When it comes to employment opportunities for foreigners in Japan, eclectic is definitely the key word. Of course there are the countess teaching jobs, but if you are an attractive young woman looking for a quick way of expanding both your horizons and bank balance, what about working at a hostess club? It’s not so outlandish an idea as you may think.
While it is currently illegal for foreigners to work at a hostess club in Japan unless they are Japanese citizens or have a spousal visa, many women still find employment in this profession that is seen, by some, as a modern incarnation of geisha.
Carrie from Australia already had a full time job as a high school ALT, but was looking for a little extra cash and a new experience. When a friend suggested she tried hostessing, despite the cautionary tales of stalkers and obsessed clients, she decided to throw caution to the wind. “Being a foreigner with blonde hair and blue eyes, I was told I would be quite popular. So I decided to follow my ‘try-everything-once’ theory and give it a go!”
Told nothing other than to arrive with her hair up and carrying a clutch bag, Carrie had no idea what to expect when she was directed to sit on a stool by the bar and, being unable to speak Japanese, she couldn’t ask her new colleagues what was expected of her. She learned quickly. “Present yourself – your hostess name – bow, offer them a hot towel, make them buy as many drinks for them and yourself as possible – the more expensive, the better- pour their drinks, talk, laugh and sing the occasional karaoke.”
Being a hostess had nothing to do with sex but a lot to do with psychology.
Carrie soon found that one of the most common misconceptions of hostessing, that it is thinly veiled borderline prostitution, was somewhat misguided. “Being a hostess had nothing to do with sex but a lot to do with psychology. These wealthy men that come into the hostess clubs are intelligent, generous but most of all very lonely. For them the hostess club was a place where they could let go and forget about society’s expectations and the stress from work and home.”
Working just one or two shifts a week to supplement her weekly wage, Carrie found hostessing little more than an interesting diversion, but Amy, also from Australia, found the experience an altogether darker adventure.
Having spent the winter season working in the Japanese Alps, she arrived into a major city with little disposable income and, after joking with a relative that she should try hostessing, soon found that she had ¥10,000 from her first night’s work in her pocket. She worked every night for the rest of the week and enjoyed the glamour. She was dressing up, drinking champagne in a beautiful club, and getting paid for it. What wasn’t to love?
The glamorous sheen of that first week quickly lost its lustre however, as she began to understand the reality of her surroundings. “The men were vulnerable old creeps and the ladies I worked with were sad drunks who used men for their money”
Of course, money is the aim of the game. Pretending to be interested in a man’s day leads to him buying drinks. The more drinks he buys, the more money the hostess and house makes. For Amy, a bottle of wine brought her a ¥1,000 tip, and if she could drink half of it herself, the sooner the man bought another. There were of course other ways to make money.
“One of the girls got super drunk as per usual,” remembers Amy. “She took one of the men’s belts off, adjusted it around her neck and started crawling along the ground and pulling on the belt so hard I thought she was going to kill herself. The man asked for his belt back but she said ‘only if you give me ¥10,000’. He slid the note between her boobs.”
Although she once showed a customer her cleavage for a ¥10,000 tip, Amy shunned the more intimate side of hostessing, resisting the pressure to go on dohan, paid dates, with clients, despite this refusal resulting in a ¥10,000 deduction from her weekly wage. But if you are willing to play the game, the financial rewards can be high.
Dalisay from the Philippines had been working in a department store by day and partying at night, often going straight from a bar to work in the morning, when a friend asked her to cover a shift in a club for two weeks: “The pay was nearly double what I was getting at the department store, and I was gonna get it just for sitting there? I could work through the night and go straight to my day job. It was only for two weeks, so it was perfect.”
During those two weeks she was headhunted by the owner of another club. There was more money, and it was only to be for two months while she covered for yet another vacation leave. That was 9 years ago, and in that time Dalisay has seen all sides of the business, as well as a lot of money, the money being what keeps her, and many others, working there. At one time she was earning over ¥1,000,000 a month. At those figures you may think that there is something untoward involved, but she is genuinely shocked at the suggestion that hostessing has anything in common with prostitution.
“Hostess clubs are not about sex; most of my customers are businessmen entertaining clients. We pour the drinks, make them feel good, and then they sign the deal. We are facilitators in this, nothing more.”
This opinion can be backed by the fact that most club tabs are paid by companies encouraging bonding between coworkers and clients, however, when there are large quantities of money being paid for the company of attractive young women, it is sadly inevitable that sex and feelings of entitlement come into the equation.
Amy talks of colleagues of various national backgrounds disappearing with customers during shifts, with few eyebrows being raised, and Dalisay relates a story of the time she was offered one and a half times her then one million salary to go to bed with a persistent client, an offer she found all too easy to refuse. “There is a line you can cross,” she says. “Sure, you can cross it if you want, but once you have done, it makes it very difficult to cross back.”
As with any job, whether it be teaching, or hostessing, your experience can be affected by your attitude, your colleagues and your place of employment. Dalisay has been in the business for 9 years, has made countless friends and discusses the profession like she would an extended family, while Amy calls hostessing “a dark patch of my life (that) ruined some of my experience in Japan”. Perhaps, however, it is Carrie who sums it up best.
“Would I recommend this job to anyone? It really depends on your character. You must be confident, open-minded and willing to take the plunge into this crazy world of overworked Japanese businessmen. Either way, it will definitely be an experience you’ll never forget.”
The names above have been changed to protect anonymity.
If you would like to hear the male perspective of working at a host club, check out the GPod 24 with Anthony Joh.