The Underworld of Japan: Host Clubs and Cabaret Clubs

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G'Day Japan! / Do / Eat & Drink / The Underworld of Japan: Host Clubs and Cabaret Clubs

Walking along the streets to the side of any CBD or central city area in Japan, you’re more than likely to come across signage with glam photos of men and women. These are called ‘host club’  and ‘kyabakura’ which is short for ‘cabaret club’. The capital district of these clubs is Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku, Tokyo city. The host club and kyabakura business is a flashy business, and the town is just as bright and mesmerising.

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Firstly, host clubs cater to female customers where kyabakura caters to male customers – they have the same concept as a business, just different target audiences. Both at host clubs and kyabakuras, you’ll be met with a slew of attractive men or women who have been blessed with the gift of gab and tactical flirtation. Upon arrival for your first visit, you’ll be presented with a menu or a list of what the business calls the ‘cast’. You’ll choose your pick, if available, you’ll be seated with them and possibly a few up and comers. To get the ball rolling, the customer must first purchase a drink (at higher scale clubs, you must purchase by the bottle) for yourself and your host or hostess.

These businesses do walk a very fine line between the services industry and the sex industry. During your time you will drink and converse with your host or hostess flirtatiously but purely verbally. These clubs are not a prostitution service (however, there are of course those individuals that participate) and any kind of inappropriate physical contact is banned. The game of the hosts are to make you drink therefore spend as much as possible as they make commission from the sales made. These hosts and hostesses are professional salesmen and women, they’ll keep you at a comfortable temperature, totally engaged so you wouldn’t even have a clue how much you’ve spent until the check comes – which for any first timers or foreigners can come as a big, expensive surprise.

The game of the hosts are to make you drink therefore spend as much as possible as they make commission from the sales made. These hosts and hostesses are professional salesmen and women – some even give out their emails and phone numbers to ‘stay in touch’. When you’re with them, they’ll keep you at a comfortable temperature, totally engaged so you wouldn’t even have a clue how much you’ve spent until the check comes – which for any first timers or foreigners can come as a big, expensive surprise.

Kyabakura / Cabaret Clubs

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© Danny Choo

You might say that the women who work at the kyabakura are modern day versions of geisha girls. They are often referred to as ‘kyaba-jo’ or ‘hostess’ and their primary job is to entertain guests with alcohol and conversation. There are themed clubs out there as well as budget clubs which can start from about ¥3,000 yen for 40-60 minutes plus drinks – certain budget clubs do provide the option of all you can drink at a set fee as well.

At a more refined, high-end club you may be expected to pay anywhere from ¥5,000 up to ¥15,000 for 45-90 minutes with your chosen hostess. The drink prices of these places are much higher and the higher class the club, the more likelihood of it being  bottle-service-only. A lot of the customers that come to a well-established club are businessmen who not only use the club to entertain themselves but to entertain business associates and potential customers of their own. The more they spend, the bigger the stakes.

For an extra fee (and extra commission to the hostess) there are services called ‘dohan’ which mean the hostess will meet for a non-sexual date before her shift begins in the evening. Or ‘after’ where one can kick on with the hostesses (drinks are expected to be bought for the women).

Host Club

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Host Clubs have been around since the 90’s, but initially it was seen as a slightly obscene business for middle-aged women. In the past two decades though, it has evolved and turned into a highly popular scene with women of all ages and all walks of life becoming fast fans.

Unlike kyabakuras, the punters at host clubs are there purely for pleasure. From women in their mid 20s to women well past 60 go to be entertained by their favourite or the No.1 host of the club in the evenings, spending frivolously for the attention. Most clubs rank their hosts in order of sales and popularity, the commission made by these top men can go up to ¥1,000,000 on a good day.

The way the club operates is the same as kyabakuras save for a few variances, but with host clubs choosing your host is taken way more seriously. The point of the business is to have regular customers and not one time only customers – one of the reasons why it can be difficult for foreigners to enter host clubs. It is expected that you decide on a host you are to commit to for as long as you visit the club within the first few visits. With this system it is no surprise that many women (and men at kyabakuras) become infatuated with their host (or hostess), creating a relationship that only exists within the four walls of the club.