like working for a host club in Japan. It looks at the manipulation that the young men learn to entice women to keep coming back for their services, baiting them to fall in love with them. Through a series of interviews with the hosts and customers, which reflect the nature of the underground night time entertainment industry.

The 76-minute-long documentary, whose direction, production and cinematography were headed by Jake Clennell was nominated for many awards and won the Best Documentary Feature Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.  

Working in A Japanese Host Club for Foreigners

Because of the fascination that Japanese have with all things foreign, many Japanese clients look for foreign-looking hosts in these clubs. Because they technically get more clients the more foreign they look, this becomes an enticing option for foreigners who live in Japan and have the means to do the job – especially for female foreigners. However, because it isn’t easy to secure a work visa for such a career option, clients turn to under-the-table deals for employment.

Because of the situation, this puts female foreigners in, host clubs have all the capability to abuse them and introduce them to dangerous situations involving gangs and rapists. There have already been many victims from this, mainly among hostesses. Victims include Lucie Blackman and Carita Ridgeway. Japan is very iron-fisted when it comes to working illegally for these host clubs, with deportation and criminal implications very likely if one gets caught.

Host Clubs Outside Japan

While there may not be that many host clubs outside of Japan, there are certainly quite a few hostess bars. California, Guam, and Hawaii are known to have some, or at least are licensed as such. It is said that 150 of the bars in Oahu are hostess bars. Beware, though, some people may confuse the idea of go-go bars with hostess clubs, which there are many of in the Philippines and in Thailand. As reiterated, host clubs are very proper and catered to conversations and building rapport among customers. Any form of sexual acts come only after, if ever at all, and not as a paid service

Are There Any Japanese Host Club Choices in NYC?

Sadly, there are none in New York - in the sense being like the ones that are present in Japan. Despite being one of the most culturally diverse melting pots in the world, it just doesn’t match up. Hosts and hostesses in the U.S. don’t embody the same culture as the ones in Japan do; they are there to serve you your food and attend to the needs that should be met in any decent restaurant, but they’re not there to listen to your problems, start a conversation, or try to make you fall in love with them. If you really want the authentic experience, best book a ticket to Japan, and walk straight into one.

A Japanese Host Club is An Eden For the Lonely, Loveless, and Curious

In the end of the day, there are usually three kinds of people who end up frequenting a Japanese host club; the lonely, the curious, and the hooked. It has been proven that the customers who visit most often are disgruntled wives of rich men who just want somebody to listen to their problems. Others are foreigners who want to know what it’s like to know what it’s like to have been to a host bar and deem it as a cultural experience. The other is a girl who finds the entire experience fun, and is very much attracted to the host, or is addicted to the experience.

Overall, entertainment like this has always been a part of human culture. People just want a friend to talk to; a sense of belonging, a sense of being understood and loved, which is usually fulfilled through different ways. This is simply one of them.