Non-Japanese individuals may be unacquainted with the uniquely Japanese cultural phenomenon known as host clubs. The following is my first-hand experience of visiting such clubs in 2013 in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
In Shinjuku, the host population is confined to an area called Kabuki-cho. Kabuki-cho is also known as the red-light district, where I conducted my observations. Over fifty host clubs had advertisement on billboards aside the massive buildings. I observed three buildings solely designated to host clubs; one building housed ten host clubs. The color schemes of the billboards were black and silver, with a sophisticated butler appearance. Every host billboard displayed the name of the club, address, phone number, the top host’s name, and photos.
When night falls in Kabuki-cho, hosts appear on the street alongside other mizu-shobai (red-light) workers- izakaya (restaurant), karaoke, pachinko (gambling parlors), and soap clubs/pink salon recruiters. Hosts work in the road, on the sidewalk, or beside unexpecting women. The streets are packed with people moving out of the way of passing traffic, adding to the cacophony of techno music and the blinding lights of the illuminated host club billboards. During my March observation, hosts were wearing leather jackets or sport coats, rhinestone belts, and high hair. Their appearance is discernible as they scan crowd for possible clientele. The Kabuki-cho entrance is beside Don Quixote, a department store which is always filled with hosts.
Inside the Host Clubs
The first host club I visited was called “Since You..Hag,” the second-largest host club chain in Japan. The room in which I interviewed was the most expensive room in the club, costing $600.00 USD per night. It was isolated, offering karaoke, a large TV, a loveseat surrounded by a glass table, and small round chairs. This club is nothing like an American club; instead it resembles a nice restaurant. Since You had a gothic, renaissance look — painted black, dark red, and white. Large, gothic chandeliers hung from the ceiling, while concert lights and a projector screen adorned the middle of the room. Security staff carrying menus circled the club. These staff members keep the hosts on schedule while percolating between guests.
Hosts play musical chairs while working. They greet each woman by bowing and presenting their business card with both hands, this is a common Japanese form of introduction. He then asks what she wants to drink. After pouring her drink, the host sits and talks with her, sometimes accompanied by multiple hosts. Inside Since You at 9:30p.m., hosts stumbled out of the unisex restroom, allowing clients to enter. The bathroom featured pink toilet paper, tampons, pads, and perfume, made to suit the clientele. When a guest visited the restroom, her host would wait outside. Once she exited, he handed her a hot towel to wipe off her hands, then escorted her back to her seat.
When a host entered a new area he bowed his head saying “shitsureshimasu,” then tapped his glass with the client’s before joining in on the conversation. A host uses one glass throughout the night, carrying it in his pocket. When the host exits the conversation, he acknowledges his exit by tapping his glass against the woman’s. Hosts sit up straight, legs spread, arms bent on their legs with hands clasped. They intently listen and talk with exaggerated motions and gestures. These actions created a relaxed environment allowing for easy conversation.
Hosts at Since You were eager to enlighten me about host clubs. They commonly referred to the club as a shop and the women as guests, not clients. At the end of my interview, the hosts surprised me with a free champagne call. Champagne calls cost between $300–$10,000, occurring when a woman orders a new bottle of champagne. This is very profitable for hosts. Fifteen hosts crowded into the interview room and three hosts carried in microphones. A host with light-brown hair wearing a suit jacket over a skull tank top lead the call, speaking quickly like an auctioneer. In between each break the other hosts would yell “aye” and stick their hands out, palms facing up, looking, and smiling. From my perspective, it was embarrassing having them so close yelling, staring, and smiling. At the end of the champagne call, he asked my name and how I liked the club, in Japanese and again in rudimentary English.
Simultaneously, the music fell silent as a host in the back brought in a bottle of champagne. The leader of the call put the microphone to the bottle to broadcast the ‘pop’ of the cork, and everyone cheered. Once everyone had a glass, we shouted kanpai (cheers). After the drinks were consumed the hosts bowed, said thank you, and cleared the room. As I left, the hosts were with their guests and the hosts I interviewed shouted “bye” and “thank you.” Ryo, one host escorted me out of the club as everyone yelled otsukare (thanks for all your hard work).
The Since You staff I interviewed were around the same age, Minato, 22, and Natsuki, 22, had youthful faces. Ryo, was a slender, well-dressed 26-year-old. A host and assistant manager, he was the face of Since You, featured on billboards and magazines. Riiya, 26, looked similar to Ryo with light hair and blue jeans. He was featured in many host magazines and one of the top sellers at the club. Ruki, having red hair was the shortest host. All of the hosts wore long chains and rings on multiple fingers. Susumu served as a host and public relations, denoted by his extremely casual appearance; his long hair was covered by a baseball cap, and he wore thick-rimmed glasses.
The next club I visited was called Club Gently, part of Club Billion Jap, the largest host-club chain in Japan. As we entered the club at 5:50 a.m, seven women waited in the hall. Kein, my interviewee, told me these women are usually hostesses or soap girls (legal prostitutes) who just got off work. When the club opened at 6:00 a.m., each host paired with his guest and walked her to the door. Each woman entered with all hosts inside yelling “irasshai!” (welcome). Identification was checked at the door before being seated by non-host staff. Once seated, a staff member approached asking the name of our requested host. I replied, “Kein.” Because this was my first time at this host club, I did not have a shimei (designated host). Once I requested Kein, every time I visit this club he will be my designated host and make commission off of the drinks I purchase. Kein came and sat with us and asked what I wanted to drink before preparing it. In between our conversation, he and all the other hosts would welcome entering guests.
The first champagne call was at 6:25 a.m. Kein said the requestor of this particular call frequents the club, spends a couple thousand dollars a month, and knows almost all of the staff. During the champagne call, hosts left their seats, got on stage, and selected their performance. They swarmed the guest with one host leading the call, while the others jumped up and down yelling “aye,” throwing their hands up in the air–similar to my champagne call at Since You. The first call started a war: once immediately finished, another call came from a woman in the corner. The hosts repeated the huddle, then surrounded her. After the call ended, she ordered another bottle and the champagne–call dance repeated. Women appear annoyed when their hosts leave to participate in the call, but that is the point. If you want your host back, you must order a call. Here champagne call prices ranged from $300 – $10,000 USD depending on the overpriced bottle.
Club Gently appeared similar to Since You, with everything painted black and silver but with a modern aesthetic instead of a gothic look. Pyramid stacks of champagne glasses sat throughout the club; tables were separated by small walls as chandeliers hung from the ceiling with a projector screen, concert lights, and TVs. This club differed from Since You by having a stage for performances, uncommon for host clubs. The bathroom’s appearance was similar to Since You: pink toilet paper, tampons/pads, and perfumes for the women. Likewise, hosts would escort the women to the restroom and wait outside the door with a warm towel. Each sitting area was coded: alpha 1, 2, beta 1, 2 gamma 1, 2, etc. This helped the hosts stay organized. Our table had a small paper heart on a stick with our names and drinks so the hosts knew we were new patrons. The club kept these identifiers to monitor first time and return visitors.
As the morning continued, hosts stopped by the table and bowed, introducing themselves. Hosts are allotted five minutes to bond with new guests, because at the end of the night the guest has to pick a shimei, in the event that she returns to the club. This is timed by the security staff who indicate with a pat on the shoulder that it was time to switch tables. Hosts had a theme of questions they would ask: “Where are you from? How old are you? How long have you been in Japan? Do you like Japan? Are you having a good time?” Once they became aware I was researching hosts, they were extremely interested, hoping, like the hosts of Since You, that I would help give them a good name.
By 8:30 a.m. the club was full. A champagne call came from the left side of the club. The hosts did their routine, then another call was ordered. Interestingly, hosts are allowed to drink only water unless his guest purchases him a drink. Furthermore, hosts cannot share the woman’s drinks unless she purchases an entire bottle. Hosts make commission from the drinks that are purchased for them as well as the ones the woman buys for herself. My shimei was an underage host at 19; the legal drinking age in Japan is 20. Not surprisingly, Kein said this made making commission difficult.
Club Gently offered something different than most clubs, such as a Japanese pop music performance featuring lip syncing, singing, and choreography. Women who frequented the club knew these routines. During the last song, the hosts went around to each table, playfully forcing the women to finish their drinks. After this performance I left the club. When leaving everyone yelled “goodbye” and that we should return. Hosts usually escort their guest into a taxi and return to work, or proceed to the train station if they are off work.
Hosts are commonly pressured and follow strict guidelines guests would not notice. Hosts show up to work six hours before their shifts to get their hair styled, clean the club, have meetings, and prepare to open. If the host brings a guest with him when the club opens, he is allowed to miss the meeting and cleaning. If he does not arrive upon opening with his guest, he can be fined and his pay docked.
The host club chain Billion Jap wanted to become globally known solely based on their one bilingual employee, Kein. He is able to solicit foreigners who would not normally be able to experience host clubs due to the language barrier. Indeed, Billion Jap was one of the few clubs with a native English speaker. Kein, had a different style compared to the other hosts. He had bright pink hair about shoulder length with one side shaved. He was shorter and stocky compared to most hosts, and wore bright-pink eye shadow with black fingernail polish. Inside Club Gently, we spoke with Sora, 23, a very slender host with light-brown hair and a nasally voice. His Japanese was simple and well-articulated, making it easy to communicate. We also spoke with Yuma and Shun, two of the top hosts at Club Gently earning $100,000 USD and $200,000 USD that year, respectively. The final host was Tatsuya, comparable to Kein in looks and attitude.
History of Host Clubs
In 1966, the first host club in Japan, Night Tokyo, opened in the Yaesu train station, Tokyo and employed over one-hundred hosts (Prideaux, 2006 & Takeyama, 2005). Common patrons were hostesses, yakuza wives, and sex workers (Prideaux, 2006). Hosts clubs have evolved since their inception by removing bands and dance floors, altering business hours, and relocating clubs to safer areas (Fulford, 2004). Due to time restrictions mandated by the Japanese government in 1984 hosts are visible during specific times of day (Kein, 2013). Tier one (ichibu), operates from 7:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m, tier two (nibu), 6:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., tier three (sanbu), 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Each tier has different hosts and appeals to different women.
Host clubs are a multi-million-dollar industry focused in large cities such as Tokyo, Osaka, and Nagoya (Takeyama, 2005). Of the 1,200 estimated host clubs in Japan, their net gross is $1.4 billion dollars annually with average monthly salaries reaching $10,000 (Fulford, 2004). This money disappears quickly, however, due to living expenses, fees for spilt drinks and broken cups at the club, and sometimes monetary protection (Prideaux, 2006). Employment turnover is high; two or three out of over one-hundred hosts persist longer than a few months (Fulford, 2004). The hosts at Since You believe it takes hard work to be a host. Ryo explained, “Anyone can do it, but it’s not easy. It seems easy, but you have to drink a lot and people want professional hosts that act professional, or the clients get angry.” Riiya told me, “‘Players’ think they can be a host, but realize it’s hard work and they can’t just sleep with all the women– you have to change yourself to be a host. You become confident and you can be a host.” Players who are looking to only have sex with women are called urisen, and they reportedly do not last long in the host clubs.
Being a host has no educational requirements. Instead, he must be attractive and conversational (Prideaux, 2006). Once hired, an individual goes through a provisional period before he becomes a host. During this phase he is taught to converse, be subtle, and make women smile (Tanikawa, 1996). Fulford (2004) believes a hierarchy of tasks exists inside host clubs and hosts earn their place. New and lowly-ranked hosts are responsible for club upkeep. The second stage is called “catching duty.” Catching is a form of advertisement visible on the streets like Kabuki-cho. Catching is how a host entices new guests until he has regular visitors (Prideaux, 2006).
Guests at the host club consist entirely of women: 40% are female hostesses, 40% sex-workers, and the remaining 20% is everyone else (Prideaux, 2006). Guests’ age range from 19 to women in their 40s. Susumu told me about a type of women who come to the club only for the ‘first timer’ rate (~$30.00) which is two-hours, all-you-can-drink. “The women come only to complain and share their stress and bitch, then never come back.” These women are called shoukai urashii. In contrast, regular guests have a designated host called a shimei (shimeisha), which prevents competition between hosts inside the club. Her shimei does not change as long as she frequents that club (Toyama, 2007).
Hosts make 35% – 50% commission off the drinks they sell. Drink prices are ten times more expensive inside the club (Takeyama, 2005). Commission is the base pay so hosts entertain multiple customers a night and are then ranked according to whom sells the most and makes the most profit (Toyama, 2007). The host who sells the most is considered “number one” and is treated better than his coworkers. For example, the number-one host appears on billboards, receives celebrity status inside the club, and has more women requesting him (Clennell, 2006).
Most hosts I interviewed worked at only one host club. Riiya previously worked in the Gion district of Kyoto at a club called Lovetrap. He joined the Since You staff in 2012 and was ranked #2 in 2013. He believes this was due to his ‘charisma’ because other hosts have been there for a few years without such success. Kein, in contrast has worked only at Club Gently.
The average salary for a top selling host is between $100,000 to $300,000 USD annually. On the other hand, the lowest ranked host at Since You, King Kazu related, “I don’t really get a salary, maybe $160.00 USD a month. I live by taking food from people around me, drinking lots of water and eating guests’ food.” Susumu further explained that the poor pay for some hosts was due to revenue generation at Since You, being based upon sales and guest requests. “Some people don’t earn anything because they don’t have customers. It can be as low as $0-$500 a month at the low end. Host trends change all the time, you need your own style to bring in women.” Other clubs have a minimum wage if a host is unable to get a steady reputation or guest.
Top selling hosts remember small details about their guests such as employment, hobbies, and birthdays (Prideaux, 2006). A host named Kyotaro texts his patrons every day, contributing to his being ranked #2 at Top Dandy and allowing him to make close to $300,000.00 USD annually (Toyama, 2007). Successful hosts are made by working outside of the club. The concept of working outside of work is well accepted in Japanese culture. Top hosts are not always the most attractive, instead they are personable to the guests (Toyama, 2007). Fulford (2004) states that that successful hosts are good listeners and conversationalists as well as fashion forward.
Inside the club, hosts wear various virtual masks as entertainers, listeners, storytellers, and chivalrous gentlemen. Women can pay $30 an hour up to $10,000 a night. Hosts make the women feel like the center of the world by providing a safe, open environment (Clennell, 2006 & Cullin, 2001). Many hosts viewed women negatively because they see their bad sides. Kazu said, “Hosts can’t trust girls–they’re scary now. Then, sometimes you actually like a girl even though you try not to and you’re not trying for a relationship but it can happen.” I was then informed if sex happens it is outside of the club and has nothing to do with work. Kein said, “The best idea is to fall in love with the clients, too. That way, we don’t feel burdened, and there will be mutual feelings. Win-win situation.” Susumu added, “Hosts have no time, only work. Our owner used to be a good host; he was called “Ace” because one girl who was possibly a prostitute fell in love with him but he never had sex with her. He emotionally satisfied her by having her come to the club. She didn’t need sex – she wanted to be mentally and emotionally healthy from companionship.” Outsiders believe sex is a requirement of the job, but not all hosts have sexual relations with their guests. Top host Ryo believes that sleeping with his patrons can ruin their relationship, saying, “Rumors spread like wildfire and if the girls get jealous that’s two good customers gone for nothing” (Prideaux, 2006). Hosts are human. Sex does happen between a host and guest but there is no monetary exchange, and it does not happen during work hours or in the club.
What might attract a female client to a host club? Simply, women attend host clubs to relax and be entertained. Even hostesses from male centered establishments frequent the clubs to receive the same pampering they offer their clients. Women visit these clubs to escape the outside world (Clennell, 2006).
A host’s job never ends, and Riku believes there is no private life when being a host. “Sometimes it’s fun and the girls are energetic but sometimes they’re not. Girl’s lie all the time,” Riiya said. The Japanese work ethic extends to host clubs: you are a host all day, every day with no holidays or days off. Compared with Western ideology, Kein offered an explanation, stating, “That holds a double meaning for us. Holidays are not something to take a day off on. It is a day where we can make the most money by hosting an event related to respective holidays.” Being a host is not only mentally exhausting, it is physically taxing as well. Hosts also throw up nightly and worry about alcohol poisoning or other side effects from constant drinking due to the job. While there are undoubtedly negatives, overall the hosts enjoy their job.
When asked, “Why become a host?” hosts answered differently. No host curiously, was interested in hosting prior to being recruited. Ruki, Minato, Kazu, and Kein all had someone affiliated with host clubs recruit them into joining. Usually prospects are approached by hosts on the street or the owner of the club, asking if they would be interested in working with them. My Japanese classmate had a unique fashion sense, and he was approached weekly inquiring if he would be interested in joining the line of work. Like many Japanese people, recruits also viewed host clubs negatively, but after joining they realized hosts are nice people and good friends.
When not working, the hosts sometimes spend time together whenever they are not going out with women. Riiya said, “We go bowling, to the sauna, or to Kabuki-cho. Some of us go to hostess clubs, but it’s a secret. I spend sometimes $1,000 – $2,000 between all of us in one night. Usually two or three of us will go and I am the trouble maker (laughs).” Because hosting is viewed negatively, hosts become close. They admit the best aspect of being a host is their co-workers and the guests.
Host Club Evolution
A variety of profession comparisons have appeared in Japanese culture. One such group, Geishas appeared in Japan in the 1750s (Okada, 2003). Geisha are performers who differ from hostess and sex workers. They are strictly selected women who display their skills: music, taiko (drums), shamisen (Japanese guitar), singing, and dance. They serve alcohol and keep good company. Before the abolition of prostitution, geisha were forced to have sex with clients but this has since ceased (Okada, 2003). Dr. Natsuki Anderson, associate professor of Japanese at Marshall University, conducted research on geishas. She personally communicated that the traditional geiko or geisha, is strictly trained in art of Gion (ancient Japanese traditions) in Kyoto where geisha began. Today, geisha are located in the Gion district of Kyoto and known as a symbol of Japanese culture (Okada, 2003). Frequently geisha perform at special dinners and cultural events (Okada, 2003).
The term “sex-worker” originated in 1979 from Carol Leigh, an American feminist/prostitute and is used to describe the sale of a sexual service (Yamagishi, 2009 & Kovener, 2009). Sex-workers in Japan were associated with military base cities when Japan was occupied by the United States. In 1956, prostitution became illegal, leaving many legal prostitutes out of work (Kovenor, 2009). This impacted Japanese society because there was money to be made selling sex to western men. Thus, the term panpan came to fill the gap. Panpan women were streetwalkers, prostitutes, and base workers. In modern Japan, soap girls or pink salons are legal, consisting of the woman providing oral sex or massages to men.
Finally, the female hostess or kyabakura appeared, and many believe the hostess is taking the place of the geisha (Tamanoi, 1990). Hostesses are in their early twenties and protected by a “mama.” Hostesses keep the male customer happy by being attentive and keeping conversation lively (Wicker, 2011). In the hostess club, the hostess remains professional at all times. She cannot smoke, and can drink only when the customer asks her to drink with him (Wicker, 2011). Indeed, there are many parallels to host clubs.
Despite these parallels, host clubs may have a different origination to hostess clubs. It is believed that, since the 16th century, high-class women secretly arranged meetings with Kabuki actors in tea houses where they would pay for company and sex with the actors, representing a precursor to host clubs (Buruma, 1985, Leiter, 2002, Prideaux, 2006). Kabuki actors consist of men who play both gender roles. Kabuki actors present as sexless and only portray to be male or female (Buruma, 1985). Kabuki acting originated in the 1600s and continues to this day in Japan (Leiter, 2002).
Hosts and Japanese Society
Group verses individual concepts within Japanese society date back to the pre-Edo period (~1600) and are still relevant today. In Japanese society, they believe everyone has a place (honbun). Individual identity depends on the group in which you associate (Buruma, 1985). According to Dr. Anderson, Japanese people have an obligation to refrain from bringing shame to the community and must show respect (giri). One must care about his or her social reputation, appearance, and go above the surface level of requirements (gimu). Dr. Anderson further states honne and tatemae are driving factors in Japanese culture (personal communication). Honne is one’s true feelings or personal thoughts and tatemae is the public side that concurs with the collective thoughts of the group (Moeran, 1986). Fitting in and removing individuality is ideal in Japanese culture (Buruma, 1985). Honbun assists in the removing the private life and replacing it with a group mentality. The lack of distinction of private and public life in Japan is related to the group identity and the combination of honbun (Naoi & Schooler, 1985).
Dr. Anderson refers to a concept called sekentei, which is when Japanese people show their good side to the public by keeping everything private and remaining non-confrontational. She states because of this, “Sexual harassment and power harassment have gotten so high and outrageous now, that some people have started telling, so it’s good and bad, traditional society, yes, individual human rights… no. If you push sekentei too much you will lose your individual rights, so there needs to be a balance.” In the workplace, an individual exists only within that group. An employee’s interest is aligned with the interest of the group or job (Naoi & Schooler, 1985). This applies to hosts as well, for they operate within the same stipulations of Japanese culture.
Japanese Culture’s Effect on Mental Health
Hosts consider themselves healers, offering an escape or fantasy for women. Due to this host perspective, I started questioning roles of mental health and different outlets available in Japan. There is a lack of individuality reflected in the Japanese group mentality. Inside the concepts of Japanese culture, mental illness is stigmatized and not discussed in Japan. An interview with Dr. Jillian Stephens, PsyD, revealed, “A mental illness is something that causes problems in a person’s day to day life, possibly based from social issues that require different outlets and a good support system to overcome, whether it is conscious or not.” This type of unconscious coping with a mental illness is key to Japanese society and contributes to reasons for visiting host clubs.
Dr. Zeli Rivas, associate professor of Japanese at Marshall University states women visit host clubs because “Japanese people are always so busy and they always have ideas of position, [that] they wear different types of masks all the time. It feels nice to have no mask. You can do that in a host club.” Dr. Anderson supports this by adding,
“The illusion of having a friend, or somebody, I think it is something to do with Japan being such a strict country/society of people. Instead of praising others, they will get on to you to hustle and do more, even inside of the family. You put yourself down, your family puts you down and you are put down with others so you want to hear something good. That’s their job– to give compliments because you want to have a good time and feel good. People think ‘I don’t want to be put down anymore,’ so let’s go to kyabakura and drink. It is an escape from reality.”
Results of my administered survey show women visit host clubs out of loneliness, wanting someone to talk to or an escape from normal, everyday stress. Japanese culture affects one’s mental health based on my interview responses, and host clubs represent a support system for these women who have no other outlet due to the strictness of Japanese culture.
Hosts I interviewed believe Japan needs host clubs because women need something they do not have, with Minato stating, “People want happiness.” Susumu expounded, “Certain things are acquired in the host clubs. In Japan there’s no place for a woman to satisfy her desires. There are people who sell their bodies for money and need to be cured. Some people have more money than they can handle but don’t how to pursue their dreams. Our job is to give dreams and always be positive. Most people think [being a host is] for uneducated people but they can earn a lot of money. Hosts exist for men that aren’t smart enough or good enough to get a good job. It gives them a chance to have a life they wouldn’t normally have. The girls see this and want to help support them and help push him up the ranks.” Ruki adds that, “Girls have lost the reason to live and they find a new reason for life here.” Kazu responded, “We are nice to the guests and yashida (try to heal them). Lonely girls want healed, they go to host clubs so they can be funky/fun girls when they are normally shy and quiet in real life.” “Women pay the men so the hosts give them the ability to have dreams and help them pursue their dreams. They can have a bad experience here and it can directly affect the club,” adds Susumu.
Japanese culture influences the lives of all Japanese people, emphasized by the concepts of honne and tatemae. Japanese people emphasize that you keep everything private. The Japanese people living in America said the strictness of Japanese culture is one of the reasons they came to America. They also believe Japanese culture is a hard concept for non-Japanese to understand.
When Dr. Rivas mentioned the many different masks a Japanese person wears, it helps describe how Japanese people can function daily. Wearing these masks require balance, and a need for somewhere to relax when they are unable to wear that mask or balance their life. This opportunity is present inside the host club.
All interviewees and the survey participants said nothing extremely negative about hosts. They viewed the career negatively because they view it as easy and the hosts as uneducated people that are able to succeed, representing their own prejudice of these men. Hosts earn considerable money removing themselves from the strict Japanese culture, but are seen as mizu-shobai since the job changes like turbulent water, viewed as a dirty way to earn a living. Many Japanese people are unfamiliar with host clubs, and may not realize that being a host is very difficult. In a way, Japanese hosts themselves are bound by the Japanese culture to allow these guests to express their honne, or inner, deepest feelings to give them a ‘dream.’
Hosts believe their job is to be the “ultimate service” to these women, as indicated by Susumu. Hosts know their job is a balancing act of professionalism and personality to give these women whatever type of man she is looking for while listening to her, giving advice, helping her, and drinking at her request. From guest to guest, hosts are able to be energetic, serious, childish, and intelligent on top of constantly drinking, constantly portraying tatemae and never letting his inner feelings out. He must not let the woman know if he dislikes her, or if he thinks she is using him to work off her frustration, and he must follow all of the rules set up by the host club.
I observed this structured behavior first hand as I watched the hosts bounce around from the guest’s tables. Furthermore, when talking with the host, I felt as if I had his complete attention because he looked me in the eyes and appeared genuine. The hosts take every client seriously and personally. The host puts himself completely in his job, spending time with these women during and outside of work.
The structure and balancing act hosts put on inside of the club highly reflects Japanese giri and ninjo. Many hosts I spoke with whom had no affiliation with hosts before becoming a host, and now they are all good friends, confirming the Japanese group mentality. Hosts frequently portray only tatemae while guests who visit host clubs are free to show their honne. The women use the club as an outlet to relieve stress and depression, or as a source for someone to talk to and to receive some advice.
The money a host makes can be explained by Japanese people having a higher income to buy more ‘luxury’ things with pay being spent less on food, healthcare, etc., in comparison to luxury items. Thus a host is able to make a handsome income because of the priorities of finances in Japan.
In America, a host club would not likely be able to succeed because expressing individuality and stating your feelings is stressed. Furthermore, being private is frowned upon because it takes away from one’s ability to be mentally fit and it is thought to be ideal to express these emotions. In the West, extremes and individualism are more encouraged and it is considered positive to view yourself as someone that speaks your mind. Americans take satisfaction in this frame of mind where you are able to talk your problems out with a friend, coworker, or stranger in class. This differs from Japan where they are unable to speak out due the stigma of standing out by openly talking or asking for advice from friends or coworkers.
Due to this stigma, Japanese people require an emotional outlet. Women have this outlet inside of the host clubs, and men inside of the hostess clubs. Host clubs are viewed as an escape from reality: women can come in, pay, and remove her masks, allowing her to be a different person and to view her life in a more positive light. It is a human desire to want to be happy, but to still be accepted in society.
A host promotes women to go against tatemae, expressing their inner thoughts, making her private life public to her shimei. This acceptance of the woman’s private thoughts removes the instilled Japanese cultural norms and is on possible explanation of why the Japanese people and the Japanese government stigmatize hosts. The Japanese island mentality interprets this act inside the host clubs as a destroyer of Japan’s uniqueness. Hosts encourage the non-acceptance of Japanese culture, while at the same time, working within the strict guidelines of Japanese culture.
About the author:
Kristy Henson has a B.A. in political science from Ohio University and a B.A. in Anthropology with minors in Japanese and Biology from Marshall University. She spent a year studying Japanese at Lakeland College Japan. Kristy’s terminal degree is an M.S. in Biological Sciences from Marshall University. The majority of her current research deals with skeletal morphology and 3D printing accuracy. She is currently assistant lab coordinator and instructor of Biology and Environmental Science at West Virginia
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