The Normalization of Hostessing

Hostessing an honorable profession, young women say

I had never seen any polls backing up the thesis outlined in the article title, but the larger youth culture definitely pointed signs towards a general acceptance of hosts and hostessing. I mean, the hottest subcultural styles in recent years have been O-nii-kei for boys and Koakuma Gyaru for girls — admittedly “yankee” delinquent fashion looks, but both based on idolizing people in the mizu shoubai nightlife. Now thanks to marketer-extraordinaire Miura Atsushi, we see that about a quarter to a third of young women are pretty comfortable with “lighting pathetic smelly old misogynist patriarchs’ cigarettes” as a career aspiration.

You don’t have to be a moral crusader to be upset about this development. Wanting to become a hostess either requires an incredible lack of imagination or just chronic disillusion at work opportunities for women. Being a hostess is not a “long-term career,” but when your options as a woman are being a “secretary” or a “serious employee who has to drop out of the management track once pregnant,” hostessing looks like an equally winning destination. And when you work as an “office lady,” you have to flatter the exact same suits every day for much less money than a hostess. You can at least change out your assigned salarymen every 30 minutes as a hostess.

The main problem with the ensuing Sankei Shimbun moral outrage, however, is that this is clearly a product of social stratification. Dead is the idea that anybody can work hard enough to become a successful white collar employee. If you have no college degree and live in some godforsaken Iwate Prefecture village, what other options do you have upon arriving in Tokyo, with no money and no social capital, than to become a hostess. Imagine more and more people every year falling out of the middle class, and now hostessing makes more and more sense as an occupation.

By some estimates, 30% of professional models moonlight as cabaret hostesses.

This is only half the story. The real scoop here is that professional modeling agencies own and operate hostess clubs at which they employ their less popular models. Yes, if you want to be a model in Japan, your agency will basically half-pimp you out to Roppongi and Ginza to serve on entertainment executives while you are “in training.” If one of the corporate media bosses likes you, he will go to your agency head and say, “Hey, I like that girl Miho,” and they’ll say, “Which one is Miho? Oh you mean Kaho. Same bitch, thousand names, right? Ha ha. Okay, maybe we can let her be a model now instead of treating her like an indentured semi-sexual servant.” And the media guy will say, “Let us treat her like an indentured semi-sexual servant.” Then they’ll both laugh and money will change hands. Seriously, can you think of a better fly trap for hostesses than opening a “model agency”?

Screed aside, I blame the male customers for all this. There are a million hostessing jobs because there are ten million guys who are so inept with talking to normal women that they happily pay ¥6000 for an hour of “banter” and Suntory Old on the rocks. Prostitution is a universal; “kyabakura” is an aggregate of guys who need a pep talk and to learn to think about their own wives as human beings.

W. David MARX
May 23, 2008

13 Responses

  1. LS Says:

    There are a million hostessing jobs because there are ten million guys who are so inept with talking to normal women that they happily pay ¥6000 for an hour of “banter” and Suntory Old on the rocks.

    Bantering with a pricey hostess is a minor transgression, easily explained with a punt to cultural relativism. Japanese whiskey, on the other hand, is unforgivable.

  2. M-Bone Says:

    http://www.whiskymag.com/awards/wwa/best_blended_whisky.php

    Not the whiskey they drink at hostess clubs….

  3. Rin Says:

    I don’t think 1/3 of women believe hostessing is a good CAREER choice, I think they believe it’s not a bad part time job to have.

    Hostessing is also a way to support yourself while pursuing your dreams. If you’re an aspiring actress or singer or dancer, or if you’re a student supporting yourself, you can do worse than keep yourself from sinking into debt and giving up on your dreams.

  4. W. David MARX Says:

    Sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly ethical for the companies that control who becomes working actresses and singers to double that business with hostessing – thus making being a hostess (rather than being a waitress or secretary or something) part of the “training” process. Or in the worst case scenario, these companies charge you very high fees for dance and singing lessons (knowing full well that you will never make it) and then offer you a position at one of their hostess clubs to pay it off. This is a direct function of the mob running both the entertainment and mizu shobai rackets.

  5. Rin Says:

    You’re right about that (the mob stuff and the indentured servant type of thing).

    But I’ve worked as a hostess for a few years now in a few different clubs with many, many girls. I’ve never come across the above scenario. I agree with your criticism of this aspect of the entertainment industry, but I don’t think you can use that to criticize the hostess industry.

    I personally know a lot of girls that happily supported themselves on their way to better things, and know of a lot of famous and successful women who did so too.

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    Okay, but why does pursuing your dreams as a woman in Japan mean automatically having to place yourself in a position of sexual service and inferiority to older men? I don’t want to fault individuals for making their own choice to work in the sex industry in order to get to a higher goal, but I think it takes a seriously patriarchal society to make that kind of work so common for anyone trying to get ahead. Hostess clubs only exist in the numbers they do because they are an integrated part of the business world. Once you start having more and more female executives, that culture will die.

    There is also a difference between part-time hostess girls and “career” hostesses, who generally lack higher education and social capital.

  7. Rin Says:

    I agree with you there. Once women take over the business world, hostess clubs will just cease to exist.

  8. yago Says:

    it’s always amusing seeing outraged men moralizing about stuff women don’t find particularly outrageous.
    Hey, it’s their choice, isn’t it.
    I even saw in TV a book where Koike Yuriko wrote praising the hostesses’ independence and whatsoever.

    They don’t feel like prostitutes; who are you to lecture them about their dignity.

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    You brought up the word dignity. I just don’t believe that ushering millions of women into work with the primary purpose of “stoking men’s egos by giggling and letting them comment on the size of your breasts” is really adding positive value to Japanese society.

    We are not talking about choosing this line of work out of “free will” here. The whole occupation is predicated on men having all economic and political power. It’s an “inferior job” in the sense that declining economies in the countryside increases the number of girls with few options outside of hostessing. This isn’t about castigating women on their sexual morality: without patriarchy and underworld power, there would be no massive hostessing economy.

    Koike can respect hostesses all she wants, but she’s not going to quit her day job to work in some shitty bar in Shinjuku or let her daughters, sisters, grandchildren work there either.

  10. yago Says:

    What about those thousands of university students working part-time as キャバ女?
    I was surprised myself when I heard it, but they make more money than they would anywhere else, and they’re quite happy about it.

    Not like they need the money for anything else than brand accessories, and don’t misunderstand me, I personally do find it demeaning. But hey, they don’t seem to.

    You write a lot about the “underworld”, and rightly so, but I don’t see yakuza forcing these relatively well-off college students. Nor are the 援交 girls forced, etc. etc.

    The countryside economy is declining, and will continue declining for a long time; but what has that to do with patriarchy and the underworld? As far as I know it’s the modernising politicians which stopped pork-barrelling the provinces, and they’re not especially representative of the “patriarchy”.

  11. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    “guys who need a pep talk and to learn to think about their own wives as human beings.”

    Could just be that it’s fun.

  12. d.b. crump Says:

    it’s an “inferior job” in the sense that declining economies in the countryside increases the number of girls with few options outside of hostessing.

    yes because girls in the countryside had so many ‘superior’ options to begin with.

    The whole occupation is predicated on men having all economic and political power.

    so is being an OL. The problem is much less your anecdotal/sensationalized underworld/entertainment industry angle, and more the historic lack of anything but ‘inferior’ options for women. economically being a hostess is without a doubt a ‘superior job’ giving women money and the independenc that comes with it. It may not be a good ‘career’ but then neither is being an OL in most companies, in fact for many girls being married remains the essential career path and being an OL is just a new postmodern step in that process.

  13. W. David MARX Says:

    more the historic lack of anything but ‘inferior’ options for women.

    I agree with you fundamentally.