Being reduced to paying for someone to talk to you is considered suicidally depressing in the West, but in Japan it’s a national past-time. Inebriated salarymen with low self-esteem regularly flock to “hostess bars” to enjoy the company of scantily-clad young ladies, who pour their drinks, light their smokes and laugh at their jokes. You can spot these ladies on the streets of Tokyo, trying to charm men into their clubs with their sparkling personalities.
Female customers are getting into it too, with “host bars” increasing in popularity, and girls spending pots of money to spend time with ingratiating men with bleached-blonde hair and open-necked shirts, who resemble George Michael, circa 1983. Being a host sounds like a dream-job, but it’s not quite the cushy gig you might think. Apparently, the clientelle of host clubs largely consists of malevolent off-duty hostesses, who derive sadistic pleasure from treating hosts like shit, as a way to let off steam after work. Ha ha!
All of this would hold little interest for me were it not for the knowledge that these establishments tend to refuse admittance to gaijin, for fear that foreign customers would be disappointed to discover their hosts and hostesses can’t speak English. After learning this, my curiosity was aroused. I suddenly wanted to hit a hostess bar but, as anticipated, I was repeatedly turned away by inscrutable, stony-faced bouncers.
So, when a friend and I were strolling into town one night, we were surprised when two young hostesses dressed in revealing, customized military uniforms approached us and invited us to enter their club, the oddly named “Army’s Bar.”
“What the hell, let’s do it. Might be a funny experience,” we decided, and followed the girls into the basement bar. They waited until we were seated before telling us the deal- 1000 yen for every fifteen minutes, but drinks were free. That’s $10 for a few minutes of mere conversation, so it was was with trepidation that we signed up.
We resolved to take advantage of the cheap booze, and hastily ordered a round of tequila shots.
My friend and I each had a hostess to entertain us. Mine had a phony smile and cold, bored eyes, and asked me a sequence of predictable questions, such as “where are you from?” “what do you do for a living?” and “how long have you been in Japan?” ie: all the questions I get asked on a daily basis and am sick of hearing. I really didn’t want to pay for that, so I steered the conversation in a different direction, asking the girl if she enjoyed this line of work and how she felt about the regular customers. She seemed taken-aback but amused by this line of questioning, evidently not a common topic in Army’s Bar.
I pity the poor fellows who are so hopelessly insecure and starved of attention that they have to resort to this.
I noticed my friend looking over impatiently, having even less fun than me. There was only one thing for it: “Barman! More tequila! And keep ’em coming!”
We stumbled out of the club moments before our fifteen minutes ran out, with my curiosity sated and seven or eight tequila shots down the hatch.