Shinjuku entertainment area
in Tokyo
In Japan, there are about 220,000 hostess bars, where young ladies entertain, chat up, and flatter male customers and up light their cigarettes and pour their drinks. The women generally don't have sex with the male customers. They are generally prohibited by their employers from dating their customers after they get off work.

Describing one Tokyo hostess bar, Boyd Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: "The hostesses descended — the men love this — pouring the Scotch, patting their ego. In their dressing rooms the women have charts of quotas they must push. If a customer welshes on his monthly tab, the hostess has to pay the bill. Few can afford to. The goons move in, pay her debt, force her out of the bar and into bed. The hostess beside me was exhausted. 'I like drinking. I drink when I'm depressed. This life is really awful,'" she said. [Source: Boyd Gibbons, National Geographic, February 1992]

Women who have worked as hostess have said it is hard work to make conversation with and flatter their customers. At some hostess bars the women are told to act like mothers too their clients and required to read the books written by professors who are their clients so they can chat about the book’s contents.

These days competition is stiff between clubs and a great effort is made to find new customers. Hostesses are encouraged to act more like prostitutes than before. Bottakuri are rip off joints that give customers widely inflated bills. A law outlawing them was only passed in 2001.

See Roppongi, Tokyo

bar in Tokyo
Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Kitashinchi is Osaka’s premier entertainment district, a three-centuries-old playground where the night is filled with neon signs and hostesses in tight dresses, where just taking a seat at a top club can cost $500. But in the past 15 years, the number of fashionable clubs and lounges has shrunk to 480 from 1,200, replaced by discount bars and chain restaurants. Bartenders say the clientele these days is too cost-conscious to show the studied disregard for money that was long considered the height of refinement.” “A special culture might be vanishing,” said Takao Oda, who mixes perfectly crafted cocktails behind the glittering gold countertop at his Bar Oda. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, October 16, 2010]

Hostesses and Hosts in Japan: Pictures ; Hostess Bars How to Japan ; Host Bars 2009 New York Times article on Hostesses ; Maid Cafes ; Male Maid Café


Hostess Bars and Foreign Women in Japan

entertainment area in Tokyo
Filipinas have traditionally been the dominant foreigners at hostess bar in Japan. Describing Filipinas at the Philippine Club in Tokyo, Michael Parfit wrote in National Geographic, "The booths were full. There was a man in each, flanked by one or two Filipino women. They laughed and giggled together. Sometimes they got up and sang in time to a karaoke machine. All the people I talked with assured me that none of the women are expected to go home with the men but also acknowledged that sometimes they do."

In recent years, more and more women from China, Taiwan and Thailand are employed in hostess clubs. One survey of foreign hostess working at club and sex-related businesses in Shinjuku in Tokyo found that a third of them had entered into false marriages with Japanese men to obtain residency status.

European women also work at hostess clubs. A British woman who worked in Roppongi in Tokyo as a hostess told the Times of London she was never propositioned for sex once. “What I had to do was no worse than having to be nice to a work colleague in whom you’re not too interested. I’d flatter them and say “I like your tie.” The number of ties I really loved! I’d ask where they worked, why they were in Tokyo.” She said her main job was to get the customers to buy drinks and return.

Hostess Bar Scams in Japan

Police in Ueno in Tokyo have received a number of complaints of hostesses that get their customers exceptionally drunk and then encourage them to withdraw large amounts of money — from $500 to $2000 — from an ATM and hand it over to the hostess. The hostesses seek out already drunk men on the streets, take them to their bar, get them more drunks and then take them to a convenience store with an ATM and talk them into withdrawing the money and handing it over and then leave before the drunk man can gather his wits. The victim often wake up on a park bench without any knowledge of what had happened.. Police estimate that millions of yen has been handed over in this way but are not sure how to handle the situation since no laws have been broken.

An investigation found that at least five bars in the Kabukicho entertainment district were involved in a scam to get customers drunk and use their cash cards to take money resulting in more than $400,000 being taken. In some cases a person from the bar would accompany the victim to ATM machine and record his Pin number as he typed it and then steal his cash card after passing out from too much drink and withdraw money.

Dancing Office Ladies in Japan

For a while the hottest nightspot in Tokyo was Juliana's, a disco that featured a 3½-foot-high otachi-dai (honorable platform), where women in "ultra-skimpy dresses" gyrated and shook their hips while an appreciative audience of drooling men standing on the dance floor looked on. Many of the women were not exotic dancer or striptease artists but "office ladies" who donned bodikon (body-conscious) outfits and exhibited themselves for the fun of it. [Source: T.R. Reid, Washington Post]

After a magazine ran photos of nearly nude women dressed in G-strings dancing on the otach-dai, police moved in and closed Juliana's down. The club reopened with a "Crystal Stage," with professional dancers in less revealing clothes instead the otachidai and office ladies. Customers were not impressed. Attendance shrunk from 3,000 a night to about 250 and the club was closed.

Host Clubs for Women in Japan

There are hundreds of host clubs in Japan, where women pay hundreds of dollars in yen to have handsome young men with trimmed eyebrows flatter them, pour their drinks, light their cigarettes and dance with them. One customer of Angel Club in Tokyo told AP that she visited the club three times, often running up tabs of $900 because one of the hosts made her "heart flutter."

Some host clubs have high drink prices. Others charge by the hour. Diois, a popular Roppongi host club, charges ¥3,000 before midnight and ¥5,000 after midnight. A typical customer comes once and spends ¥300,000 in night and sometimes splurges and comes several times in a week. The hosts often work in teams with a leader who the others address with honorific speech.

Outside the clubs are pictures of the hosts. Women chose the ones they want to entertain them. Referring to the host sitting next her on a couch, one woman said, "You can say anything and he'll forgive you. Even if you tell him to stand on his head, he'll do it." Many of clients are women who work at hostess bars who are fed up being nice to old men and want young men to be nice to them for a change.

As of 2005, the host club industry employed 20,000 men nationwide. There are 15 such clubs in Kabukicho alone. Some customers they find visiting such clubs to be “iyashi”, a term that means “healing” or “relaxing .” A customer at a club in Kabukicho, who herself works as a hostess, told the New York Times: “I come here to look for healing. I enjoy my work though it’s tiring.”

Successful Hosts

Top host can earn up to $30,000 a month and receive expensive gifts with the very best of the best earning $100,000 a month. . The top host at Ai, a popular host club in Kabukicho in Tokyo was given 50 expensive suits, numerous Hermes watches and six cars, including two Mercedes. He told the Asahi Shimbun that the key his success was his ability to help women “enjoy a dream.”

Most hosts are in their early 20s and use a stage name. Many have sex with their clients. One told the Asahi Shimbun, “You have to train them well. You have to let them know they must pay to see you.” Another told the New York Times, “Nowadays host have sex with their customer so easily. I personally think we shouldn’t have sex with them because, if we do, the experience would no longer be a dream.”

Hosts earn a commission of around 20 or 30 percent of the tabs of the women they work with. To make a lot money they need to find women who are willing to spend a lot of money and get them to keep coming back. But the "work is stressful," one host told AP, "being with a woman you don't even like. If you have good looks, a good mind and a good body, you can be the No. 1 host." Many get fed up with the work or drop out because of health problems related to drinking and stay up all night every night.

The hosts at the bottom of hierarchy — the least popular hosts — are called “help.” While the top host flatter and cajole and sing karaoke to the customers, they wipe the tables and pour drinks and try to look reasonably good.

In February 2008, a former host was sentenced to 3½ years in jail for forcing a rival to drink such a large amount of alcohol he died. The victims drank one liter of shochu in 20 minutes and suffered cardiac arrest caused by alcohol poisoning.

Other Sex Clubs and Activities Geared for Women

condom vending machine
next to energy drink machine
Also popular are Chippendale-style clubs with American men who strip off American football uniforms and tuxedos among clouds of dry-ice smoke and then bump and grind in front of women who fill their leather G-strings with vouchers they got from a vending machines. One 20-year-old college student who came with a busload of friends and paid a $42 cover charge told the Washington Post, "This is the best...I never get tired of coming here."

Gyaka ("reverse") refers to sexual activities in which sex roles are reversed. These include gyaku-nanpa ("girls who pick up boys") and gyaku-enko (women who pay younger men for sex).

Male prostitution and female-oriented massage parlors are also on the rise. Some host clubs have special room where female customers can get massages with aromatic oil and beauty treatments by handsome beauticians.

The Butlers Café in Shibuya in Tokyo us the female answer to cafes for men that feature Japanese women dresses as French maid costumes. At the Butler café women pay high prices for coffee and tea so that European men in butler uniforms can fawn on them and lavish them with attention. Customers call for help by tinkling a bell and are met by a butler that goes down on one knee and addresses the customer as “princess.”

One customer told AFP, “At first I was really shy about the concept of this café, but all the butlers are very cute, cheerful and sweet and, above all, the fact they’re foreigners helps us escape from reality.”One of the butlers, a 27-year-old American who formally worked as an English teacher, told AFP, “Japan has a huge fantasy culture. They often want to escape from daily life and they are good at engineering alternative reality.”

Japanese Striptease Theater in the 1960s

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uncensored version

Modern Japanese striptease first appeared in 1947. They featured "picture-frame shows" in which topless young women posed inside picture frames. Later full-nude shows developed. In the 1970s, the adult entertainment industry was hurt be the energy-crisis-induced recession and clubs began to offer live sex show and bestiality to attract customers.

In “Inland Sea” (1971), Donald Richie described seeing an all nude-show with she-she, he-she and she-solo acts at a striptease theater in the late 1960s in place consisting of "bare tatami mat in someone's living room...cramped between the wife's sewing machine and the children's toy box."

In the third act, he said "a pleasant young country girl...promptly produced a number of objects: a banana, a full beer bottle, a length of string. With no more preamble than a small smile, she peeled the banana with her fingers, inserted it, and off came great chunks, When it was consumed, she deftly removed it and put the mess daintily on a square of tissues."

Her act over, "she made a low and formal bow...smiled a most charming smile and...said: 'Domo shitsurei itashimashita,' a common polite phrase that might be translated as 'I have been very rude.'...This is what you say when yo must leave...when you wish to reassure and at the same time show an attractive degree of gentility." Richie later took the write Susan Sontag to a sex show which she said was “about as erotic as a cake bake off.”

Japanese Strip Clubs in the 2000s

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Strip clubs reached their peak as a form of adult entertainment in the 1980s but are now in decline. The number of clubs in Tokyo has shrunk from 250 to 120. The decline has been blamed on the recession, more stringent laws regulating adult entertainment, competition from pornography and other kinds of adult entertainment.

Describing the action at one of Tokyo's most well known clubs, Geoff Botting wrote in Japan Times in 2001: "Only about an eighth of the seats are filled. Four women wearing hot pants and tank tops take the stage where they dance in the style of teenage idols. Eventually one remains. She lets down her long hair. Momentarily the only thing she has one is an anklet. The act ends with our starlet lifting one leg high in the air, struggling to maintain the pose."

Japanese Show Pubs

Show pubs are drinking establishments that generally put on a show like mud wrestling or employ topless or nearly nude female waitresses who dress in accordance with a certain theme. One of the most famous show pubs is the Apollo, a six-story establishment with a different theme on each floor in Osaka.

The Apollo charges customers ¥9,000 for a visit to a single floor or ¥25,000 for tour of all six. The prices includes free drinks and snack. On the second floor, in the Pink Daiya, the women are topless. In the Pink Poodle on the top floor, they are naked except for sheet lingerie. On the first floor al the girls have died brown hair or wear platinum blonde wigs.

Customers spend most of their time chatting with the hostesses as they would in a hostess bar. On the second floor custimers can play the rock-scissors-paper game with topless waitresses. Winners get too touch the tits. For a tip sometimes the waitresses will put their tits in a customer’s face. Many girls say they like working at the Apollo because there are strict rule as to when customers are allowed to touch and when they aren't.

Japanese Maid Cafes

Akihabara maids cooling off
Role-playing cafes for men are popular in Tokyo. Most have waitresses dressed as French maids and target “otaku” — geeky fans of manga and anime. The trend reportedly began in the 1990s with a “love simulation” game in which players tried to win a date a with a waitress dressed in a maid costume.”

Some anthropologists say that one reason role-playing and dressing up are so popular in Japan is because they allow people to briefly escape the extreme social control and rigid norms of everyday life.

The cafes where young girls dress up like English or French maids are relatively harmless Most of the time the girls are simply waitresses. They don’t even pour drinks or flatter customers like hostesses do. Many of the clients are otaku, Many of the girls are cosplay fans.

In Akihabara there are over 80 maid cafes packed into a few block area and girls in maid costumes are frequently seem on the streets handing out fliers. The first maid cafes opened in Akihabara in 2000 and the popularity gained momentum after they were mentioned in the popular film “Densha Otaku”. Today there are so many and the competition is so stiff that its said you have to be special to survive.

In Akibara district there are maid cafes, maid bars, maid game center, and foot massage centers and oxygen salons with girls in maid costumes. The firm Candy Fruit rents out pairs of girls in maid outfits to do “entertainment housekeeping.” It charges ¥30,000 to send two girls and a chaperon to a customers house for two hours of chatting and cleaning.

Maids at cafes often greet otaku regulars with the greeting “oakari” (“Welcome Home”). The founder of maid training academy told otaku scholar Patrick Galbraith, “In a world where communication is getting ever weaker the relations between and intimacy established between maid and customer are crucial.”

Roles are reversed at the Newtype café in Akihabara where young men and pretty boys dress up in maid costumes and serve young women or male customers dressed in drag themselves. To work there the boys have to be cute. .

Image Sources: Wiki Commons, Hector Garcia, Ray Kinnane, Photosensibility

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2011

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