The Great Happiness Space

The title of this blog comes from the title of the documentary movie that originally sparked my interest in host clubs.

Because while I was in Osaka, I was finally able to make my dream come true and go to one!

Going to a host club is probably a strange dream. I can see where people will raise eyebrows at me. I suppose I can’t entirely refute this kind of skepticism – the beautiful men waiting on you hand and foot is nothing to complain about – but my interest goes slightly beyond this. Ever since seeing that movie, I was introduced to the darker side of the industry as well. It’s one that slowly decays the hosts lives (and livers), as they live full schedules and tell nice lies until they forget their own personality. The way these people can charm so flawlessly that they forget themselves, as well as the way some girls can fall so completely for this kind of lie, is fascinating to me. In all truth, I hope to write my final thesis on host clubs and the society that produces them and makes them work. That’s why I couldn’t leave Japan without going at least once, to understand how they work.

Now onto a far less academic look and into my own adventures.

Osaka is known for its night life. Of course, so is Tokyo, so one of the things that makes Osaka stand out to some people is the number of host clubs. Maybe it’s the outgoing Kansai personality that does it, but who can really say? I just know that Osaka is famous for host clubs, and if I was going to go to Osaka, I was going to go to a host club.

My first destination was a club in the Umeda district. Called Club Acqua, it’s one of the more famous clubs. There were, however, several problems with this club. First off, Umeda isn’t the top host district in Osaka, so it’s hard to just ask for directions. In night life districts in various cities in Japan there are free… let’s just say “entertainment guides”. As the district I was in was known more for its hostesses, asking these people would be hopeless. That was okay, I figured, since I had the address. But that’s the thing about Japanese addresses – they make no sense. After WW2 the addresses were picked at what seems to be entirely random (they’re actually labeled by the spaces between streets rather than streets), so convenience store workers, cab drivers and whoever the hell else you ask will have quite a tough time of helping you. I asked at 5 convenience stores and 3 cab drivers, all of whom told me different things. I mean, I know I’m bad at directions myself, but if everyone tells you something different, people who live and work there, it can’t be just a personal problem.

It must have taken me over an hour to finally find the place in between the curving roads of the night life district. My feet were soaking wet from the pouring rain by the time I finally found the place, tucked in nice and quietly in a random basement. Neon blue letters stared up at me and told me the club’s name. I was relieved to have finally found the place after all that searching. I walked in and was engulfed in dim lights and men with tall hair and suits.

That’s when I found out to enter I needed my passport. In all instances other than this one, my alien registration card had sufficed. I wasn’t carrying my passport on me. “Isn’t there anything you can do?” I asked, quite annoyed at having come all that way through all those damp, winding streets for nothing.

“Sorry,” he said in that Japanese way that sounds polite, yet at the same time doesn’t at all.

I was quite unhappy when I got back outside. The loud music was still echoing in my ears and I was wishing I could be seated at a table full of men with hair-sprayed and dyed hair. I was worried that this might be the end of my search for a host club. I thought about going back, as I was quite exhausted from the day before. But then I figured there was no way I was going to abandon this dream again.

Off to Namba I went, to an area more populated by hosts. I had brought another address with me, but once I got in the general vicinity, I realized I wanted nothing to do with address hunting. Instead I stopped at one of the free information booths and told the man working I wanted to go to a host club. His reaction was entertaining. It was a sort of an “ooh” of awe. He made a phone call, and soon a charming young man with a really thick Kansai-accent showed up.

“Would you prefer a big place or a small one? It’s your first time going? I have a recommendation. I used to work as a host, actually. I’ll call them. Do you have a passport? The alien card should work. I’ll call them. Okay, let’s go.”

After processing all of the rapid-fire Kansai-accent we headed off to a nearby host club. It was located on the edge of the main nightlife area, in another basement. The club was called Club キセキ (kiseki), which translates to Club Miracle. Of course, they always have cute names like this.

My guide passed me off to the host working reception. He examined my alien card and allowed me in. I was sat down in a comfy booth and told to wait. I nodded politely and watched the exchange that followed. It was hard for me to tell what exactly it was – it could have been, “Which host isn’t occupied?” or it could have been, “Which host is going to deal with the foreigner?” To be honest, I probably came off as something of a burden. Kansai’s accent is thick, spoken quickly, and hosts aren’t used to using simple Japanese. I took a while to take in the atmosphere while waiting. The music was loud, and there were of course groups of girls chatting in a lively way with their hosts. The space was incredibly trendy, though not as gaudy as some host clubs I’ve seen. I didn’t know what I was going to make of my experience. I’d heard stories of foreigners being treated not as kindly as Japanese customers, being left alone a lot of the time.

During these thoughts one of the top hosts came over and explained the system to me. As a first timer I would get a special price that encompassed 2 hours all-you-can drink and, of course, the company of the hosts. Then I was handed a menu other than the drink menu. It was filled with pictures of hosts, and I would choose whichever one I found best-looking to start with. This felt quite awkward, especially with one of the better-looking hosts watching me as I decided. In the end I picked one in a cutesy, apologetic pose only a Japanese guy could pull off.

So that’s how the system basically works. It’s kind of like speed-dating, only all the guys are appealing. After talking to one for a while, another will switch with him. This serves two purposes. One is to keep the other customers happy – I’m pretty sure I talked less with the more popular guys. The other is to showcase the wares, as it were. Each of them hands you their business card as they sit down to chat. When you have about ten or twenty minutes to go, one of the hosts comes over and asks you to choose which one you enjoyed talking to the most. You get to drink with him again, maybe exchange numbers, and of course this is supposed to convince you to stay and drink longer. Also, if you become a returning customer, the host you chose will text you occasionally, and if you go again he will be the one you start out with.

A plethora of the hosts' cards.

The first three or four hosts could tell I was a bit nervous. Being in a host club was, after all, a really strange experience. That and the first host I talked to had one of the thickest accents. It’s a bit hard to calm down with such a bizarre language barrier, even though I did have quite a bit to talk about with the first host.

The conversations were both varied and static. Since it was my first time and I’m a foreigner, many questions and references to America and Hiroshima were made, as well as chats about Kansai versus Hiroshima dialect and the reason I was on Osaka. Some of them asked me why I decided to come to a host club, others asked me if I liked Japanese guys. One talked about Harry Potter and Alien, several about bands like Merry, The Gazette, Janne da Arc, one about politics, a pair of them held a three-way conversation about host hairstyles, and one rather tipsy host insisted I should find a boyfriend in Osaka since they have that wonderful Kansai personality. All the while they made sure to keep refilling my drink the way I liked it mixed and wiping the glass off every now and then so it didn’t get to wet with condensation.

In the background one of the top customers ordered a high-priced bottle of champagne. This means she was to drink it with her favorite host while half of the club cheered them on, this group being more boisterous than most of the drunk college students I’ve had the lovely fortune of meeting. Since I was a first-timer I was the only girl in the club who was still being attended to during this. It’s hard to hear with a group like that shouting, but Japanese people tend to have much better hearing than I do and assume I can’t understand their words. I was quite happy when one of the hosts had worse hearing than me and sat close to talk.

The strangest part of this whole thing to me was the combination of the host and the girl. The most outgoing of the hosts I talked to was who she had chosen. When he spoke he used a loud voice and rambled about whatever popped into his head. When the girl was to speak she had the most quiet, shy voice I’d ever heard – that and almost no personality. I suppose that was what attracted her to him.

When it came time for me to choose a single host, I had absolutely no idea what to do. Again, it was a bit odd to have someone watching over my shoulder as I flipped through the cards whose names I could barely match to faces. There was one who stood out to me, however. His name was quite unique, and while I’m not sure I think he’s one of the newer hosts. He told me he was shy during our conversation – a quality I find hard to believe in a host. Whether or not he was acting is hard to say, but I suppose he was one of the more down-to-earth as well as soft-spoken hosts. If I’m completely honest I can’t remember exactly what we talked about, but I do remember I’d enjoyed talking to him and felt slightly bad when a more showy host showed up and took the attention.

I’m 99% sure he was acting when he said how happy he was I chose him. That was okay. I would expect nothing else, lest I become one of those delusional girls who believes the host truly loves only them, as opposed to the groups of other girls he sweet talks all day. We exchanged numbers and he asked me if I wanted to stay another hour, though he wasn’t as pushy as I’d imagined hosts would be. My checkout the next morning was at 10am so I decided to decline. Now I do regret it slightly, but I suppose it saved me 2000 yen.

I was truly happy I finally got to have my host club experience. I also enjoyed the attention, however bad that may sound. On the way home I was smiling the entire time, trying to let a near sensory overload sink in.

In the morning, I got a text from my chosen host asking me if I’d slept well and telling me to be careful on the trip back. Of course, until I venture back to Osaka, I expect to hear nothing from him – it’s all business after all.

My brain is still swimming from the experience. I would recommend that anyone with even a vague interest should go. I would also venture to say it was a great way to practice Japanese, particularly fast Japanese or Kansai dialect.

I also recommend the club I went to. If you’re curious, you can check out the site here!

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~ by megumiwasframed on June 20, 2011.

9 Responses to “The Great Happiness Space”

  1. […] It was after dinner together that we headed our separate ways so that I could go to a host club for the first time, details of which are written our here. […]

  2. Its interesting to me that the host club works “openly” very similar to the way bartenders and cocktail waitresses work here under the surface. Yes, there are many people who just go to a bar and have fun with their friends and then leave.. but when you work in a bar long term, you spend a good amount of time providing acceptance and companionship to the same small group of people. There is a delicate balance where it is understood that the tips keep the “friendship” alive, but its understood that you never make that fact apparent. You make everyone feel important.. and some of them get more lost in the illusion of personal connection than others… And on the behind-the-bar end, some people find that after awhile they’ve lost something of themselves in the constant listening and pleasing and acting interested in the same stories and often, the alcohol that kept them going through it.

    Very interesting and perceptive account of the host club experience! I love your sense of adventure about it.

    • Thanks for the comment!

      Actually, it makes me think a bit. I’ve never considered that aspect of normal bartenders, but it’s true. And when I think about it more, I’ve made jokes about one of the local bartenders being rather host-like. Perhaps I’m more right than I thought.

  3. Great insight on host clubs from a foreigners perspective (Sorry I hope you don’t mind me commenting I somehow stubled upon your blog!) . I’ve also watched the documentary and have been really curious about Host Clubs since they’re existence is so odd in a sense. From the previous comment I can understand how its similar to a bar but what really gets me is how much money they make! I honestly don’t get it. Were you able to get a feel of the other customers? You might have been pretty busy with all the hosts, but I think if I ever had the chance to go I’d be more interested in the regulars since most of them are hostesses or prostitutes that work so they can go to these clubs (yet this doesn’t happen vice versa…). I have nothing against them since they make a lot of money but they just throw all that money at these hosts when they could have probably bought a giant house or go travelling around the world! It’s nice that you were able to have full on conversations with them atleast and drank! I think I’d be the worst customer ever since I hate drinking and I’d probably not talk with the hosts since I want to see what other people are like XD. If you ever go to another one, please post about it! They’re so interesting lol

    • Thanks for the comment! I definitely don’t mind!

      As for the other customers, aside from the one who had ordered the bottle of champagne, I didn’t pay so much attention to them. There was a large group of young girls who came in later, I think they were just out for a night of fun. They seemed like regular girls. And it’s hard for me to say anything about the personal life of the one I paid some attention to – there could be any number of stories surrounding her. It felt incredibly intrusive to pay too much attention to these other girls. This is a combination of several things; first is that I’d feel a bit awkward if they were watching me in that kind of place. Second is, well, they weren’t watching me, so I returned the favor. The third was simply the fact that I am a foreigner and somewhat of an oddball to begin with. There are often times when you feel like an outsider, and the sort of feeling all those women give off is one of not wanting to be intruded upon, particularly by an outsider. It’s kind of a hard feeling to describe, but it’s one I sometimes get at things like concerts or ceremonies where I’m the only one not used to the environment.

      Actually last night I was having a conversation with a friend about this sort of thing. I would like to do field research into some aspects of the host phenomena, but being both a foreigner and a female are a hindrance. It would be difficult to approach the customers as a foreigner, and it would be difficult to get a backstage look at the club as a female. Maybe I should be on the lookout for a Japanese male with a similar interest in this kind of subculture to help me research, haha…

      Wow, I rambled! Anyway, I plan on visiting that club again during August (I’m curious as to how a second visit will go) and perhaps I’ll try once again going to the one I originally intended on visiting (since I’ll have my passport on me next time.) I’ll make sure to post about it!

  4. Thank you for the reply! That’s really interesting about being intrusive in that kinda place. I mean girls like hot sexy guys around them (not just for eye candy and certain fantasies XP) but also as a confidence boost to themselves and show off that gorgeous men WANT to hang around them. I mean why else would they do that whole purchase a bottle of champange (that is WAY OVER priced btw) and make a big deal about it? Though I can understand that they may give a different feel to foreigners since they know we have a different look on Host Clubs and visiting one.

    On another note I was telling my friend about your visit to a Host Club the other day and realized that it kinda of resembled being picked up/hit on at a bar as well.

    Doing research on the host phenomena would be very interesting, I’ve always wanted to know more about it since so many things just don’t make sense to me. But yes being a foreigner and female makes things rather difficult (though maybe easier then trying to understand the other sex trade that cater to men). I have a photobook from Joan Sinclair called Pink Box that you may want to look into, she went to a number of sex clubs taking pictures of the prostitutes and fetishes and explains a bit on how she was even able to get in considering she’s foreign and a woman (plus a lot of those places are run by yakuza).

    Can’t wait to hear about your next visit!

  5. Hi! This was really interesting! I’ve been wanting to go to a host club for a while, and now that I’m living in Japan, I think I’ll be able to. It does seem like a strange experience, so I think I will go with my friend.. However, my Japanese is not that great, and she doesn’t speak that much either. Still, I’d like to go and experience it. I live near Osaka now too. Well, kind of near. I heard it’s crazy expensive though. How much was it?

    • You should go! Though having to use English might make them either nervous or silly, haha. Anyway, the first time isn’t too bad. 3000 or 4000 yen (depending on club) for 2 hours all-you-can-drink. It’s when you go to the same club later that it gets expensive. Most clubs have websites that say the system, so if you want to make sure just look at that first! It should be easy to figure out, like 1時間3000円 or something like that.

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