Host/hostess clubs are one of the most lucrative aspects of Japan's multi-faceted sex and night time entertainment industry. Host bars are thriving in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Kabukicho, and the Umeda and Namba districts of Osaka.
Osaka is one of my favourite cities and whenever I visit, I continue to be fascinated, enamoured and intrigued by the droves of host boys on the Dotonbori Bridge (a popular meeting spot, where everybody gathers before being scattered by the winds to Osaka's labyrinth of seemingly infinite bars and clubs). A host is typically in his late teens to mid twenties, whose job it is to entertain female clients with his charming, engaging demeanour, physical attractiveness, and light conversation. Often he will sport a special talent; he may be a burgeoning magician, the perfect karaoke companion, or if all else fails, will be able to win a girl's heart with his perfectly coiffed hair and snappy suit.The basic wage of a host boy is pitiful and high earnings are derived through commission, so being on the constant look out for potential customers is a vital part of the job. Host boys usually venture out in the early evening (known as 'The Twighlight Shift') to look for women who look like they have money to spend. A woman with a designer handbag or a healthy looking haircut could be a potential client. A woman with money means the possibility of more expensive drinks, which means higher earnings for the host boys. Vivian and I have been befriended by two sets of host boys on the Dotonbori, though Aki and Bruce were somewhat lacking in the charm factor (they asked for my bank book and passport straight away....perhaps they're apprentices....)
Appearance is everything for a host boy. Most host bars have picture menus, from which female customers can select the boy they would like to spend time with. Once again, it comes down to cash - the more attractive the host, the more attention and money he will get. The Osaka host boys are immaculately groomed with their pedantically styled hair (often in dubious shades of orange...), suits, well polished shoes and good skin. This is an advert for an Osaka club that I snapped on my very first visit;
A few weeks ago, I watched a very insightful documentary about the host industry of Osaka. The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief (dir. Jake Clennel) follows the life of twenty four year old Issei, the successful owner of a host bar called Rakkyo Club. Issei makes numerous references to his line of work throughout the documentary, describing his job as 'selling dreams and happiness' in the form of romantic attention. The Great Happiness Space was fascinating to watch and I particularly liked it for its objective stance and lack of moral judgement.
What I found to be the most poignant thing about the documentary was the rather sad underbelly of the seemingly glamorous, hedonistic and care free exterior of the industry. The hosts at Rakkyo work to the point of exhaustion, drinking heavily in order to get through the long night of entertainment. On the Dotonbori, the host boys exude charm, happiness and youthfulness, but the documentary showed lots of very tired and disillusioned young men. One host described himself as 'a product' for girls, which I thought was kind of sad.
What's more,many of the female customers at Rakkyo are hostesses and prostitutes. The money they make from entertaining men is spent on acquiring what they believe to be more genuine attention and affection from the host boys, which makes for quite a pitiful vicious circle.
I am still so intrigued to visit a host club, but seeing the documentary did make me think a bit. Out on the street, the host boys are so much fun. Though they are witty, charming and seem to personify lightheartedness and often vacuousness, they are no doubt just as complex as you and I.