JIN-429 -- What do you know about hostessing? Part one

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 429 Wednesday August 29, 2007 TOKYO

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What do you know about Hostessing? Part One

Whether you have read about them in Western media in relation to
the seedy side of Japanese nightlife, or whether you have
actually frequented a hostess bar yourself, it is striking how
difficult it is to find a decent account of the industry. I hope
my observations will provide a fuller and more realistic
perspective.

Hostesses are the girls of the night, part of the mizushobai “the
water business”. They are the ones with their hair set, in flashy
high heels and evening gowns. Why is the mizushobai industry
such a money maker? Or is it equal in function and form to any
other section of the entertainment industry? Where do hostess
bars lie on the industry scale between brothel and regular bar?

I worked in Kitashinchi, a section of Osaka, close to Umeda, that
caters to the mizushobai industry, for a period of eight months
in 2005. For any outsider, to live and work in a community that
is previously unknown to them, except maybe in books, this new
society is a mysterious place. Japan’s relative homogeneity
makes it even more difficult to penetrate but working in a
hostess bar allowed me to gain first-hand experience of what is
in many ways a ‘hidden’ side of society.

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What is a hostess bar?

There is a famous saying in advertising, ‘sex sells’, and the
mizushobai of Japan is made up of different ways sex is sold.
The broad category of water business, includes prostitution,
server, bartender, all the way up to paid companion, or hostess.
The range stretches from places where the waitresses do not wear
underwear while working, to girls who soap up a client’s body
with their own (‘Soapland’), and from low-level hostesses who
serve and make drinks but also have a price for just about
anything, to the higher ranking hostesses who only provide talk
and make drinks. Basically all ‘water businesses’ jobs involve
alcohol, and some sense of sexual connotation. However, the
degree to which the form of entertainment is designed to meet
sexual or purely social needs varies greatly.

There are many different ways to identify the level or quality
of the clubs. An easily identifiable marker is the existence of a
karaoke machine in the club. If there is karaoke machine then it
is a ‘snack bar’—these are the cheaper clubs and the girls that
work there would not be called hostesses, but rather ‘snack
girls’ or ‘kyabajou’, which is short for a ‘kyabakura jousei’
translated as, cabaret girl. Another way to gauge the level of a
hostess club is the prices for a house bottle and the cost for
sitting. At all hostess clubs it is the rule that in order to sit
down, a bottle will have to be purchased. If the bottle is not
emptied on the first night it will be kept in the club, for the
customer for the next time he comes in. The next time they will
not be required to buy a new bottle. The hostess may also be
offered a drink from this bottle. Whatever the hostess eats or
drinks, the customer will be charged. It is an unsaid rule that
the hostess must also drink. If the customer does not offer,
then the hostess will say that she is thirsty, and she might even
ask if she could have a drink, but only rarely. It is the point
of the hostess club to relax and have fun, so to exclude the
hostess in such a way usually never happens. In most snack places
you do not have to buy a bottle. Usually the house bottle will be
a whisky, Japanese Suntory whisky is one of the cheaper brands.
The price of the same Suntory bottle can differ from club to
club. The owner of the club, or ‘mama-san’ (literally honorable
mother) sets the price. The liquor store or distributor sells it
at the same price, but for example at the first hostess club I
worked at, which really could almost be called a snack bar,
sold their house bottle at JPY 8,000. And the cost of sitting
down per person was JPY6,000.

Who are the hostesses?

There are two basic types of girls who work at
hostess clubs, the first would be the part-time worker, and the
second would be the career worker. Mainly the type of girls that
would work part-time would be college students, who were at
school during the day and could only work at night. The draw of
hostessing for these girls would be the large amount of money
they could make in a short amount of time, leaving plenty of time
for studying and other activities. These girls had set times that
they would work until; around 12 o’clock when the last train home
was. The career girls would be the ones that would stay after 12
if there were still customers, and maybe go out drinking after
the club closed for the night. These career hostesses only worked
as hostesses. Some had children and worked to support them
because they had been divorced or they had children out of
wedlock. My sempai (senior), or Onesan (older sister) has two
children. She is also divorced. She started hostessing at the
club later than most girls. Previously she had owned a restaurant
in the Hiroshima area. Other girls were younger, generally in
their early twenties.

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I did not have many opportunities to talk to the girls about
their home lives, or what they did outside of work. That was
never discussed, and was treated as rude if it was brought up.
Boyfriend talk was strictly prohibited, and I learned the hard
way that you don’t talk about your boyfriend, if you have one,
at work. You were always supposed to say that you did not have
one. I had a lot of trouble with this, as I am not a very good
liar. I lost one of the best customers the high end club ever
had. He was a rich businessman who would come to the club for
about 1 hour and spend over JPY100,000, and then he would go to
another club. He would repeat this process several times a night
and frequent Kitashinchi every weekend. The first time I met him,
he took an instant liking to me, and I him. He is very robust
and outlandish, more so than most Japanese men I met at the
club. He was fun to be around, especially after talking to
lawyers all evening. He would take me on his Kitashinchi rounds
as well, showing me off to the other hostess clubs. He always
requested me. But then after drinking for 7 hours, and he was the
only customer in the club, I told him I needed to leave. He
couldn’t understand why I would want to be anywhere else when we
were on our 4th bottle of Dom Perignon and having a great time.
My boyfriend was waiting for me in the car to drive me home. He
had been waiting for over 2 hours, and I thought he was going to
gut me. That’s when I made a decision between being a hostess
and not being a hostess. I told the customer I had to meet my
boyfriend. Up until that moment I had never seen such a look of
disappointment and disgust. He told me that as a hostess I should
never say I have a boyfriend. I had broken the cardinal rule of
hostessing. He let me leave, but he never came back to the club
while I was there. With him, although he may not have even had
any wish to move our relationship to a sexual level, once the
possibility was eliminated, so was the point.

Hostesses and snack girls are as a rule not prostitutes. They
do not sell anything other than their smile and their time.
However, the lines do blur at some point. It is interesting
that in Japan, men may tolerate their wives or girlfriends
working in the ‘water business.’ More still, that wives or
girlfriends tolerate their husbands or boyfriends going to
hostess clubs or snack bars. From my experiences of working in
the industry, I can say that I have a respect for my former co-
workers and that the social ritual of the hostess club should not
be judged without an understanding of the context in which it
exists. For some, hostessing is a career, for others is just a
part-time or temporary way of paying the billls and having some
fun. You never, know, one of your female colleagues at work in
Japan may have even been through this herself.

By ‘June’

If you have a question or a comment to make, please visit
www.japaninc.com/jin429 and post it at the bottom of the web
version of this article.

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Comments

Having never visited Japan as yet , I was not aware of such clubs before. These seem to be similar to gentlemen's club here in USA. Could you say that the more well known Geisha girl is on a higher level because of her training in music and entertainment ? And is she only found to work in tea houses' instead? In either case ,I find your article's to be interesting for someone with no personal experience in Japanese hospitality.

Thank you,
Ken

Dear Ken,
Thank you very much for your comments and questions, I will try to answer them to the best of my abilities.

Many claim that hostesses are modern day Geisha. In a sense , they continue to be paid companions such as the Geisha were, but from my experience as a hostess and my studies on Geisha, and also through meeting a Maiko in Kyoto I would have to disagree. I would almost not even classify hostesses with Geisha because the Geisha, as their name quite literally means (芸者), they were 'artistes'. They were trained from an early age in the arts of playing music, singing, dancing, tea ceremony, flower arrangement; and in fact every movement they made was highly stylized and had to be done in a certain way. I had the opportunity to meet with a Maiko (舞子)a Geisha in training and even though at the time we were still the same age (19) she moved with a gracefulness that no hostess is capable of. In Japan today, there are under 150 Geisha in Kyoto's Gion district, and even less in Tokyo. Geisha would never be found working in a hostess club, or anything other than their Tea House.

Hostesses are more like paid companions who are well versed in flattery, conversation, fun and being able to read people very well. A proper hostess should anticipate the needs and wants of the customer before they know what they themselves want; that is enough for their job. Geisha are trained to be the utmost example of femininity. Anyone can be a hostess, if you have a good personality and are attractive. The job of a hostess is by no means easy. Hostesses endure a lot of stress because to anticipate every want and need of a customer is pretty much impossible and when they guess wrong they get reprimanded, by not only the customer but also the Mama-sans and the Chi-Mamasans (mamas in training) and they lose money for the club. In addition they may also have to pay bakin (罰金), in English=fines.

Thanks for the article. I have a girlfriend who moved from Tokyo to New York and she is here working as a kyabajou. There were many times we had heated arguments and a few times when I almost broke up with her because of her job and because I couldn't understand how a kyabakura works. Thanks to this article I can understand it more and can finally relax knowing that she isn't doing anything behind my back while she is working.

Dear CodeRed,

I am glad that my article helped you to understand what your GF is going through. But it can be a dangerous job, for various reasons. One, being the amounts of alcohol being consumed. The customers and other hostesses will force each other to drink more than they can handle and alcohol poisoning is possible.

Also in your GF's particular case if she is not on a work visa she could get deported. I am not sure of the laws in New York in regards to hostess clubs, but in some states in the US, Hostess clubs can operate, but they have to have a special Hostess liqueur license. Every Hostess must also have a liqueur card specifically for Hostess-ing. If your GF is a student, she can not legally work in the US which is probably why she is working in the club now. In my hometown I had several friends who worked in the hostess clubs and periodically the clubs would get raided by the DEA, the police and immigration. Luckily none of my friends got deported, but it is a reality that should not be ignored. It is the same in Japan as well, clubs will periodically get raided and the foreign women will be deported.

Also if your GF has other job options, skills or career goals, please encourage her to keep those in mind. It is very easy to become addicted to the money and party atmosphere and get stuck doing it as a career. There is nothing wrong with hostess-ing, it serves a purpose but it is not everything. Assuming your GF is bi-lingual, there are other jobs she can do that will not encourage her to become an alcoholic.

Finally if you have never been to a hostess club, I encourage you to go to one or two. Check out your GF’s club and also another one so you see the differences between different clubs. Make a night of it, observe and most importantly have fun!!

Let me know what the clubs are like in New York :) 'June'

Thank you June for this article. Since my japanese girlfriend told me about her hostess bar job I have been browsing internet and collecting information about. My GF told me about her ex job after one year we had been dating. She asked me if I mind that she used to worked at hostess bar 8 years ago. Because I didnt understand the meaning hostess club and she explained me as pub where she was pouring a drinks to customers, I said nothing wrong at that time. In Europe where I am from is quite common waitress job for girls. May be because of little bit strange question, I checked the Internet the next day http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hostess_bar . The explaination was different than I expected. I started browse more and more information about hostessing. I could not stand, that my GF used to worked in kyabakura, which was translated as night club or cabaret or may be strip club. Generally Night club. The Night club in central Europe is known as club, where you can get a girl and have a sex for money. After I came back home from work I opened this topic with my GF and I wanted knew more. We were having long time discussion about this topic and finaly I recieved opinion that these are only cultural differences between. As you described June in your article, for Japanese is acceptable to work there and acceptable to spand a money there.
For example if japanese boy goes to hostess bar, he probably expects to drink expensive drinks with a attractive girl. In my case, if I go to a hostess bar, I expect to drink expensive drinks and I will try to organize another date with a girl out of hostess bar - then having sex. Later I noticed that such kind of service exists, but I still have taboo about "dohan" which is date to hostess girl before or after her work.
Could you explain or describe dohan? For hostess girl is very important to provide a lot of dohans because of her extra money and because of keeping her customers. I think even japanese boy / japanese businessman thinks the same as a tipical male from every country. Nice & attractive girl = want to have sex. What japanese hostess girl expects of dohan? Only have fun? What is going on dohan? I wonder why hostess girls provide dohan, because they can chat at hostess bar. Can you June or anyone tell me?
Thanks a lot
C.J.

Dear CJ,

You have brought up a point about hostessing which I feel should have it's own edition of the hostess series. Please keep watch in the upcoming weeks for it to be sent out. Thank you.

June

Thank you so much for your article. Like other on here I have a girlfriend/fiance that works parttime at a 'high-end' hostess bar in yokohama. During the day she has an office job at a car dealership. She's been working there for about a year and a half, in order to save money and pay off bills.

In your experience - Does working at hostess bar affect you mentally and emotionally? Because she works late, gets home around 2am and goes to work at 9am the next day. she wont talk about what she does there or what happenes. Sometimes she tells me stories about who she meets (baseball players) and some of the funny things they talk about, but otherwise, I can't get her to tell me anything about it. since working there, she's always tired, not very affectionate and almost emotionally drained.

Also, her customers buy here $800 dollar coach purses, and platnium necklaces. That seems like a lot of money to spend on someone...would this be a sign of her being sexual with a customer?

Is this a common for hostesses?

Thanks for your time, I'll really in need of info or advice.

Velvet.

Dear Velvet,

In my experience, being a Hostess is very draining physically and mentally. Not only are we required to drink and thereby inhibit our thinking, and yet still be expected to be entertaining and engage the customers. Drinking and a lack of sleeping is very very draining physically. Also if you GF is new to the club, then she will be required to work harder, and do what the other senior hostesses and chi-mamas say to do. Some of my friends have suffered mentally because of the stress to look their best, and act properly. The high-end clubs require that the hostesses wear a new dress every night and if they do not they will be teased mercilessly by the senior members. The effects of this stressful environment takes many forms (you might want to check out a site on anxiety and stress disorders and see if your GF has some of the same behaviors) such as intense nightmares, and being easily irritable. It is also very common for the hostesses to sabotage the other hostesses, either telling lies to the rival's clients, or to the mama-san.

The fact that your GF has been receiving presents from her clients, could indicate that there is more going on outside of the club, but I do not know if that is the situation. It is common for clients to give gifts of high value in the hopes that the hostess will sleep with them, or as another form of payment for sexual favors. But please do not think that just because she has received these gifts that it means that she is sleeping with her clients, or that she does not love or care for you anymore. Many hostesses had unsatisfactory relationships with men in their childhoods and in latter life, which draws them to the work. They could have self-esteem issues which is why they like the attention they receive from clients. Also Japanese society guides young women to do take care of men. So on one hand being a hostess lets women gain large sums of money without being married, however it is a service industry and in the end the hostess depends on the client for survival. My advice is to speak to your GF about her situation/work, and ask her if she has to work at the hostess club? I am sure she enjoys some of her time there, but let her know that being a hostess is very draining, and it is not the career path she should choose if she can help it. Also if you feel comfortable, ask her about her childhood and maybe why she works there. Speaking to her about it, will get her thinking about her situation and so she might not talk at first but show her interest and she will open up about it.

I do not know the whole situation, but it is important, that if you are serious about your GF/finance, let her know that there are other options work-wise and that if she were to ever decide that she wants to stop working at the club that you would support her. I am sure she thinks she has to work there, for whatever reason.

Of course only say this if you mean it.

June

Thanks June,

Yeah, her father was very restictive with her, and mother was always quiet. Later on, she got married to a man that abused her mentally and physically. She is probably the most independent woman I've ever met, considering she's japanese.

She's been working at this hostess club in yokohama for about 1 1/2 years now....and she's progressively gotten more and more wrapped into it. She's a very introverted person, and I know she hates it. It's gotten to the point now that she works 6 days a week and has been for the last two months. She use to call me when she was on her way to work, now she says she's either busy or doesn't have the time. I started suspecting that she might be meeting a client...but would she everyday? The same with after work at night. I as her about it, and she wont open up, wont talk about it, she gets mad if I ask. I ask her why she's working this hard, and all she says is that she's saving to go scuba diving in Okinawa and when I press, she says she's savin for her future...what does that mean..lol? I know you don't know her, but what is going on with her!? I ask because no here in the states understands japanese woman and our situation.

And now, all she seems to want to talk about is bathing suits, buying her clothes from America. It's seems she has very little interest in my life. She's very up front and honest, so if she didnt' want to be with me, she would say something. If she's seeing someone one else a client perhaps, then what's the point in mantaining a long distance relationship like this. I just dont understand what going on with her. Does she know what's she dont to the relationship?

Sorry for dumping my problems on you...

Velvet.

If a hostess on the other side of the Pacific is working two jobs 6 days a week and spending her money on trips to Okinawa as opposed to flying out to see you......................................................... is she really your girlfriend.

I left Japan Nov06. Since then we've seen each other 4 times. So, I think that's a lot considering the expense and distance. We're planning on seeing each other this December. The plan was to save money so that she can get things paid off and save for coming here.

I've dated a few Japanese women, but never serious till now. Are other Japanese woman this difficult and closed off? I understand that people handle long distance relationships differently. And obviously, if she or I weren't serious about each other, it would be super easy to just break up. Especially if she can get everything that I give her with a guy that there in Japan.

Just confused, and I can't get here to open up.

Please direct me in the right direction, I want to be a bar girl in Osaka

business