Connie: The Great Happiness Space

June 24, 2011

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 WWII 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.

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.

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