These days there are many foreigners coming to Japan. If you see one in Japan who obviously isn't a tourist, the chances are that he/she will be teaching English somewhere. But for women there might be one other option--being a hostess in a Japanese bar. There are literally thousands of bars all across the country, catering to the Japanese workaholic businessmen. For some, teaching English alone is not enough to pay the bills. For others, whose first language isn't English, being a hostess is one of the few choices left, and these days you see not only Koreans and Chinese doing it but women from all over, including America, Russian, and Europe as well.
Is it for you? How much can you make? How is it different?
Well, first things first.
Why do they exist in the first place? In short, it's because Japan is a MALE DOMINATED SOCIETY. And to them there are 2 kinds of women--the kind you have fun with and the kind that is docile, serious, responsible, and good mothers to raise their kids. The hostess fits into the former category.
As usual, the truth lies in the middle. Some that do it justify it as being "modern day Geisha", just as the traditional artisans have for centuries. But being a hostess is not the same, and while not nearly as numerous as in days gone by, the geisha of Japan are still very much around (especially in the old capital, Kyoto) and anyone can quickly see the differences. To be a geisha takes years and years of rigorous training as an apprentice (maiko) in traditional musical instuments such as the koto and shamisen (a small, twangy lute), as well as dance, arts, rituals, manners, tea ceremony and often flower arrangement and calligraphy. She embodies the ideal of what all Japanese men want a Japanese woman to be--beautiful, talented, charming, and sensual in a subtle, refined way.
Compare that with the hot, sexy, ostentatious lady in a brightly colored tight suit and four-inch heels who can hold her liquor and not only enjoy lewd sexual banter and blatant jokes but return the favor as well. No talent or training is required--only a half-decent figure, and a lot of patience. Her duties are getting the men to spend LOTS of money on drinks and food, sing karaoke, perhaps slow-dance with a customer, serve them, and be an ego masseuse. But since the requirements are a lot less strict, there is a door for many Japanese and foreigners to become one.
That said, they are NOT as the critics say just a slut or hooker either (but admittedly could become one in a heartbeat if she wanted). A hostess is NEVER required to have sex with the customers--period. Of course there have been (and still are) stories of women, mainly from southeast Asia who were lured to Japan with promises of jobs as dancers or hostesses and immediately got their passsports taken away and forced into prostitution. The danger is very real. But that happens far less for western women--so being cautious is important, but not to the point of paranoia.
You'll find many stores have one area of clothes or shoes for the bar hostess.
Sure! Well, let's do the necessary weeding out first. If you're a Lesbian, a Mormon, a militant feminist, a diehard Birkenstock-wearing Granola, a Prude, a Teetotaler, or just plain sensitive to tobacco smoke than DON'T WASTE YOUR TIME and cancel that plane reservation.
Imagine you were thinking of going to, say, Los Angles for a trip, but then all your friends suddenly jumped at you saying how several years ago there was this kook named Dancin Chuck Manson and how if you go someone like him is just gonna slice you up into little pieces. Sounds nuts? Then why should it be any different for a foreign country?
Lucy Blackman was a woefully underpaid former British flight attendent who decided to go to Japan and try her hand at hostessing. Unfortunately she ended up having a psycho as one of her customers who killed and decapitated her. Blackman's tale is rehashed ad nauseum every time someone inquires about hostessing. In a way, it may be a good thing -- pretty much anyone who mentions her name has more or less shot his credibility down to zero. Ask someone else for their insights.
The two best sources are 1) Word Of Mouth, and 2) The newspaper classifieds. By far the former is better since you can get a feel of what it's like to work at a particular place. Actually very few bars accept foreign hostesses at all -- knowing where to go is the first important step. Looking in the Monday edition of The Japan Times, which has that week's classified advertisements, is also one good place to start.
You'll probably be surprised at just how small many of the bars are. Some seat only 10 customers or so.
Many hostess bars (especially in the suburbs) are named after the owner's first name. In the one above, the name is "Naoko", a typical woman's name. Others are given overly romantic or goofy names; it isn't hard to tell what kind of bar it is just by the name or looking at the place from outside.
There are several positive aspects to look at. Work is relatively easy to find. Don't like working at a place? Find another -- as long as you don't look like a train wreck and have a positive mental attitude, finding a new job can be done without too much difficulty. Turnover at many bars is pretty frequent (which says something in itself).
Pay is fairly decent -- about 3500 to 5000 yen per hour. You can easily pull in 18,000 yen a night or more! And where else can you get paid for chatting, looking gorgeous, and having OTHER people buy you drinks?? You can easy pull in double through weedling tips from your favorite customers, of course making it look like giving you money is to their benefit really, such so you can buy some nicer clothes to wear just for them ... ;-)
It's also a great way to pick up some of the language quickly. You should know at least a little Japanese before you work, but unlike teaching English where many managers frown or get in a huff if you speak some Japanese, the more Japanese you learn, the more money you can make.
Needless to say, there are lots of negatives to think about also.
First, it's ILLEGAL. At best the work you can get is part-time only, which means you can't get a work visa through it. Unless you get a visa someplace else, like teaching English, going to a school, etc., you'll lose everything in a heartbeat if the police come, your mama-san decides to screw you over, or even worse, if the mafia are in any way involved. And you can't get a Working Holiday visa for entertainment type of work.
Plus, you will be constantly subjected to chain smoking men next to you, with no chance to escape. You aren't allowed to ask them not to smoke, and in fact many bar girls become nicotine addicts themselves.
And of course, you are to treat your customer as if he were the most handsome, funny, and interesting person you have ever met in your life, no matter how many times he paws you or bores the hell out of you or asks to have sex with you after you leave work.
You mean there's more?? Yup! Now come the working conditions, both in and outside of the bar. As you work your way in as a regular you won't have so much of the more demeaning tasks, but with the Japanese economy in a severe recession lately competetion to pull in customers is getting stronger. Some places will have to do some, other, or none of the following at all--it depends on the particular bar, where it is, etc.
First is being the "kyaku-hiki", or customer puller. This may entail you calling up numerous customers at their workplace and trying to persuade them to come by after work and blow all their money on you. It gets to be a real chore after a time, but of course you're never allowed to say that.
But by far the worst newbie duty is being sent out onto the streets and trying to persuade all the passers-by to come on in. This is worse than having to clean all the toilets in the dorm with your toothbrush. Nevermind the fact that being a foreigner already makes you a magnet for all the weirdos and wackos in the country. Trying to snuggle up to every drunk man walking by and lure him into your place is a new low in ingratiation. The worst aspect of all this is that it's like wearing a target on your back saying, "Deport Me!" for the occasional police sweep. Why do this at all? The system is essentially getting a kickback or bonus for every catch. It really isn't worth it though--avoid this kind of activity if at all possible.
And now for working in the bar itself.
Here are 2 ads for bars. You men will have a real chance to whoop it up here! Especially in the bar on the left--they're actually not girls at all!!
The oh, so ugly platforms give her away but in Japan there is a lot of fantasy and costume play in the red light district. The hostess dressed up as a nurse above is one example but by far the most popular is the teenage high-school girl (ko-gyaru). Japanese men have a big Lolita Complex (Rori-Kon), probably a product of their education system that makes them study all day long for university entrance exams instead going on dates or to a dance.
The above is another example of men's fantasies.
There are also lots of chances for you to make more money as a dancer, if you want to. Best not to let your mama-san find out about it though!
This is a hostess bar. It is taken from the English word snack though how or why is still a mystery.
This, of course, is your boss. Often she is middle-aged but not an old hag (at least while the customers are around). In Japan there are some women that are mizushobai well into their early 40s, when some will open their own bar or fade away into the water trade oblivion.
The "bottle keep" is for regular customers who come to your bar. Some will buy a full bottle of whiskey, brandy, etc. at some outrageous price decided by the mama-san, and it will have the name of the customer on it. Whenever he comes back the bottle is brought out and your job is to get him to consume it. Some bars just charge for the ice when he comes in; some mama-san will want you to get him loaded as soon as possible so he'll consume it all quicker and buy another bottle...
This means "welcome!" and is used when any customers come into the bar. It will also be said to you whenever you go into a store and is one of the first words you'll hear when you go to Japan.
This phrase has no English equivalent; it's just said when you finish work for the day, or when someone else is finished and leaving. Use it on the Japanese and sound like a native!
This is kind of a new term among the hostesses. It means February and August, and are the down times for working as a hostess. February is by far the coldest month of winter, and many customers after work don't feel like drinking as much. It may be harder to get as much money during February, or persuading your customers to come by your bar. The same goes for August, which is like a suana. The horribly ickky humid summers in Japan also take their toll on Japanese men, and even more on you which is like wearing nylons in a steambath.
The dohan is an arranged date, where the customer takes you out to dinner, usually somewhere really posh. Afterwards he may drop you off at your sunakku. You might get a nice dinner out of it; but often by someone you normally wouldn't even give the time of day to. And of course, the fact that it may be increasingly hard to deny what he is really after, while keeping him as your client. Nearly all these men are married, by the way.
Love Hotel (ra-bu hoteru)
This is where all your customers want to take you after you finish work. It's a hotel with rooms that go by the hour or night, for a couple to get some privacy for a quick bonk. They are very easy to find, with glittery sparkles and pink neon.
There is also a personal story of a woman who became a hostess here. Here is an American newspaper article, kind of old, that tells about a bar which is run in the same way as you'll find in Japan or Korea. It is from the client side, only gives one piece of the puzzle and not represent the whole picture, but still a good read.