So, an American friend of mine came to Japan on a college field trip this past week and just so happened to have a few days of more or less 'free time,' and she wanted to go to a host club, so I bit the bullet and took her.
On Sunday morning we’d gone to Kabukicho around 10, hoping to get into Club Air ~Precious~ for the morning shift (Sunrise to 11 it turns out). A handsome receptionist greeted us dubiously, then asked if we could wait there a moment while he went into the actual club to check on something. He came back basically saying in the politest way possible that “it would really help us if you’d come back some other time,” which more or less meant they were about to close (which we didn't realize at the time). So, we left the club and as we were walking out, we were immediately confronted by another host/scout who waved a coupon for his club at us and somehow or other engaged us in conversation. He was a nice enough lad, probably younger than myself, and average looking as far as hosts go. We talked for a short while (he wasn’t pushy at all, which I appreciated immensely), and then I said we had to go and he wished us a safe trip.
So, fast forward to Monday night and we’re determined to try it again. Thankfully, we’d learned our lesson the day before and didn’t have much trouble locating the club this time. Step-by-step going down the black staircase, my heart started to pound. I’d already had severe doubts about this whole venture, not sure that my Japanese was good enough to be able to converse for 2 hrs (hers either as she's behind me in Japanese class levels). Even so, she was determined to go, and I’d given her my word that we’d give it one last try.
Down the winding black staircase, like Alice through the hole, a wonderland awaited us. At the base of the stairs, all but one wall a solid black, their was a massive two way mirror, where you touch a panel on the left and it slides open to admit you into the dark reception area. Nothing but the black, wooden reception desk to the right adorns this vestibule, and as we walked inside, three men, deep in conversation, look up at our approach. The one leaning over a budgeting book was fairly good looking, but no host, that much was clear. Beside him, towering over all of us at well over 6 feet, was a thin young man in a suit with black hair falling into his eyes; he was no host either.
I ask if they’re busy, they say no. I say we’re first time customers (as if that wasn’t obvious enough) and we’re asked politely to show some ID (you have to be 20 to go to the club, as 20 is the legal drinking age in Japan). When we’ve done that, the staggeringly tall young man produces a menu-like book, opens it, and asks which service we’d like. For first time customers at that club there are two choices: 2 hrs. or Free Time. The 2 hrs. cost about $50 and you get 2 beers, unlimited soft drinks and a half a bottle of soju. If you go over two hours it costs $15 ever extra half hour. The Free Time costs $100 but gets you a bottle of champagne and there is no overtime. I thought (naively, as it turns out), that 2 hrs. would be more than enough time, so I chose that and then, without further ado, he let us through another passageway and into the club.
Club Air is one of the classier, and thus more expensive, clubs you can go to, but the quality is immediately noticeable as you enter inside. The interior is primarily black, the seats black, the floors black, the walls tiled with shiny obsidian that are so clear you can see your reflection in them. In places along the walls, silver, curling designs of mirror break up the dark colors, streams of crystal chains hang like curtains to separate individual booth-like tables from each other, almost hiding those within from any outsider’s view. There is a small disco ball hanging off to the right, surreptitiously, near the pyramid of standing crystal champagne glasses that are lit from below in a glass case. To get a better idea of what the place looks like, you can watch the end of the first episode of the drama Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge (starring Kame from Kattun), as the end of that episode takes place in this actual club.
So, we’re seated in a corner and there is a guy waiting for us. He asks us what we want to drink first and I order soju, then he hands us ‘the book’ and acts us to make our first selections. ‘The book,’ is a binder full of all the pictures of all the hosts that work at the club (28 to be exact). You sift through them and choose which one you want to meet first. At host clubs (any host club), your first visit is different than any repeat visit. One difference is that it’s much, much, much cheaper. Another major difference is that you actually get to meet pretty much all the hosts. The reason for this is so that you know which one you want to choose on your second visit. Starting on the second visit, you pay more for the table charge, you have to pay an unholy amount of tax, and you have to pay what they call a ‘nomination fee.’ The nomination fee is meant to appear separate, but is in fact mandatory. On your second visit, you choose which host is to be ‘your host’ from them on, and you cannot change, no matter what, regardless of if you start to like someone else better or not. The nomination fee is so that the club knows who to accredit your money to, which in turn raises your particular host's status in the club, helping to further him in his attempt at hitting the #1 rank.
So anyway, we picked our guys and in no time, mine was right there and with him came another, tall but young kid. Mine was very energetic and of course, handsome, looking sort of like the lead singer of The KIDDIE. He tried to teach us a game having to do with numbers and thumbs, which failed miserably as I couldn’t quite work out the rules, but his main purpose was to get us drinking, one which he succeeded at (after about the first 30-40 min, they stopped trying to get us to drink). As far as the drinking goes, you have a regular-sized glass and the hosts have small glasses, which they fill up with ice. Some of them did drink alcohol, and always asked if they could, but I would say that most of them just kept to water. When they would sit down, they would say ‘Cheers’ and clink glasses with you, and they would do this again when they were about to leave, thanking you for your time. Another side note: every one of them asked the same two questions. 1) Do you have a boyfriend (I’m assuming this is to figure out if you’re there because you’re lonely/want a fake relationship) and 2) What type of guy do you like (so they know what to act like). I was also often asked how old I was.
So, after my first guy (Natsuki), I got Hikaru (aka Handsy), who, despite being my anti-type, the sort that I deem my very opposite, turned out to be the one I begrudgingly admit that I liked the best. But we’ll get to that later. Up until he came, the hosts had been sitting across the tables from us, but he bounded right over, moved the cushion out of the way and slid in right beside me. Two other guys came over, presented their cards (they all do this before they sit down), and made a few feeble attempts to get my attention away from Hikaru, but to no avail, as he somehow managed to have my undivided attention. But, in my defense, he started off with a magic trick. How is a girl supposed to win against that? He then started down the path of blatant lies and flattery, telling me how beautiful I was, how soft my skin was, etc. (you get the picture). Then he showed off his muscles and his extremely expensive accessories, and again, you get the picture. Hikaru is, in short, the stereotype of a host. He was the only one that went on and on with the compliments and flattery. I mean, he even did the old ‘let’s compare hands’ thing, for crying out loud!
After him followed the Yamapi look-alike, and then a steady stream of guys who each stayed at least 20 min., sometimes more before 'changing' out. Some were higher ranking hosts, some were ‘helpers,’ and it was usually clear which was which. Of the string of guys that were my hosts, only about four stand out of the mix after ol' Handsy, though I hardly even spoke to the ones who were more or less my friend’s. One was a very nice, probably quite young guy who had a boy-next-door feel. Like the others, after about 10 min. he made the excuse of ‘Japanese hosts sit over here,’ and moved in beside me, but he was rather unthreatening and we had a very long, intelligent conversation. He said he usually worked at a club in Roppongi, and I asked him about being a host, and he said that it had it’s hard times, but that on the whole it was fun because he got to talk about all different kinds of things with different kinds of people. We also talked about the economy, about the strength of the yen against the dollar and how most countries seemed to be in a slump.
Then there was the Oguri Shun kid. He really did look just like Oguri Shun at about 16 years old, with longer red-and-blond streaked hair. He said he was 23, but man he looked young. He stayed for a long time with us and we chatted about American bands (he’s in a group as a drummer that plays covers of American songs), and about him being a host. He said that at the club, they don’t have janitors or anything, but that they all stay after close and have to clean the place top to bottom before the morning shift comes in.
And then there was Michi, my second favorite. He was the spitting image of Hee Chul from Super Junior, red hair and all, but with the exact opposite personality. He was quite reserved, but seemed markedly intelligent to me. Whether he was typically that quiet or not was hard to tell because the cutey that came with him for my friend was rather loud and rambunctious. We didn’t talk about a whole lot, but he said he’d been told that he looked like Shou from Alice Nine, which I didn’t entirely see, though perhaps a little in the eyes. When I mentioned/explained about him looking like Hee Chul, he laughed and proclaimed himself ‘global.’
One random anecdote is when I had to go to the bathroom. If you have to go, you tell them and whoever's with you will walk you to the bathroom and open the door for you (the guy I was with jokingly asked if I wanted him to stay), and then they wait outside (not directly outside the door, mind you), for you, and when you come out, they hand you a warm hand towel and walk you back to your seat.
Certainly the language thing was an obstacle. There were times when I spent a lot of my time talking more to my friend’s host than my own simply be means of being a translator, though the boisterous kid mentioned above was clever, taking out a napkin and writing what few English words he knew on it (like ‘example’) and then, in the conversation, when he’d say those words in Japanese, he’d point to the word on the paper. You’re probably curious about what we talked about in general. Of course I was asked where I was from and a little bit about America (what a typical American date is like, for instance), we talked a lot about language, about music, about food, things we like to do in our private time, where we like to go, but also about things like the economy, politics, etc. There was (which I found surprising), very little fawning over me, which was just fine, and I thought it was interesting and slightly unexpected that they would actually talk about their personal lives, their hobbies, where they live. And you could ask them anything and they would answer you (like my asking about their work as a host). But on the whole, the conversations were as different as the guys themselves.
Our last host came in around the last half hour. He was a half Brazilian/half Japanese guy named Gin, who could speak some English, and we talked with him about the peculiarities of Japan, and how Westerners typically think that Asian men are effeminate. There were a few champagne calls and, as the lights dimmed, he would leave to join the group of hosts surrounding whoever had ordered the champagne. The would sing, waving huge red fans that read ‘Festival’ on them until the champagne was poured and then the woman would make a comment into a microphone. At around 12:15/12:30 (bear in mind, the shop ‘closes’ at midnight), the #1 host was given a microphone and , as the lights dimmed again, the words to a song came up on the various screens hanging from the ceiling around the club and he sang the Last Song. (This was the first and only time I ever saw the #1 host, except watching him go back and forth with his arms slung around various girls. Strangely enough, he was the only one dressed casual of all the guys, as everyone else looked sharp in trendy suits whereas he was wearing a printed T-shirt, jeans and a vest.)
When I asked Gin about why the place was still open, he said that they officially stop business at midnight and the customers have to be out by 1, otherwise the cops will come in and arrest people (as there’s now a law against host/hostess clubs, and other business of the Mizushobai [as these sorts of businesses are called] being open between 1 am and sunrise). This had to be true, because on the taxi ride back, I saw a few cops lazily meandering the streets.
So, our bill came and we were asked who we wanted to escort us out. I chose Michi (the Hee Chul guy), and my friend picked Anji, who it turns out is actually #2 at that club and one of the bosses. So, we were led back to the vestibule where Michi and Anji were waiting, and we ascended the staircase together. Michi offered me his arm and then asked if he could give me a hug, as we reached the top of the stairs. Of course, I obliged. Then, as they wished us a safe journey home, we walked about 10 feet to a waiting taxi and started back.
Now, I have to apologize for my stupidity. See, you’re allowed to take a picture with up to three people and, foolish as I am, I totally forgot, so I don’t have any picture to offer you except of the handful of business cards I was given. If I go again, I promise to take a picture to show you, and my friend has one of the outside of the club, so I’ll upload that too, when she sends it to me.
Anyway, so there’s a quick course in host clubs. I would encourage you to go, but would have you heed this advice: First of all, if you’re going to go, you need to be able to understand about 80% of Japanese conversation. If you can’t, it’s not going to be that much fun because at a host club, 99% of it is talking and only about 1% is drinking. So you’re going to be talking, non stop, for about 4 hours. It may not be the most intellectual conversation you could have, but it’s still going to require some Japanese language skills. If you can’t do it, it’s going to be boring for you and hard for your host. Secondly, and lastly, I would caution you to go only if your visiting, not living in, Japan, or if you only have a short amount of time left. Because these guys make a career of getting women to fall in love with them, and inevitably, one of them will succeed with you. And host club going is a VERY expensive hobby/addiction. You need to have limits on yourself so you don’t go broke. I’m just sayin’. But it is a blast, not gonna lie.
Here’s the page of hosts for the club I went to ‘Club Air ~ Grace~,’ which is owned by a company called Air Group (which owns all the other clubs on this page [at the top]). As you can see, there’s the top 5 hosts ranked for this month at the top, then all the others below, with the last three being staff/not hosts. Have a look around the site and enjoy, but fyi, they look nothing like their pictures (not better or worse, just different). http://air.air-group.jp/staffg.html