Chelsea Hayward: Hostess bars are bizarre – but then, so is Disneyland

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The Independent Online

What we often misunderstand in the West is that hostessing in Japan has very little to do with sex, quite a lot to do with psychology and nothing to do with prostitution. For an English-speaking woman like me, the job was more like being a tip-seeking bartender and a language teacher at the same time. Cleavage with cadence.

That is why it is OK to have a boyfriend or even be married, because the only requirements of the job are to wear a respectable cocktail dress, laugh at jokes, pour drinks and light cigarettes. It is bizarre, yes, and seems unorthodox to foreigners, but the world of Japanese hostess clubs is just another dimension of reality.

Like Disneyland. Millions of people love the Magical Kingdom and its surreal little corner of make-believe. It's part of American social furniture.

Likewise, hostess bars in Japan are commonplace and respectable. They're not even a recent occurrence, because long before Western women came to pour drinks and help them practice their English, Japanese men were flocking to Japanese hostesses.

It wasn't until the bubble economy of the Eighties – when the fortunes of Japan's millionaires and billionaires swelled to extreme highs – that the English became a hot commodity for the elite, and so too did the fantasy of the blonde, blue-eyed woman.

Today, Western girls remain a novelty and probably always will, but this is a subculture with revolving doors and most of them are only here temporarily.

The hostess club exists in business and entertainment districts alike. No one is ashamed of frequenting a hostess club. No one denies it. It is nothing like a stolen hour spent in some seedy showgirl venue. Some men are privileged just to be going. The hostess club is a cultural phenomenon that runs parallel to daily existence. It is a place where men come just to be in the company of women, for as long they are willing to pay for it.

Men rely on the hostess club, its hostesses and often the karaoke to relieve stress, to talk make-believe and have someone listen to whatever they feel like saying. In Japan's workaholic, patriarchal world, it's probably almost a necessity. A part of the social furniture.

Taken from Chelsea Haywood's '90-Day Geisha: My Time as a Tokyo Hostess' (Mainstream Publishing, £7.99)

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