Hostess with the mostess

In Tokyo women amuse themselves with host boys – whose look is quite unusual to some of us: Their sweetish appearance and their dainty hair styles help them luring hundreds of women into their clubs.

Fluffy thin strands of hair falling onto rosy cheeks, big round pupils shimmering like varnish, little lips pursed to a smile: These are the faces of the ‘host boys’ starring down at passersby from posters in Tokyo’s Kabukichō district. Posters as huge as Pepsi advertisements in New York’s Time Square – Sometimes up to 10 of these pictures are glued onto the skyscrapers of the so called ‘host clubs’ – written below the cute faces sparkle numbers. A ranking.
It is Japanese women who visit these windowless concrete buildings to spend the night with a host boy. Only to talk. And to drink. Touching is forbidden. Some of the boys dance and sing as well, everyone’s got a special skill to present. Inside the club women pick the guy they want according to their personal preferences – there is also a ‘cool’ type of guy, that is the one who can be seen wearing a leather jacket on the posters outside. Furthermore, it is possible to ‘try out’ up to two or three different hosts and then ‘keep’ your favourite. The couple will then retreat to a table in lounge-like rooms, not alone, not separated from everyone else, but private enough to enjoy the host’s company.
The visiting lady then proceeds to buy her host drinks, the more the merrier – after all the host with the biggest turnover in the club will receive the number 1 on his poster.

The goal of these boys is animation and encouraging the women to order drinks – for their number in the ranking and especially their salary. The payment is adjusted to their turnover.
‘Ideally’ the ladies fall in love with the host and keep on coming back to him. Every weekend, or weekday.
A joyful evening costs between 300 and 600 euros, drinks don’t come cheap.
The new men of the club have to stand outside though – to attract new customers.

The aesthetic is unusual to Western eyes at first: Very tender, nearly fragile looking boys smirk and parade around the clubs. Calling them men feels kind of hard.
Make-up is not only a must for the images – concealer and eyeliner are an obligatory part of their uniform. Hair is styled as carefully as a that of a German primetime news reporter. Outfits are completely over the top and match the stereotype represented (‘rock star’, ‘sportsman’, ‘hipster’ or also available ‘fighter/soldier’).

Within the early lunch hours, we find the boys smoking in the backyards, leaving their shift or just starting a new one. One boy is sitting in a garage, full of colourful balloons and glitter garlands, blowing up more balloons. Potentially for an upcoming birthday party of one of the boys – those are the clubs’ biggest parties. The decoration reminds one of beauty editors’ birthday-themed office desks: A pink cloud with a lot of glitter.

“It is an absolute dream,” gushes a twenty-seven-year-old nurse, “they treat you like a princess. Better than every boyfriend.” 

Exchanging a meaningful look with a stranger in a café? Receiving a cheeky smile? Usually next to impossible in the megapolis that calls itself Tokyo. Those looking for a helping hand while hurrying through Tokyo’s underground system with two heavy suitcases will keep on looking. All men will turn away without any exception.
Suddenly being a princess for one night starts to sound tempting. And how proud one must feel if one’s prince is the number 1, your chosen one’s face plastered all over the house facades. That does require the princes to swallow down quite a lot, stay in top form and not optically remove themselves too far from their blurred portraits.
They exchange tips and hacks right in the club and on blogs: “Throw up right after drinking. That is how you prevent the alcohol from reaching your bloodstream.”
They hit the gym straight after their shift. The bigger clubs have their own beauty salons that offer hairdressing and even fake tanning services. They will also gladly provide touch-ups between shifts.

Up until the early morning hours the usually so disciplined living Japanese stumble out of the clubs. If they are still able to walk. If not, their hosts will put them in cabs right away. Many of them seem to be quite young, like twenty-somethings. It is the elder ones who spend the night or a couple hours with their hosts in one of the Love-Hotels. Those are often conveniently located right next to the clubs and also have beauty salons for women. After all, the women want to be looking fresh and flawless the next morning as well.

Visiting a host in Tokyo is not a taboo. Judging by the size of the buildings, there are probably a lot of (regular) customers. And there are more than 200 clubs in Tokyo alone – the first one opened in the mid-60s.

Laura Dunkelmann
[Art ]
SMILE, Taro Yamada, 2005
Mai 27, 2019
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