"You have to pet their egos," said Elizabeth. "That's what a hostess does." Now, in her early 30's and married, Elizabeth is living a very different life but was still eager to share her experiences. But only a few years ago, she spent six months working at a hostess club here in Japan.
Elizabeth came to Japan, like many people, wanting to explore Japanese culture and intending to work a little on the side to support her adventure. Yet, with no college degree, getting a job—even one teaching English—proved to be an impossibility. When it became apparent that this was the case, Elizabeth arranged for a Japanese friend to introduce her to a hostess club on the outskirts of Tokyo. The owner, a Pakistani man, was more than happy to let her join his primarily Filipino club.
Five nights a week—and that always included weekends—Elizabeth worked from 8 pm to 4 or 5 am. She and the rest of the hostesses would stand in the back of the club near the mini-bar. When a customer came in, he would pre-pay for his time in the club. Then, if no specific hostess was asked for, Elizabeth and the other girls would take turns with the client, rotating every fifteen minutes. During her time with the client, Elizabeth's main job was to provide enjoyable conversation—and sometimes sing karaoke. In addition to this, she would keep her client's glass full and constantly wipe it with a towel so it would never slip out of the client's increasingly unsteady grasp.
A large chunk of hostess club earnings come from drinks—and not just those of the customers. Most of the time, the customer will pay for the hostess to drink as well. "The downside," Elizabeth stated seriously, "is you can get sick very easily because drinking is how you make your money."
On an eight-hour shift, Elizabeth would spend the majority of that time drinking. While she typically chose the weakest drinks she could order, she still worried about her health. Many hostesses, Elizabeth included, would often order grape juice under the guise of wine. While most clients didn't even notice they were paying for the world's most expensive cup of grape juice, even those who did didn't seem put off by it—perhaps understanding her situation.
At closing time, just like in most Japanese stores, Auld Lang Syne would come over the PA system and the customers would file out. When asked if the girls ever went home with their
clients, Elizabeth gave an emphatic no—and not just for moral reasons. "Especially when it's a male customer—if a woman sleeps with him, they don't come back anymore. Even male hosts won't sleep with their female customers, because you've giving them a fantasy," she explained. And as with all fantasies, when you obtain the reality, the fantasy is shattered.
But all was not well in the Filipino hostess club. Serving mostly blue collar construction workers on the outskirts of Tokyo, she often found herself the victim of unwanted groping. Elizabeth was more than a little uncomfortable. "[A hostess club] is not a place for prostitution or a place you can get a cheap feel. If we wanted to be prostitutes, we'd work at a soapland. We wouldn't work at a hostess club. In fact, you'd probably get paid better at a soapland!" she explained. However, the Mama-san (the female manager) didn't enforce the no groping rule, leaving Elizabeth to fight them off herself, all while trying to keep them as customers.
That wasn't her only problem with her coworkers. Being the only Caucasian in the club, she would often receive compliments on her exotic looks from the clientele—compliments that generated quite a bit of animosity from the other hostesses. After only a few months of working there, conditions in the club became untenable; and despite the owner asking her to stay, she moved on.
While the experience hadn't been all she had hoped for, Elizabeth was not quite ready to throw in the towel. Her next club was owned by a Japanese man and was full of Russian-born hostesses.
No longer the odd duck in the group, Elizabeth got along much better with her coworkers. Now located in central Tokyo, she found herself entertaining V.P.s and C.E.O.s wanting to practice their English as much as wanting to be doted on by an attractive woman. One of her regulars, a company president, enjoyed her rocker look. As he had been raised on American classic rock, they spent most of their time singing karaoke as they drank.
As a hostess, Elizabeth made between $1000 and $2000 a week, depending on her customers. Many girls made more by doing "douhan"—where the client basically pays to take the hostess out on a date. While usually safe—as these dates are often done in the afternoon and end up finishing back at the hostess club itself—it was after one of these that Lucie Blackman, a 21 year-old British hostess was abducted and later killed back in 2000.
While many clubs require "douhan," Elizabeth's did not. Though she was quick to add that "if the girl wants to form a bond with the customer, she should probably say yes [to the date]."
When her time in Japan was up, Elizabeth quit her hostessing job and went back to the U.S.—only to return to Japan a few months later to marry her Japanese boyfriend. Now she teaches English at a private school, living happily in Japan to this day.
"There is a lot of stress involved in the hostess club," Elizabeth said in closing. "I'd never advise anyone to get a job that requires you to drink alcohol on a daily basis. It's not good for your health and having to stay up all night is really difficult for a lot of people. So no, I wouldn't recommend it."