January 27, 2010

Dos And Don'ts For Running A Host Club

The Kabukicho district in Tokyo is famous for, among other sleazy wonders, its host and hostess clubs. The idea here is simple enough: In a hostess club, you have paid female employees who chat with male customers, light their cigarettes, pour drinks, sing karaoke, and generally make the men feel, I don't know, titillated. It's not a sex club—more like a flirtation club.

And then the host clubs are the reverse deal: Male hosts wait on female customers, listen to their sorrows, flatter them, light their cigarettes, pour drinks.... Since Japanese women don't typically get "waited on" by men, these clubs fill a real need. Anyway, hostess clubs have no doubt been featured in light-hearted New York Times pieces before. But I was reading Jake Adelstein's Tokyo Vice, a terrific book about the city's seamy underbelly, and there's a part where a cop explains that many of these clubs are actually horribly manipulative:
"It used to be that the only women who went to host bars were hostesses, but times have changed. What we keep seeing is college girls, sometimes even high school girls with money, who start going to these host clubs. They love the personal attention, and maybe they get infatuated with the hosts, who milk them for everything they have. The girls accumulate debts, and at some point the management introduces them to a job in the sex industry so that they can pay off their debts. Sometimes the guys running the host bars are the same guys who run the sex clubs."
Not all host clubs run this racket—the respectable ones try to avoid plunging their customers into crippling debt—but many of the clubs are just thinly veiled organized-crime outfits. Meanwhile, here's one young host explaining the ins and outs of his job to Adelstein:
Sometimes the thing to do is to find an actor you resemble and then basically do an impression of the guy. You make the customer feel like she is with a celebrity. ... But most of the time I just say that I'm a graduate student in law at Tokyo University and I'm just hosting to pay the tuition. It makes the customer feel like she's contributing to society, not just to my wallet. ...

You have to be able to talk to customers about almost anything, even where they send their kids to school. So I subscribe to four women's magazines to make sure I know what kinds of concerns they have. They also like to talk about television programs, but since I don't have time to watch TV I stay current by reading TV guides. ...

The bad thing is that my parents hate that I do this, even if I don't plan on doing it forever. You don't have a personal life. Every day is like summer vacation, except that you don't really have freedom. You spend most of your free time waiting on customers in one way or another; sometimes you go shopping with a customer, sometimes you go to a resort with her.

Useful tips for anyone considering a career switch.

(Flickr photo credit: yumyumcherry)
-- Brad Plumer 7:01 PM || ||