This is a story of an Eastern European girl who ventured into Japanese hostess bars. Let’s call her Anna. She was very curious about Japanese hostess bars and wanted to know why guys pay so much money. So she decided to try it out herself.
What’s special about Anna is that she ended up working for a very high-class hostess bar. Usually hostess bars cost a couple of hundred dollars per night, but she says that in a high-class bar, it’s not unusual to spend $30,000 a night.
‘These guys are billionaires,’ she tells us in a business networking event. Girls are told not to press customers to order drinks. They are too rich for that.
‘Top girls earn $100,000 a month,’ she says. The minimum salary is about $2,000, but the customers spend so much money that some girls end up earning much more.
Despite the extremely high salaries, the girls don’t seem to offer much. It’s a legal hostess bar and there’s no sexual service involved. Normally, Japanese hostess bars have an option for clients to go out with hostesses before or after shifts, but according to Anna, her place doesn’t offer that service either. In fact, a lot of customers don’t even talk to the girls; they just socialise among themselves.
‘Girls are more like regular waitresses,’ she says.
Then, why would men pay tens of thousands of dollars?
That was what she set out to find out. She didn’t find the high-class job at first. On the contrary, her first place was a very seedy bar. Consider that she found her first job on craigslist. You can easily imagine the nature of the kind of hostess bar that posts an anonymous ad on craigslist.
‘How much do you think those girls get paid per night?’ she asks. She is talking about a strip club she knew. Being a stripper is not an easy job and girls have to entertain many customers a night. Yet, according to her, they only get paid about $100 a day. That’s extremely low pay for sexual work considering Tokyo’s standard.
She didn’t work at the seedy bar for long. Eventually, one of her customers introduced her to a different bar, a very high-class one. Working conditions were completely different.
‘I wasn’t even a hostess,’ she says. She was just helping the management. All she had to do was work on her laptop, except she was expected to use a table inside the bar that was filled with men. But she didn’t have to talk to anybody; just sitting there and working was enough. She was paid about $300 a night.
She was confused. Why were they willing to pay her that much money for minimal work? She asked the owner, a middle-aged South American woman. She didn’t get a clear answer. She asked another question:
‘Why do men pay that much money to see the girls even though the girls don’t seem to do much and some men don’t even talk to them?’ The answer was very revealing:
‘These men don’t come to talk to the girls. They come to see me,’ the owner said.
They come to see a middle-aged woman instead of young girls? Why?
‘Because they are my friends,’ the owner said. So that was the trick. The girls at the bar simply didn’t matter much because it was the relationship between the owner and the customer that was crucial to the business. Japanese society is very relationship-oriented. Often, Japanese people choose to do business with somebody they know well instead of somebody who has the best track record. The owner knew how to do business in Japan.
In fact, the owner had been a hostess herself. Her current customers were her long-term customers when she was a hostess. During the decades when she was a hostess, she was slowing building business relationships. When she retired as a hostess, she started her own business. From day one, she had loyal customers.
‘The customer service is very impressive,’ Anna says. There are numerous notebooks in the bar and each customer has many pages of entries recording details of his birthday, personal history, relationship status, business trip schedule, children’s profile etc. All the important information is there. When a customer comes back from a business trip, the owner asks him about the trip. When it’s his birthday, she celebrates it with him. She is almost like his family.
Still, spending tens of thousands per night is a lot. Why would they choose that expensive bar instead of more affordable ones? Why doesn’t she lose customers because of the high prices?
‘It doesn’t really matter to them. These guys are true billionaires,’ she tells me. Does this mean that they spend money because they can? ‘Yes, because they can!’ she says.
Indeed, the customers are very high profile. Amongst the examples she gives, there is the CEO of an internationally known Japanese company, executives of a very famous global American company, and a few celebrities (even though most are business people). They have more money than they can spend.
‘So, is it more like a normal bar except that it’s extremely expensive and there are some beautiful girls to look at? They don’t care that they won’t get anything from the girls?’ I ask.
‘Yes,’ she says. If they wanted something sexual, they could get it somewhere else. Money isn’t an issue. They just go there after work for a few drinks with their co-workers just like normal people do. They happen to choose that place because they are regulars.
‘So, what kinds of girls work there?’ I ask. I am curious. Surely, there’s something special about them for it’s a very well-paid job.
‘Well, they are actually not that special,’ she says. They are just normal Eastern European girls like her. But if there’s something special about them, it’s their ability to connect with people. These girls are very good at making connections. When they go to parties, they always get new customers.
‘But there’s one thing many guys don’t know,’ she says importantly. ‘In order to work in a legal bar, the girls need to have a legal status in Japan. Unless it’s a very seedy bar, nobody wants to hire them without a working visa. Do you know what this means? It means that they are always married, and their husbands know what they do.’
‘One thing I learned there was that guys like quiet girls who don’t challenge them,’ she continues. ‘The best girls don’t talk too much, and in the end, guys like them.’ I’m not sure if it applies to all men.
‘Do you think it’s universal though? Don’t you think that’s something cultural?’ I ask.
‘No,’ she says, ‘every guy likes quiet girls even if they claim otherwise.’
‘Well, I prefer someone I can have a good discussion with. Quiet girls are not very interesting to me,’ I say.
‘You are just saying that! You secretly like the quiet ones like all the other guys,’ she says. She is very firm about it. The thing is, she seems to be a very outspoken person who is not afraid to contradict people; she is the opposite of a quiet, docile girl. Is there resentment in her voice? I’m not sure. But, it makes me think about what kind of life experience had made her believe in that idea.
If you are interested in sex in Japan, I would recommend my new book There’s Something I Want to Tell You: True Stories of Mixed Dating in Japan.