A look into Host Clubs…

My love of photography brought me across this rather interesting exhibition by Manabu Numata. Living in Tokyo, Manabu decided to create a series based on Host Clubs. He spent 5 years taking the 『指名あり』series, which was then featured in a Shinjuku gallery. Manabu also recently did an interview about Host Clubs with CNNGo. As most of you will already know, Hosts and Host Clubs are very much relevant to Gyaru culture in Japan, and Manabu’s interview mentions Gyaru so I thought I would post the relevant pieces here.

CNNGo: Host clubs are mostly located in districts with big ‘mizu shobai’ red-light areas. Host clubs have this image in the media of being for ‘rich housewives,’ but their main customers are girls who work in the sex industry, right?
Numata: Yes, almost all of the customers are from the mizu shobai industry. There are a few establishments that cater to older women, but since the mainstream places are in red-light areas, they’ve generally moved towards being for young customers who are kyabajo, hostesses and fuzokujo sex workers. There are almost no older customers.
CNNGo: Why do you think those customers go to host clubs?
Numata: They want someone to talk to, I guess. And I think a lot of them are not psychologically stable. They are also always having to serve men, so they want the reverse. I guess it balances it out (laughs). And they also have a lot more money than normal girls.
CNNGo: Are the hosts on good terms with each other?
Numata: They are very competitive. There is of course a hierarchy, and the more you ‘sell,’ the higher you go on the ladder. In the pictures, the ‘number one’ guy is always in the front middle. In a lot of cases, the older guys would make the younger new guys do something crazy in the pics.
CNNGo: What is the average background of a host?
Numata: They are different types, but there are a lot of guys who want to be attractive to women. Also a lot of ex-yankii who are like, oh my sempai is in Tokyo so I will follow him there. Maybe about half are from the countryside, and I found that they tend to stick out a lot more.Most of the top guys at the clubs are 26, 27. After that they retire and don’t show up in the club much but work behind the scenes.
CNNGo: What do they do after they work as hosts?
Numata: The top guys are very smart. They earn money and then figure out how to invest it.For example, there was a host who owns a bunch of clubs, and he wanted to start a business. He had a lot of customers, and realized they always have out big flowers when it’s a host’s birthday. But there were no cool flowers with good design. So he made a company that makes really well-designed flower arrangements, and he makes his customers buy from that place when it’s his birthday. And his flowers always look much better than everyone else’s, and from that he gets a lot of promotion.
CNNGo: Where does that specific host style come from — with the feathered hair, dark skin, etc.?
Numata: I think they are imitating popular male idols like those from Johnny’s Jimusho. There is a lot of crossover with gyaru-o style. And I think they try to match their customers’ style which is very gyaru. When I started taking pictures though, the hosts didn’t look very gyaru-o. They just wore suits and didn’t have that crazy feathered hair. There are still a lot of old-school hosts who look like enka singers. The guys before the gyaru-o came in looked like Takuya Kimura. The mainstream hosts now don’t really have that fake tanned skin anymore though. It depends on the place, but there are many guys who look like Visual-kei bands too.
CNNGo: What makes the top hosts so good at their jobs?
Numata: They are not always the best-looking guys. But they are just very serious about listening to and dealing with customers. I think if they worked as salarymen in a sales position, they would be equally good at their jobs.
CNNGo: What do you think is the thing most misunderstood about hosts?
Numata: They aren’t just all philandering good-for-nothings. They are very serious and do their jobs well. The guys who sell have their own ‘know-how’ which they have researched — everything from the way they speak to their hair to their fashion. They have put in a huge effort. I think it’s too bad if people just think of them as, “You guys are doing something bad.”

I personally think that Manabu raised some good points, but I thought it was a little harsh to say that the girls who visit Host Clubs are ‘not psychologically stable‘. That may be true to some or even the majority of customers, but I have friends who have visited quite a few Host Bars and they are perfectly stable, they just enjoy relaxing and having fun with a guy who doesn’t have a hidden agenda, even if he is paid to do it.

With that said, a lot of the women who go regularly obviously become emotionally attached and it makes me sad that they feel the need to pay for the attention they want.
I also found it interesting that he didn’t notice that much influence from Gyaru-o anymore – obviously though this is only related to the clubs he visited in Tokyo. I was also a little disappointed to hear that some Hosts are going for the Visual-Kei look?! I’ve seen a few but they weren’t heavily influenced, I hope it doesn’t become a trend.

I think I could be persuaded to visit a Host Bar (by friends), for fun – if they were paying haha.

What do you think of Manabu’s interview – has it changed your opinion of Hosts?

Have you/Would you ever visit a Host bar?
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