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‘Look, Don’t Touch’ - Behind the Secret World of Japan's Hostess Clubs

‘Look, Don’t Touch’ - Behind the Secret World of Japan's Hostess Clubs

Date published: 10 July 2020

Those who are from North America might mistake the term "hostess" or "host" for someone at a restaurant who shows you to your table, but in Japan, it is quite a different profession. A host or hostess are staff hired to sit, pour drinks and talk to customers in a bar/lounge type establishment called a host or Japanese hostess club.

Part of the Japanese nightlife culture, they usually wear fancy suits or evening gowns, lots of make-up and have fancy hairstyles. They are quite beautiful and well-groomed as their job is to sell an image of allure and style.

But what really goes on inside a hostess club, and what might a visitor from overseas expect from them? Join along for a deep dive into one of Japan’s unique forms of entertainment.

Table of Contents
  1. Japanese Host Club vs. Japanese Hostess Club
  2. In Japan, Hostess/Host Clubs Are Everywhere!
  3. What to Expect: The Japanese Hostess Club System
  4. Our Insider: Meet Yuki the Hostess
  5. Tips on Visiting Japanese Hostess Clubs for Foreign Visitors
  6. Things To Avoid at Japanese Hostess Clubs!
  7. Are Host/Hostess Clubs For You?
  8. Related Links

Japanese Host Club vs. Japanese Hostess Club

Japanese Host Club vs. Japanese Hostess Club
Image: dekitateyo / Shutterstock.com

Japanese hostess clubs are a big part of the Japanese entertainment and night culture and are a significant gathering spot for men with their work clients, coworkers, or friends.

Men usually attend in groups after work and talk business and life as hostesses pour drinks and add some feminine energy into the night.

The Japanese hostesses often sit next to the gentlemen, listens and takes an interest in the conversation the men are having, pours and refill drinks as well as drinking themselves and sometimes even sings karaoke to entertain the group.

Japanese host clubs, on the other hand, are a popular spot for women to sit and chat with handsome and confident men and have flirtatious conversations and encounters. But women tend to go in groups of friends or on their own rather than with coworkers for work reasons.

The main business of hosts and hostesses is to shower attention, praise, and act like a temporary boyfriend or girlfriend to their clients.

Many people outside Japan might think these clubs are similar to strip clubs in the West; however, there is no nudity, prostitution, or sexual acts taking place in the club. The structure and aim of the club are for a host or hostess to gather a loyal group of clients who will always visit and spend money in the club.

In Japan, Hostess/Host Clubs Are Everywhere!

In Japan, Hostess/Host Clubs Are Everywhere!

Japanese host clubs and hostess clubs are located all across Japan, even in small towns. You can find most of these clubs located around train stations and certain parts of the city, usually where the nightlife is booming with bars, clubs, and izakayas.

Certain parts of Japan like Kabuki-cho and Namba in Osaka are major hubs for host and Japanese hostess clubs, but any area of Japan that has any nightlife is bound to have host or hostess clubs nearby. Usually, a building will house many clubs on each floor, and on the streets, the staff of the clubs will be out promoting their club and trying to get new clients to visit their establishment.

If you have watched a Japanese drama or movie depicting hostess or host clubs you will know the various layers and levels that are involved in the running of these clubs.

The owner is usually an ex-hostess called a Mama-san. The clubs also have diverse serving and security staff that are responsible for the safety and proper running of the club. There are the hosts or hostesses who are there to entertain guests.

And finally, there is entry staff who are working their way up to become a host or hostess or are trying to make money by earning a commission. These staff stand outside the hostess bar and approach people and persuade them to enter their club. And even the hosts and hostesses have levels as those who have been there longer, have the most amount of loyal customers tied to them for commission purposes.

There is also an important hierarchy as those who rank the highest in popularity based on their looks, personality, and service tend to make the most money and get the best working shifts.

What to Expect: The Japanese Hostess Club System

What to Expect: The Japanese Hostess Club System
KhunO / Shutterstock.com

For foreigners who have never been to a hostess bar like this, it might be complicated and a shock if you are not aware of the system and all the side costs that come with visiting a club.

Usually, there is an entrance charge that includes a timed all you can drink set. Then there is a separate charge to have a host or hostess sit at your table. And the more hosts or hostesses you invite to your table the more you are charged.

Customers also have to pay for drinks that hosts or hostesses drink while sitting with you. Hosts and hostesses are paid a commission by the number of drinks you buy them as well as if you revisit the club to meet them specifically.

A lot of their income depends on making the customer a loyal and repeat visitor. Not only good looks, but hosts and hostesses are required to be able to sweet talk and make customers feel relaxed, happy and wanting more.

They will exchange contact details so they can send messages and try to get you to come back to the club to visit them. Many clubs also encourage hosts and hostesses to go on “dates” with clients and bringing them into the club to receive more commission. And although Japan is not a tipping country, paying a little extra is usually hard to avoid.

Our Insider: Meet Yuki the Hostess

Our Insider: Meet Yuki the Hostess
(Photo only for illustration purposes)

I was able to talk to a hostess and learn more about being a hostess and some advice for those thinking about visiting a host or hostess club in Japan.

Going by the name of Yuki, as most hostesses don’t use their real name, she has worked in a few hostess clubs around Chiba and Tokyo and currently works in a popular club located in Shinjuku’s Kabuki-cho.

Most Japanese hostesses are recruited and start working in their late teens and early 20s but Yuki started hostessing much later at the age of 31.

She has a few reasons why she decided to work as a hostess. “I graduated from university and was working in Insurance as a salesperson. It was a good job but after I got married and had a child I had to give up my job and become a housewife,” Yuki admits sadly.

Although there are many women in the workplace and trends for wage and women’s equality are growing, many companies still do not allow women who have had children to return.

For that reason, Yuki had to search for another job. “It was hard because I got divorced from my husband and I was taking care of a toddler alone with no support from him or family. It was hard to make ends meet and I didn’t want to be a single mother on welfare.”

To make ends meet Yuki was working a part-time job at a pharmacy and decided the only way she could afford rent, daycare and living expenses was to find another part-time job. So she decided to look into becoming a hostess.

“My high school friend has been working as a hostess for years so she was able to connect me to a club that would pay me cash daily and was safe and reputable. They allow me to pick the days I can work, provide me a safe ride to and from the club and don’t force me to have many extra dates before or after my shift.”

A part of hostessing or hosting is to build up a group of loyal clients by either exchanging online message often and encouraging them to visit clubs or by going on “dates” to dinner or karaoke before or after the club to make the clients feel closer and connected to the host or hostess ensuring repeat business.

But Yuki is allowed to pick which clients and which days she will go on dates making it possible for her to arrange her schedule.

Tips on Visiting Japanese Hostess Clubs for Foreign Visitors

Tips on Visiting Japanese Hostess Clubs for Foreign Visitors

Asking Yuki if there was any advice she could give to foreigners who are interested in visiting a host or hostess club, Yuki had a few suggestions.

She said never to be introduced to a club by the solicitors who are standing on the streets trying to get customers to enter the club. These men and sometimes women are either new hosts or hostesses or are people hired to entice you into a club so they can get a commission.

“If you get introduced through one of those people, they get a cut of the commission adding to your fee. As well, the club then knows that you are an easy target and will most likely say yes to anything. So they will try to push more drinks on you, swap out hosts or hostesses so you have to buy many people drinks and will even try to get you to give tips to all the people you interact with,” reveals Yuki.

She also mentioned that sometimes they will set the initial entrance charge to a higher amount or add extra costs because they know you have never been to the club and might not know all the rules.

Instead, Yuki recommends doing some research on the area you are visiting and seeing the ranking of the club as well as the ranking of the host or hostesses working there.

Many clubs have online blogs that require hosts or hostesses to write posts mentioning they are at the club and entice followers to come to drink with them.

“If you choose a club that is pretty popular and ask for a specific host or hostess, they will treat you more like a regular and will even give you some extra perks like free time extension or free karaoke song requests if you make it seem you were referred by a past customer,” she adds knowing how the staff at her club react to such customers.

Things To Avoid at Japanese Hostess Clubs!

Things To Avoid at Japanese Hostess Clubs!

I asked Yuki if there was anything I should avoid saying or doing that might get me in trouble and she mentioned respecting the club staff and hostesses.

“A lot of men come into the club thinking they can touch or say dirty things to us because they are paying for our time but my boss is very strict and told all the hostesses to report any client that acts inappropriately. The club security will give unruly customers a warning and if they don’t stop, they will be banned from the club.”

Despite the red-light district type of atmosphere, host and hostess clubs are strictly a place to drink and interact in a social setting and no sexual or physical interaction is permitted. However, Yuki did mention that some hostesses might meet clients outside of the club secretly without notifying the club - but if caught the hostess could get fired.

Besides avoiding sexual advances, there are some other suggestions Yuki thought would be good for foreigners who decide to visit a club. Since there are so many rules and levels in the host and hostess club world, it is best to be polite, respect both hostess bar staff as well as hosts and hostesses and try to avoid any situations which might be misunderstood.

“Another good idea is to not tell anyone at the club that it is your first time or that you are a tourist,” says Yuki, explaining, “foreigners and tourists who don’t know about the side costs related to a hostess or host club might be taken advantage of and overcharged. It is best to say you are in town for business and you come to Japan often.”

Asking about language barriers and whether foreigners who don’t speak Japanese should avoid these clubs Yuki seemed to feel it wasn’t a big deal. “Not knowing Japanese might make the encounter boring if the host or hostess can’t speak English but you will still be able to enjoy the atmosphere and culture in a host or hostess club. But if you are worried that communication will be a problem, a lot of popular hostess clubs have foreign-speaking staff, hosts or hostesses or have someone in the club who can speak basic English.”

There are certain hostess or host clubs that specialize in foreign hosts or hostesses as some Japanese businessmen want to interact with non-Japanese women. A lot of these clubs have women from countries where English is popular so they have a good level of English. And some Japanese hostesses also have day jobs that require English so they might have good communication skills in English.

“If you really want to be placed with a host or hostess that can speak English, the best thing to do is ask if the club has an English speaking person working so they can arrange for you to be sat with them,” recommends Yuki.

I asked Yuki if there are any clubs or areas that are dangerous and should be avoided. She mentioned that “Although Kabuki-cho is the biggest area housing these types of clubs and might have a bad reputation because of some of the other seedy types of establishments nearby, I still think it is very safe and popular so you shouldn’t have any problems. Of course, you have to be smart and not make it seem that you can be easily duped or open up your wallet showing wads of cash. If you are smart and alert you shouldn’t have problems. So maybe despite the place being all you can drink, maybe drink slowly and pace yourself so as not to get too drunk.”

Japan is generally a safe country and the crime rate is quite low. But when traveling to another country, ensuring your valuables are safe and you are not in a vulnerable position is always good advice.

Are Host/Hostess Clubs For You?

Finally, I wanted to know Yuki’s general impression of hostessing and the hostess club culture in Japan.

“I actually quite enjoy being a hostess. I get to meet new people every day, have interesting conversations, dress up and look pretty as well as get paid to drink and socialize. Sometimes I have to deal with customers who are drunk, unruly or rude but I think any job in customer service has similar problems. And I think hostess clubs and host clubs are a unique and interesting part of Japan that might get a bad reputation but are necessary. Japanese people work a lot and have a lot of stress. And drinking and socializing is one of the only ways they can unwind and relax. Hostesses and hosts are there not only to pour drinks and look pretty but to listen to the customers, hear about their troubles and daily life and sympathize with their situations. We provide customers an outlet for their stress and act as a friendly ear.”

While traveling in Japan, you might want to experience a unique part of the nightlife that is not popular in the West so a host or hostess club might be a possible adventure. However, much like other attractions and activities, choosing the right place and right location is important.

Doing research and finding a place that suits your needs and budget is an important aspect of traveling and going to a host or hostess club is no different. Hopefully, the information above and the advice of Yuki helped you get a better understanding of the Japanese host and hostess club culture and whether it is something you would like to experience.

Written by:

Sohail Oz Ali

Sohail Oz Ali

Sohail Oz Ali is a Canadian Youtuber, author and blogger who has lived in Hokkaido, Nagoya and now resides in Chiba. Between visits to Karaoke and revolving sushi restaurants, he enjoys walking his dog, watching Japanese love dramas and teaching English. You can also find him roaming the streets of Japan looking for the next big YouTube video trends.

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*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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