Only In Japan

Friday, March 16, 2007

Entertainers 2

First of all, sorry there was no post last week. I had to go to France for 10 days; and while I would love to tell you about it, I'm not good enough at sarcasm to accurately describe what a lovely country it is. Let's just say one thing: if I have to choose between flying Air France and Aeroflot in the future, I'll go with Aeroflot. I doubt the service will be any worse, but at least the flight attendants will probably be younger.

But I digress. Last post was about hostesses and geisha, but this one is about the lowest form of life in Japan: hosts. Hosts are attractive young men with very few inhibitions, who make a living by entertaining women in overpriced bars or clubs. Well, not all hosts are attractive, but they all certainly try very hard to be. In fact, you can recognize a host at a glance anywhere in Japan: they are all very sun-tanned, with longish hair dyed in flamboyant colours and arranged in elaborate hairdos. They wear extravagant dark suits with equally outlandish white shirts. Sunglasses are common even at 2 AM. They also follow fashion fanatically: if, for example, a men's fashion magazine announces leather neckties to be the next big hit, it will be no time until the hosts are all strutting around in leather neckties. Of course, regular joes quickly stop wearing leather neckties for fear of looking like lowlife street scum hosts, so the leather tie fashion ends up short-lived after all. By then though, the hosts will have already moved on to the next big thing.

From an evolutionary point of view, it is actually quite fascinating to see these young humans follow the way of the peacock: considering that their species' females prefer a certain narrow set of attributes (colourful tails for peahens, dark suits, neckties and white shirts for women), but confronted by the need to stand out among their peers, the males are locked in an evolutionary race to appear ever more flamboyant even though their choice of accessories is pretty limited. Of course, common sense and convenience are the first things to get the boot. That is true for hosts as it is for other men, but strong intra-group competition makes the changes occur faster and more visibly in the host population, while making them appear ever more different from men outside their group, i.e. regular joes. But women don't like men who look too outlandish... It is a difficult balance to find for the hosts. Poor things!

The life of a host is divided in 2 parts: evening and late night. In the evening, they cluster up in busy areas like shopping arcades or major train stations, and approach young women walking alone or in small groups with cheesy pick-up lines. If they are lucky, the girls will follow them to a bar, where they will be entertained and (generally) tricked into blowing their monthly salary in overpriced bottles of Champagne. Of course, most Japanese know what to expect from hosts and would never even acknowledge the vile creatures; but just like the spammers who fill your inbox with junk everyday, the hosts play the statistics. Sooner or later, some girl who will be lonely / desperate / naive enough to listen to their promises of good time. And given the concentration of people in Japanese cities and the loneliness inherent to urban life, the hosts know they just need to be patient and persistent.

Naturally, in a country where manners and a strong work ethic are paramount, that kind of shameless lifestyle is considered supremely disgraceful, and there is much contempt for hosts. Yet many people do enjoy the sort of controlled relationships money can buy, and it is not uncommon to see groups of women, married or not, young or not, buying an evening of laughter, booze and karaoke with handsome young men. That's gender equality for you! They are doing exactly the same thing as the men who visit hostesses. I personally think it's pretty cool Japanese women have such freedoms...

Anyway, that makes for the bulk of a host's evening, but the late nights are spent with another kind of customer: hostesses. As it turns out, after an evening of drinking and pampering older men, many hostesses want to finish the night drinking and being pampered by younger men. Actually, it makes good sense. Hostesses have a high level of disposable income, stressful job conditions, and few opportunities to party, considering they work most evenings. Besides, though their status is miles higher than the hosts', it is often quite difficult for a hostess to date regular people; so for most, the choice is between dating their customers or their fellow hosts. And since the hosts face much the same problems, it is really a marriage made in Heaven: compatible working hours, absence of professional prejudice, and generally rather similar profiles mean there is much going for such couples. I am not sure they make for very conventional relationships, but maybe that's just as well!

You might be wondering if I have ever considered trying that line of work, and I would answer honestly if my mother wasn't reading this column. So all I can say is: me, getting paid to chat and party with beautiful women? Why would I ever want to live such a life?

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