I’m happy to report that the geisha world is alive and well in Kabuki-chō…only these days it’s populated by gorgeous young guys decked out in visual-kei style whose job it is to entertain women like the princesses we wish we were.
When I first started researching Fallen Angel, I discovered just how hard it is for a foreigner to get into a host club AIEEEE! But in a stroke of amazing luck, I discovered that my friend Yuki plays flag football with the manager of an excellent Kabuki-chō club, so she talked Kiichi-san into letting us come, even though I am a scary foreigner.(Roppongi is where most foreigners go to play; Kabuki-chō is for Japanese who want to cut loose. Hardly any of the entertainers speak English, and the services on offer require a native understanding of how things work, not to mention an ability to read the signs laying out what’s allowed and what’s not. Foreigners are perfectly safe walking around the neighborhood, but are not usually welcomed into most businesses.)
When we arrived around 8:30, about five of the tables were occupied by hosts entertaining customers. White leather banquettes lined the walls, and seductive studio portraits of the hosts flashed continuously above. The interior was dark and sparkly, with the owner’s All Japan Host Grand Prix 2004 belt prominently displayed as we walked in. It looked exactly like Muhammed Ali’s heavyweight champion of the world belt, except the club owner had to knock out thousands of opponents with superior cigarette lighting skills, drink pouring chops, and charm.
Kiichi-san seated us in the corner and brought us a bottle of shō-chū (Japanese vodka, basically). Host clubs don’t sell individual drinks; customers must buy a bottle (usually shō-chū, saké or brandy), which can run to thousands of dollars. There is no menu (although general prices are posted on the club’s website) – if you have to ask how much, you can’t afford it. As various hosts rotated to our table, they freshened our drinks and poured one for themselves.
The other tables began to fill up, and it was clear that the rest of the clients were in established relationships with particular hosts. Most of them were professional hostesses (gorgeous, perfectly made up, really short dresses and high heels) but some were slightly older women who could afford to pay for attention.
The current fashionable hostly look is loosely modeled on visual kei rock musicians and J-Pop stars like the bishonen from Johnny’s Jimusho. If American men dressed like these guys I’d gag, but somehow the hosts made the chest-baring shirts, tight, dark suits, artfully wrapped scarves, and the rhinestone and chain jewelry look mighty stylish.
And the hair! Finally, an opportunity to ask about the top-secrit hair products used by visual kei vocalists and other summer-weather-challenged entertainers! So here’s the scoop: First of all it’s definitely not do-it-yourself – every day a professional hair-make stylist arrives before work to do all the hosts’ hair. Nearly all of them bleach, although some go for the dark with blond streaks look. And how are such meringues of perfection produced? 1: all-over industrial-strength hair wax. 2: get out the ratting comb. 3: tweak and arrange. Finally: super hard hair spray.
Conversation turned to the group vacation they all took to Hawaii together. (Your club becomes your life, especially since you work nights and it’s hard to keep up with friends who work days.) These guys speak not a word of English, so I asked them how they managed on Oahu. What did they eat? Hamburgers. Where did they stay? In a hotel where everybody speaks Japanese. What did they do? Hung out together on the beach. Their hair got to take a vacation too – a whole week without teasing and products.
Yuki had to go to work in the morning, so we left around midnight. The bill for the evening was only 3,000 yen (about $30). At most clubs, the first “introductory” visit is purposely inexpensive. After that, it’s about $150 just to walk in the door, before drinks.
Worth it? Numbers don’t lie: by the time we left, the club was packed.
The TOP TEN QUESTIONS ABOUT HOST CLUBS series:
Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo. If you ‘d like to feel what it’s like to go to a host club but you’re not in Tokyo right now, you can always slip behind closed doors and meet the hosts of Club Nova in Fallen Angel…
Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!