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Kyabajo Japan


The publication of the magazine Koakuma Ageha in 2005 sent a shock-wave through Japanese society: when did cabaret-club hostesses become socially accepted to the degree that they have their own widely-available fashion magazine? And when did “kyabakura girl” become a glamorous and enviable occupation for young women? The answers to these questions were not apparent. And since the Japanese media is not allowed to talk about trends in terms of socioeconomic class or subculture, Koakuma Ageha‘s popularity gave the impression that all young women, no matter the family background, have suddenly clamored to work nights in Kabukicho.

Enter market researcher Miura Atsushi, who started looking at the why’s of the phenomenon. Back in the 1990s, Miura worked for shopping building PARCO‘s think-tank Across, where his job was to pontificate on the latest consumer trends and social movements to keep corporate clients in touch with the “leading-edge.” Now with the sharp decline of art-infused, cutting-edge consumer culture, Miura has turned his eye to heavier and less optimistic social issues. The popularity of his 2005 book Karyū Shakai (『下流社会』, “Downwardly-Mobile Society”) provided the media sphere with an easy way to bring up the slightly-taboo topic of Japan’s growing income divide. The credibility of Miura’s claims relies on his simple methodology: his conclusions mostly come straight from data analysis, based on his company Cultural Studies‘s large-scale youth surveys. Unlike the other pop cultural theoreticians, Miura is just “reporting the survey results” — an inductive antidote to the wilder and generally-unprovable “latent desire” pontificating of formal sociologists like Miyadai Shinji.

Miura’s latest book is Onna ha naze kyabakurajō ni naritai no ka? 『女はなぜキャバクラ嬢になりたいのか?』 — “Why Do Women Want to Become Kyabajō?” He took interest in the topic after conducting a mobile phone survey in 2007 for the advertising firm Standard Tsushinsha on the topic of “Generation Z” — Japanese aged 15 to 22. The survey asked young women, “What profession do you want to do/which job would you like to try doing?” (「なりたい職業、してみたい仕事」). He was shocked to find that “kyabajō (cabaret club girl) / hostess” ranked at #9 with 22.3%. Thinking this must be some statistical fluke, Miura chartered another survey of the same demographic in 2008, but he got nearly the same result: the kyabajō / hostess category came in at #12 with 20.5%. In short, one-fifth of young Japanese women aged 15 to 22 apparently hoped to work in the mizu shōbai industry. When he took a similar survey of women in “Generation Y” (age 25 to 32) for comparison, he found that only 9.1% had either wanted or still want to try out the hostess profession. Miura came to the conclusion that there has been a recent social shift toward wanting to work in this sector and started on specific research towards the topic.

The premise of the book — that young women have increased desire to become hostesses and kyabajō — is obviously controversial, and there has been some backlash against Miura’s statistical methods, best outlined in the Amazon review section for the book. Most criticism focuses on the fact that women in the survey could freely check as many occupations as they pleased, thus not proving they “want” to become hostesses as much are “would be fine with it.” To Miura’s credit, however, he fleshes out the hard data by interviewing 32 actual kyabajō and kyabajōs-in-training, and nothing about their stories seems to contradict his general conclusions on the phenomenon.

Even taking the possible survey biases into account, Miura’s results do match up with multiple clues in the broader pop culture that the hostess profession has become more socially-acceptable in the last decade. Prime time television dramas like Jotei follow the exploits of hostesses without any moral judgment on their line of work. Popular manga in mass market weekly magazines take up the challenge of young hosts and hostesses aiming to become “#1” with the same narrative tone as if they were in an amateur band aiming for the top of the pops. Coffee advertisements offer quotes from hosts to convince consumers about the product’s value. The aforementioned popular magazine Koakuma Ageha has transformed real-life kyabajō into elegant fashion leaders and lifestyle models for the gyaru community.

Of course, the actual situation is much more complicated than “all Japanese girls want to become hostesses.” Miura is able to build a very specific demographic and psychographic profile of young kyabajō and kyabajō-wannabes, illustrating exactly which subset of Japanese society is most contributing to this growing labor sector. He found that kyabajō are most likely to have the following characteristics:

  • low socioeconomic background
  • low level of education
  • moved to Tokyo from small villages in outlying prefectures (in the case of Tokyo, most hostesses are from the Tohoku region)
  • high rate of parental divorce (double the rate of the total survey sample)
  • hate being in their school, their own house, their own room, or their own living room (especially compared to those who want to become government workers)
  • are confident about their looks
  • strongly dependent on men
  • comfortable with traditional gender roles
  • hate their moms, like their dads
  • read magazines Egg and Koakuma Ageha
  • love the music of Hamasaki Ayumi

This list almost perfectly illustrates the profile of a single Japanese socioeconomic class-bound taste culture: namely, the “yankii” taste culture situated in lower-middle and working-class communities outside of Tokyo. Many of the above factors — divorce rate and socioeconomic background, for example — are well-known to be correlated. The embrace of “traditional” values such as gender role division and dependence on males could also be posited to be more associated with a certain social environment and education level. And when Miura asked women in the survey whether they wanted to “break the rules,” the hostess set generally answered in the negative. (Those who want to work in the sex industry, in comparison, were affirmative on the question.) The data’s “typical” kyabajō does not see the profession as a “rebellion” against community mores, but as a logical extension of her teenage lifestyle and limited career opportunities.

To explain why this specific group of women has embraced the kyabajō profession as a legitimate career, Miura mainly focuses upon structural economic factors. First and foremost, women are no longer able to secure a middle-class existence for themselves solely by marrying a man with a full-time job. During the Lost Decade, writes Miura, the steady dismantling of the corporate safety net meant men could no longer provide economic stability for their wives and girlfriends. Furthermore, even if women want to work themselves, they have had a particularly hard time becoming sei-shain “regular employees” in the recessionary environment. These conditions have created more pressure for women to establish financial independence, but for women with low levels of education and low social capital (both the result of non-urban working-class backgrounds), kyabajō is one of the few jobs that can provide high incomes and independence at a young age.

The women’s economic necessity for hostessing is reflected in their fiduciary behavior. Contrary to popular dismissals of kyabajō as soullessly selling their sexual dignity to buy foreign luxury goods, the kyabajō interviewed by Miura for the book claim they are mostly saving the money for the future. (The average salary seems to be around ¥6,000,000 a year, which is very good for a 20-something but not extravagant.) Most acknowledge that they only have a limited time in this particular industry and are trying to create a nest-egg for the future. Some even send money home to their parents. Although this parallel is a bit loaded, the idea of sending money back to parents almost perfectly echoes the pre-war system of prostitution where poor farmers’ daughters would be sold off to brothels to help their parents pay-off debts. Surely cabaret clubs are not as extreme in terms of labor duties as brothels, but children earning money for the household has been taboo amongst the middle-class for at least the last 100 years.

Miura’s profile of hostesses also clearly delineates the cultural tastes of the profession’s leading demographic group. We receive the rich detail that hostess-wannabes read the magazine Egg — a glimpse into pre-kyabajō cultural affiliation. Egg is the quintessential “deep gyaru” magazine — for the ganguro yankii wing of the fashion movement rather than the part that touches upon middle-class mass style (like Popteen). Egg readers are disproportionally based in places other than Tokyo, so the profile of the kyabajō seems to almost perfectly match that of the female yankii — women with a particular set of cultural and sexual values who mostly live in non-urban prefectures. Girls who read softer fashion magazines like non•no or arty high-fashion magazines like Spur are apparently not hostess material, which makes logical sense. The values of the gyaru subculture — in terms of sexuality, future hopes, and gender dynamics — are much more conducive to mizu shobai than any others.

Miura describes the cabaret club itself quite pithily as “theme park of traditional gender roles.” In an age where men have to actually make an effort in personal presentation and manners to win over possible girlfriends and can no longer sexually harass secretaries in the workplace, the kyabakura provides men with a chance to return to a much simpler time, before women became educated, independent, judgmental, aggressive, and demanding. Kyabakura and hostess clubs offer men increasingly-rare female adulation for a simple payment. They can be drunk, loud, obnoxious, and speak with toxic tobacco-scarred breath, but the hostesses are required to treat them like kings — just like an idealized recreation of the good ol’ days.

Many women, however, consider the hostess job no harder than desk work, and in particular, enjoy the fact that their job allows them to dress up in a glamorous way and find constant “acknowledgment” from the opposite sex. Miura suggests that kyabakura provides these women, who never succeeded at school and had a rough home life, the self-confirmation that they are good at something for the first time. They feel respected by customers and can work towards finding a wealthy spouse in the customer base.

Most hostesses — perhaps in a reflection of classic yankii values — want to marry at a relatively young age, and the pages of Koakuma Ageha are filled with perky confessionals from divorced 20-something mothers with multiple young children who work at kyabakura to support their families. For the hostess looking for a husband at work, however, things are not always so easy. Miura claims that one of the reasons so many mizu shobai girls spend their hard-earned money on host clubs is that hosts are the only men in their lives who will promise to marry them. Of course, promising matrimony is a core duty of the host job, but the hostesses can walk away sated that night at least.

Miura sees this rise in the number of hostesses as part of a broader trend for society: youth’s desire to continue their cultural lifestyle into adulthood. In his survey comparison between Generation Z and Generation Y, he found that the latest crop of young men and women are desperate to become singers, actors, and models. Generation Y was much more realistic and seemed content on more “serious” jobs. In the past, Japanese society’s high toleration of youth culture stemmed directly from the social contract that youth would abandon all cultural activities at employment (usually aged 23 for white collar, earlier for blue collar). Now that companies cannot offer youth the previous level of benefits for “going straight,” most youth without long-term career prospects are choosing to bring their youth style into adulthood. The gyaru pioneered this social change, and now one of the few growth fashion markets is gyaru brand clothing made for mothers and their young children. Oddly, the gyaru still believe in early marriage and early childbirth, but they have abandoned the lack of fun and glamour formerly associated with adult responsibility.

So there is a “kyabajō segment” of young women, mostly corresponding to the gyaru/yankii subculture. Young college students and daughters from “good families” are well-known to work part-time or occasionally at cabaret clubs, but the “career girls” most definitely fit a specific subcultural affiliation. That understood, does this really mean something for society? Haven’t the working and lower classes been historically been the suppliers for the sex industry and the mizu shobai? If we believe the Miura evidence and analysis, economic conditions have deteriorated to the degree that a certain segment of women are electing to work a relatively-degrading job in order to maintain a middle-class level of income. But as the book suggests, the profession itself is not as dire or exploitative as say, the pre-war brothel system. Girls make the choice to join and can essentially quit whenever they want. Prostitution is less ambivalently bad; hostessing can be dangerous and demeaning, but in theory, there are protections in place to keep it from being sexual slavery.

That being said, the high salary for hostessing — in light of low education and no skills — should be our first clue that employers are compensating for something negative in the work duties. First and foremost, the job leads to no long-term career nor builds any portable skills. So while a clerking position pays little in its 20s, women can move up the ladder to a certain degree in their 30s and 40s to make a better salary. Hostesses have at most, a decade at the job and then cannot use that experience for anything else (other than being a “mama” perhaps). And exceptions aside, the hostess work generally degrades the labor and social value of the woman. The stigma has been reduced in recent years, but in most cases, hostessing can be a “scandalous” past background in a way that “secretary” never could. The kyabajō job also does not build strong social capital: working in Kabukicho means running around with yakuza, touts, and pimps, who are low on valuable social capital themselves. (There is also the issue that being a “kept woman” rather than a wife, which we can assume is a common path for many hostesses and kyabajō, means no legal rights to property from their partner.)

These facts tends to discount the “economic empowerment” argument, that the hostess business is a nice welfare system that transfers money from corporations (through entertainment budgets) and middle-class men to working-class women. And even in this model, those with power and capital are abusing their position to win special conditions from the recipients. Women can only receive these funds if they are young and willing to act out a form of sexually-charged subservience. In a more “fair” economic system, there would be high-paying jobs for women not conditional on indulging men. Yes, any job in the hierarchical white collar Japanese corporate system means hiding personal feelings to please the whims of the boss, but in an office atmosphere, this is not predicated on sexual gratification nor strict sexual division (women pleasing men).

But could the popularity of kyabakura amongst men be a good sign? The fact that men must pay high fees in order to receive unconditional treatment from kyabajō means that women are not willing to act accordingly in “real life.” The better solution, of course, would be a mass move away from the kind of childish misogyny that fuels the hostess industry, but Japanese men have shown long-term resistance to the new gender values (or at least tolerance) that have come to be strongly rooted in the rest of the post-industrial world. The word “feminist” in Japan does not even mean “one who believes in gender equality”: it means “one who is nice to women.” It appears that kindness to the second sex is still a radical idea.

Miura’s research has been and will continued to be challenged. Some times for legitimate reasons, but there will always be serious resistance from men to a re-conception of the hostess/kyabakura industry as a site of class exploitation. Flirting is more fun when you don’t think the girls are sending the money back home to support their poor family in some tiny Hokkaido fishing village. The “greedy girls who want Louis Vuitton bags” myth created a comfortable equality of sin: men would go to hostess clubs out of lust, women would work there out of avarice. But nothing about Miura’s research should be surprising or controversial. Japan has a long history of hostess-like institutions — from geisha to the cafe waitresses of the 1920s — and the lower classes have always been the main supply of labor. But now thanks to magazines like Koakuma Ageha, these girls are no longer invisible. They have their own world, own style, and own values. The only thing new is that they are succeeding in making this lifestyle seem appealing for those not predestined to end up there.

W. David MARX
August 11, 2009

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

25 Responses

  1. Peter Says:

    Very informative post. Thanks.

    I like that you note the economic transfer from corporations.

  2. M-Bone Says:

    “Miura is just “reporting the survey results””

    He is also carefully crafting those surveys to turn his books into effective consumer products.

    “Geryu” was a huge bestseller. His main argument in that book was that the new generation was defined by a “geryu” of choice – that these freeters were chasing dreams that turned into long moratorium instead of what now seems likely – that they are being denied paths to permanent employment by exploitative capitalism. Now that the “geryu” idea is unfashionable because of an increased “working poor” focus in the media and Miura has come off looking more or less like a shill for the “kakusa is good” argument, he seems to have done a 180 degree flipflop and is looking for structural explanations. So has he really backed up on “geryu” or is he just trying to find the next flavor of the month argument to get people to buy his books? Part of the backlash that you see directed at Mirua in Japanese is because of his slippery inconsistency.

    This is also the same Miura who got his start bemoaning the destructive standardization of the countryside – he knows that weepy inaka stories sell his books all over but had little or nothing to say about people in the inaka actually having some responsibility for chasing after that urban consumption. Miura is a bit of a chameleon. He’s about statistics, but behind them are stories that sell.

    Having said that, I think that his numbers and general argument, if one-sided, should be taken seriously. I would like to see, however, exactly what percentage of Tokyo hostesses are sending what percentage of their earnings back where. Without that information, I think that we need to make just as much room in this narrative for Vuitton as for poor Hokkaido fishing villages. Are the denizens of such places really relying on a hostess outflow to any statistically significant degree? Aren’t many “working class” people in those areas really business owners in primary industry who make good money? These areas may seem like a black hole when viewed from Tokyo, but my impression is that dire poverty in Japan is mostly an urban problem and we might instead find that there is just as much cash flowing the other way – from the inaka to pay for apartments and 2-year college tuition in the big cities. In the end, how do we fit the 77.7% of girls who just don’t want to have anything to do with this story, even as a fantasy clicked in a keitai survey, into the narrative when other authors like Nanba Kouji are arguing that as many as 50% of Japanese young people have yankii tastes?

    While you certainly make good points (and Miura too) this idea of predestination… that’s going a bit far.

  3. W. David MARX Says:

    These are all valid points. I think what I like about Miura is that he at least sticks to the evidence in front of him, and lets you see what he knows. I think the “20% of young women want to do kyabajo” is probably not accurate or at least needs to be incredibly conditional. That being said, he is able to show that at least in his data set, there is a certain type that gravitates towards the job. In this sense, he is opening doors to better research rather than closing them.

    So has he really backed up on “geryu” or is he just trying to find the next flavor of the month argument to get people to buy his books?

    When Karyu came out, I think there was still a lot of ambiguity about the freeter. But now, yes, it’s clear that they were forced out structurally rather than by their own free will. Seems like he is admitting that now although in an oblique way.

    I would like to see, however, exactly what percentage of Tokyo hostesses are sending what percentage of their earnings back where.

    Sure, but I was surprised to see this exact same element pop up in a Kabukicho free paper that recruits for the industry. It’s definitely not being hidden, and may actually be a way of enticing girls in: see, you can be a good daughter by doing this.

    this idea of predestination… that’s going a bit far.

    I meant this as rhetorical flourish, but yes, there may be structural pressure but not pure predestination. I do think that the mizu shobai industry does have a great recruiting spiel right now: go around the barriers and live a middle-class life. Yes, they are jumping the gun a bit by wanting to be paid ¥6mil a year in their early 20s, but I don’t think this is all about pure greed or collecting luxury goods. That salary means living comfortably now, helping out family back home, and saving money for the future. The one impression I get from reading Miura’s book, etc. is that most of the girls in the industry are very earnest about their finances. This is not always true, of course, but it’s a corrective to the “drug addict/LV addict girls in debt” narrative.

  4. M-Bone Says:


    Crap, I’ve been misreading that for years! Boy am I glad that I’ve never talked about it with a Japanese speaker.

    In any case when it comes to these sorts of social criticisms, my position is pretty much in line with American philosophical pragmatism – among multiple possible narratives which can be supported with a given body of evidence, it is up to critics to chose that which is the most moral and which has the most potential for supporting change in line with progressive ideas.

    That being said, what is really at the root of gender discrimination in Japan? Is it not the common male assumption that women are not mentally or culturally capable of filling certain roles – that is, exercising agency outside of the home? This idea is a fundamental part of Confucianism but we see similar manifestations in Europe because of primogeniture and elements of feudalism so I tend to think that there is a whole mess of influences – we can’t isolate one particular thing and say, “okay, if that stops things will change”. So this is why I think that an overemphasis on the way that women are “locked” into more or less predetermined patterns of behavior ends up being more of a lament than a strategy for change. When both the “choice within an existential range” and “predetermined gender victims” stories are possible to glean from a body of evidence, I strongly favor one over the other. Feminism has moved beyond a “chronicling abuses” stage. Japanese feminists (yes, they exist), for example, have come to question the application of the structural victims line of thought to the war. Were women totally blameless because of social circumspection of their speech and action? If that is the case, how responsible are any Japanese for any wartime action? Japanese feminists, teachers, Miyazaki, etc. are looking for different ways to position women in understandings of Japan that push for new ideas without negating the most important thing that has been denied many women throughout much of Japanese history – personal choice.

    So that is one of the problems that I have with Miura’s mighty sociologist pulls back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz story – in a way, he’s giving himself too much power to write the story of the lives of these women. Was he paying the women he interviewed? Did he use some stories and not others. And, in the end, for what? So that he can duplicate the Kumamoto to Tokyo rags to riches story in Jotei (thought that was “nyotei” for a while…) without a very rigorous statistical study?

    In any case, this is far too interesting a topic to get caught up only on the issue of representation.

    BTW, does this mean that you are “back”?

  5. Em Says:

    In the past, Japanese society’s high toleration of youth culture stemmed directly from the social contract that youth would abandon all cultural activities at employment

    To me, the interesting implications of the kyabajo phenomena are mostly in this sentence. I don’t really think there has been any cultural shift in the primary socioeconomic class of sex workers in Japan, and I feel as your article suggests that should have been more in Miura’s research. What I do think HAS shifted is the social contract of subcultural identity for women in that a career track has now been established for the gyaru subculture.

  6. W. David MARX Says:

    I would flip that on it’s head: the career track of being in mizu shobai now has its own fashion subcultural identity. Not that every gyaru is going to be a kyabajo, but the gyaru have allowed the kyabajo to take center stage in their world.

    And if anyone wonders why hosts look like they look, it’s because that’s what gyaru kyabajo want their men to look like.

  7. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    I was (re-)watching Sailor Moon with my daughter and smiled at how Jupiter had to be just a *suggestion* of yankii, because portraying a true yankii would be taboo. That was, what, 10 years ago.

  8. apeescape Says:

    > “Karyu”
    > Crap, I’ve been misreading that for years! Boy am I glad that I’ve never talked about it with a Japanese speaker.

    The meaning of Karyu just sounds more negative when you say geryu. At least you didn’t say shimo-nagare :)

    > I was (re-)watching Sailor Moon with my daughter and smiled at how Jupiter had to be just a *suggestion* of yankii, because portraying a true yankii would be taboo. That was, what, 10 years ago.

    I don’t think it was taboo at all.

    BTW, there have been a little media attention recently on a deaf hostess. She went from having a “complex” at school => drop-out => yankii => hostess, which adds a data point for David’s hypothesis. Maybe she became so popular because she isn’t as shirigaru as others? Her future goal is to open up a beauty shop in a deaf-friendly community.

  9. M-Bone Says:

    Sailor Moon is nearly 20 years old now. I don’t know though, Jupiter wore an ankle-length skirt and got in street fights. I’m not sure how much more they should put in a show for 10 year olds. The roughly contemporary Sukeban Deka series for a slightly older audience shows high school students selling shabu. There is a sequence where they get a rival hooked on what looks like an opiate and male students take turns sexually assaulting her. When she ODs, they dump her body on the train tracks. I’m sorta glad that didn’t make it into Sailor Moon.

  10. Gen Kanai Says:

    Related from the NY Times:

  11. W. David MARX Says:

    Nice work, NY Times!

  12. Tomakun Says:

    Love you guys, love the site and the article. But why doing like everybody else and spamming search engine by using keywords in your title? I mean, it’s not even a sentence! Couldn’t you put ‘in’ between Kyabajo and Japan?

  13. W. David MARX Says:

    We are proudly the least SEO’d site in history.

  14. Tomakun Says:

    That’s fine and I believe you, but you’ve got a fantastic article here, was this “title” deliberate choice? Do you think it serves it well enough? Sorry if I am obviously asking the wrong questions and being lame but it’s just disturbing. – Anyway that’s another great essai here, thanks for the great work and thanks for sharing.

  15. M-Bone Says:

    All over the place these days –

    As a reader, I liked the title – for me it suggested an alternative take on “Japan” and I can imagine that for someone who does not know the word “Kyabajo”, it works as an exotic hook. At least it isn’t forced (Second Sex(y) – From Fishing in Hokkaido to Flirting in Ginza)

  16. Shii Says:

    I realize that people go into this work for different reasons, but shouldn’t host clubs be analyzed at the same time as hostess clubs? The only real difference is the gray area between hostess work and sex work that doesn’t exist in host clubs. Otherwise, they employ the same class of people for the same class of audience.

    Much of Miura’s analysis relies on the Japanese theme of falling back on traditional cultural roles. But host clubs betray that the other side of the coin– that this line of work is not “traditional” but is in fact the very thing hated by traditionalists, viz., feminization of men. Admittedly, that sort of criticism is also several centuries old, but its relevance throws a wrench into Miura’s thesis.

  17. Connor Says:

    M-Bone, that title is fantastic. Marxy, please bounce all title ideas off M-Bone in the future.

    Did anyone else find that NYT debate thing just as depressingly ill-researched as the article that spawned it? First, three people say the exact same thing. Nobody has any numbers. Then, we get this:

    Any figures on salaries also need to take into account the working hours, the lack of benefits, and the limited working life of any occupation based on youth and beauty. If we assume that hostesses receive between ¥2,000 (US $20.50) and ¥3,000 (US $31) an hour, then for a 35-hour work week in 48 weeks, it would amount to ¥420,000 (US $4,335) a month at most, or ¥5,040,000 (US $52,080) a year.

    As for the clients, how are they able to afford such entertainment in a recession; are their companies paying for this entertainment? And how much profit do the proprietors of the clubs extract from the emotional and aesthetic labor of their workers?

    Well, Australian expert lady, thanks very much for asking whether companies are still paying through entertainment budgets or not, but it would be nicer if somebody would get some FIGURES. NeoJ’s analysis beats the NYT all hollow, which is a little depressing- you’d figure the panel of experts assembled by the Newspaper of Record could do a little better than “most of these women didn’t go to college. Most of these women didn’t go to college. Most of these women didn’t go to college, and therefore employment prospects are limited, because they didn’t go to college. Further, who is paying for all this, anyway? Does anybody know? How much of a cut does the club take? Anyone? Please leave a comment.”

    Sociocultural explanations are always easier to come up with than socioeconomic ones; I can think of one expert in particular whom the NYT might want to think about bringing on. He once said something interesting about the keitai internet and a prince famed for his multi-tasking ability…

  18. W. David MARX Says:

    shouldn’t host clubs be analyzed at the same time as hostess clubs?

    It’s pretty clear that host clubs exist as a product of hostess clubs. In other words, host clubs boom when the sex industry booms, because their primary customer is women in the industry — not “rich old matrons.” This should be obvious, but I doubt brown skin Gyaru-o are exactly rich matron’s most desirable men.


    Host clubs boomed in the ’80s when the sex industry exploded. They go hand in hand.

    I think you can say the labor pool is similar — inaka lower class yankii — but the audience for host clubs is totally different. Host clubs are not getting a huge influx of cash from corporations using it as a way to entertain clients. They are mostly a way to drain money out of the pockets of mizu shobai workers and act as a way to keep mizu shobai workers from losing their minds. Hosts are their therapists, and hosts are even instructed to make sure their clients never quit the biz. Hosts also recruit non-industry girls into the industry when they start not being able to pay their debts. In other words, the host club is not a product of a wider social need, but an auxiliary organization of the mizu shobai world — almost like a “company store.”

  19. M-Bone Says:

    “M-Bone, that title is fantastic.”

    Always easier to come up with titles (especially cheesy ones) for the essays of others. The titles of my own stuff have nearly always been lame.

  20. Peter Says:

    I think Tabuchi’s article and the other subsequent discussions have been quite interesting.

    I would like to see a survey of young women who are not hostesses, asking them why they don’t see the industry as a place to be, despite the presence of Koakuma Ageha and the apparent acceptance of kyabajo as a profession for young women.

    The “debate” at the NYT is fine for getting the academic’s opinion of this, but what about the Generation Y and Z peers of these girls that choose *not* to go into this trade for reasons they either have or have not thought about — there’s probably an interesting set of data there.

  21. Roy Berman Says:

    The “Room for Debate” page at NYT just added an interesting additional comment from Jake Adelstein, an American reporter who used to cover the crime beat in Tokyo. Everyone was complaining that the panel consisted only of female Japanese academics, but they pulled out the guy who can check every box for NOT being that.

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  23. catoneinutica Says:

    The first commenter on the NYTimes story references a sixteenth century writer named La Boetie. God help me, I read the name as “La Boite” at first.

    Fantastic essay. Really, everything old is new again: as you mention, impoverished farmers’ daughters from Tohoku have been working (voluntarily or otherwise) as sex workers in Edo/Tokyo for centuries. The only alternative career for most of these women is adult-diaper changer; indeed, once their looks are gone, I’m sure that’s what many-a yankii and hostess finds herself doing.

  24. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    @apeescape: Sailor Jupiter had a long skirt (because the new school didn’t have one at her size), was physically strong (because she was tall), took care of herself socially (but it was because she lost her parents in an accident, not for being poor) and had wavy hair (but it was natural, not a fashion statement). So she’s like, looks like yankii and talk like yankii but is not yankii. Naoto Takeuchi claimed she was originally intended to be a gang leader, and a smoker; I can only surmise someone talked her out of it.

    Just a bit later, series like YuYu Hakusho (with a target audience just a couple years older than Sailor Moon, if anything) would openly romanticize delinquents, even smokers. And today it’s completely mainstream, including in shoujo (Fruits Basket, &c.).

  25. Adamu Says:

    Wow your story was featured on Japundit, proudly the most SEO’d site on the Internet.

    Does Miura give you any idea of a) what the population of hostesses is at the moment, or b) How big this “hostess segment” is? My gut tells me that while the Koakuma Ageha magazine is popular and there’s a certain cultural fascination with the hostess nightlife, the life of a hostess is exceptional.