Connie: One-night relationships

August 16, 2011

No, this post is not about one-night stands. If you’ve been paying attention you know what’s coming – a post highlighting visit number two to a host club.

I took a highway bus out of Hiroshima without thinking. Since it’s currently Obon season, everyone is traveling back to their hometowns. This makes for full buses and awful traffic. Getting out of Hiroshima city took over an hour. Getting from Kobe to Osaka took probably more than an hour. As everyone I knew in Hiroshima has started to go home or travel in their summer vacation, I didn’t have many people I could text with. It turned out my only text message company on the bus was the host I’d chosen last time I was in Osaka.

It was about 8 p.m. by the time I finally arrived in my air conditioning-less hostel. After a shower and a quick convenience store meal I was convinced, with the help of my host, that I needed nothing more than a drink. Off to Soemon-cho I went in order to see what a second trip to one of Osaka’s famous host clubs would be like.

The club I’d been to before had apparently split into several others. Since the location had changed, my host called me and asked where I was so that he could come pick me up. It didn’t take long for him to find me. I was standing in front of Osaka’s iconic neon Glico sign, and finding a foreigner in a crowd isn’t exactly difficult. I’m a bit surprised I didn’t get approached by any other hosts. There were a group of them trawling for customers at the end of the bridge. Maybe they feared they would have to use the Dreaded English.

At any rate, I was quickly reunited with the same host I’d chosen my last time in Osaka. Despite weather in the 90′s he was in his suit as always. Our conversation on the way to the club consisted mostly of, “I can’t believe you really came back,” and, “It’s too hot!”

It was rather early when I arrived, at least by host club standards. It was a bit awkward being the first customer in the place. Immediately I was given a seat along with my host, who sat closer this time than any of them had on my first visit. What really shocked me was that several of the hosts came by and called me by name, asking if I remembered them. Of course I did, though maybe not by name. Even so, it was hard for me to believe they could remember so much about me after so many customers. Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner, or maybe they learn to keep names and useless facts locked away. It’s hard to say which.

Though the club was new, since many of the hosts were the same and the owner was technically the same, I was treated as a returning customer. This is what I wanted, of course, in everything expect for the price. The initial two hour all-you-can-drink was upped by 2000 yen. I was also asked by several hosts if they could drink with me – allowing them to drink would cost another 1000 yen. I said I only had a set amount of money, so after allowing my host to get a beer, he told off any host who bothered me after that. Though I’d heard some nasty things about hosts tricking customers out of their money, I found they were really honest about the price. When I asked how much additional time and whatnot would cost, they were careful to calculate it twice for me.

I also found out that saying a host club is expensive to your host is pretty rude. I suppose this should be common sense, but it’s one of those things that just slips out.  Of course they accepted my comment with a smile, but I was chided in good humor for quite some time after the comment.

The system this time worked like this: whenever he was available, my host would be there speaking with me. Other hosts with free time would come over occasionally and chat with us. Through which hosts went to which customers at which times it became immediately obvious who the high paying customers were. Three women came in at one point and took the attention of almost all of the staff, my host included. I was left with the most amateur host. At one point a woman came in with three men I was told were high up in the chain of people-involved-with-running-host-clubs and there was another large exodus to make sure they were served well.

I, on the other hand, being someone who had already expressed having a limited budget and being someone who was going to be leaving Osaka soon, was waited on by the less popular hosts, at least so far as I could discern. Number one stopped by to ask if I remembered him, but that was the extent of our interaction. Aside from my chosen host I spoke mostly with the newest host and two others who remained mostly unoccupied.

This time around, since I spent most of my time with the same guy, the experience was much less like speed dating. What it was more like is hard for me to say. I wouldn’t say it felt like being on a date, exactly, probably since there was usually at least one other guy there with us. It felt more like how I often felt back in Saijo, going to bars and meeting random Japanese guys. We had casual conversations and joked around while drinking. The only real difference was that every now and then my host might put a hand on my leg or something of that nature. Male-female contact of that sort in Japan is extremely rare outside of couples.

Which might be a good place to say that perhaps my inability to play into the game comes from a difference in culture. I often hang out with guys and only guys. This is strange to Japanese people – I’ve been told that going out one-on-one, male and female, for things as simple as a cup of coffee during a break, can be seen as a date. To me, with a male best friend back in America, this is a bit hard to fathom. So while I enjoyed the experience as a way to practice Japanese with beautiful men, it’s hard for me to picture it as anything more than that.

The hosts do their best to make you feel the fake relationship, however. The youngest host continuously made comments about how close I appeared to be with my chosen host who, like a guy on a second date, responded bashfully every time with, “I only met her the one time.” Every member of the staff is in on this game.

During the evening I was able to ask two different hosts why they decided upon their profession. Both answers seemed surprisingly sincere. While I’d expected some lies about drinking and women, what I got was that their motive was almost purely the money. My host said that as an only child who only had a mother, he wanted to be able to give something back to her. He hadn’t set out to be a host, but he knew that if he tried hard at that profession he could make plenty of money to give to her. The other, younger host told me that he was a student at Kinki University and needed the money. He, too, had never had specific thoughts about becoming a host. It was just what happened. Both, as an afterthought, added, “I also really like talking to people.”

Along with this conversation I was reminded of an article I read while in America about host clubs. The author had a very negative opinion of hosts, saying that they were people with no talent and no education. My host said he didn’t complete high school, so maybe in his case there weren’t many well-paying options. The younger one, on the other hand, was a college student with a future ahead of him. I find that an article condemning all hosts in such a way lacks perspective. It’s hard for young people to come by the amount of money a host can make. The temptation to anyone, educated or not, talented or not, isn’t hard to understand.

By the end of the night I spent more money than I care to say I spent. The hosts are good at their job of convincing you that you want to stay longer. The hours went by quickly, and by the end of each one I found myself asking how much it would be for just a bit longer. When it finally came time for me to give my wallet a rest one of the hosts told me to have a safe trip back. My chosen host responded with, “She’s here for another two nights. I’m sure we’ll see her again.” I found myself pondering which night I would return, convinced by the conviction with which my host had spoken.

Today, however, when I went to the ATM I decided that perhaps I should keep it at that farewell.

Yet even if I didn’t fall into the trap of believing a host loves me, I’ve fallen a bit into the trap of thinking they could be a friend. I do have to stop and think, “This is fake,” in order to convince myself money is more important than a few hours with a host. I’m sure if I left Japan without saying anything they wouldn’t care either way, yet somehow I still feel obligated to send a message apologizing for not coming again. It feels the same as it felt to leave my bartender friend in Saijo, only this time I don’t get a free snow cone as a goodbye present.

It’s a really strange business these guys run. It brings up all sorts of questions about the way in which people think and the way people live that these sorts of places are possible or even necessary. There are so many aspects of the host club that fascinate me. I do want to write something academic on the subject, but I have no idea which angle to take it from.

Goodbye, my dear host. Maybe someday I’ll be back in Osaka, but perhaps, as you said, by then you’ll have a normal job.

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