The working women of today’s Japan were born into families that were
surely uncertain what their daughters would aspire to. The country’s
economy was enjoying its peak in the 1980s, and it was still possible
for the salaryman’s income to provide entirely for a wife and children.
The prosperity also offered a longer and more fulfilling education for
all Japanese citizens, including women. Effective schooling has had the
natural effect of opening up an attractive range of options in the
female Japanese mind, beyond that of the homemaker.
Such informed women will be able to look at hostess jobs for what they are, not what they are believed to be.
“Hostess clubs are probably the most misunderstood aspects of Japan’s
adult entertainment industry,” writes Jake Adelstein in his memoir,
Tokyo Vice. “They’re not about sex; they’re about the illusion of
intimacy and the titillating possibility of sex.”
Adelstein, a former crime reporter for the Yomiuri Shinbun, was first
introduced to Japan’s hostess culture in Kabukicho, Tokyo in 1999. The
foreigner’s view of Kabukicho is restricted by business owners, but even
so, Adelstein did meet a manager that allowed him to spend a night
working as a male host.
“Many women come here because they’re lonely,” one host club owner told
Adelstein. “They can’t meet a nice guy at work. They want someone who
will talk to them, listen to them.”
Hosting is a job not limited to women, but the customer profile changes
with the gender. Men go to hostess clubs to have their ego stroked by
someone who isn’t their wife. The confident life they build at work is
supported by this new companion. The women who visit host clubs however,
often don’t have a husband to go home to.
This job may not match the definition of prostitution, but female
hostesses are left with little reward for enforcing club rules and
refusing to follow clients back to their bedrooms. Consuming damaging
amounts of alcohol is almost an expectation, and there is no defense
against vulgar abuse from aggressive customers.
“I suppose what really got to me about hostessing was that I had put a price on my freedom,” says Sarah Dale, a British woman who worked the Tokyo districts for ten months in the early 2000s.
“Ordinarily, when faced with a slobbering old man with a red face and a
preoccupation with asking, “How big is your boyfriend’s dick?” one might
shout some abuse, turn away, and leave. In this situation, however, I
had relinquished such rights; I had sold them to Mama-san. It was mental
The notion of women being trademarks of the Japanese service industry is well established, dating back to the early Tokugawa period in the 15th century.
Female geisha entertained male clients with their mastery of the arts –
music, dance and song. These women were seen as professional artists,
and their clients understood and respected the difference between geisha
That difference is still appreciated today with geisha’s modern
successors. However, the reputation of the hostess job has suffered from
the legacy of “comfort women” that were recruited by the Imperial Army
during World War II, as well as the continuing influence of the yakuza
in the modern sex industry.
“They run the joint,” former Canadian hostess Chelsea Haywood was told,
after she noticed that a percentage of her pay was missing because of
“Ten percent of everything. Otherwise they’ll show up, smash everything
and close the place down.” Chelsea worked in the Roppongi district of
Tokyo and has written a book about her experiences, titled: 90-Day
She even came to suspect that one of her clients was actually the man
accused of raping and murdering Lucie Blackman, a British hostess who
had worked in Roppongi in 2000.
“There’s a high probability that he could have been,” she told Style Magazines. “Even now in Japanese media, there’s no photos of him. They don’t release any information – it’s all very secretive.”
Chelsea managed to end her time as a hostess without unravelling her
marriage. It was a remarkable achievement, since hostesses only ever
work at night.
The job can never offer Japanese women a family-friendly schedule, so
its popularity cripples Japan’s already declining population. It is up
to the country’s employers to offer competitive salaries and lucrative
career ladders that can rival the glamour of a 6,000-yen-an-hour hostess