Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Host by any other name...

Despite my recent silence on Project Host, it is anything but forgotten. In fact, I have plans to go back to Club Love next week in order to experience what it is like to be a return customer. Yes, that is the only reason I am going. Taking one for the team so to speak. After exchanging a couple messages with Roses however, I really will be taking one for the team. 30,000 yen worth in fact.

I wanted to make sure that the other ladies in my party would be hooked up with a good deal and so I inquired with Roses as to the cost the four of us would incur. The two of us who are host virgins will get the same deal we got on my birthday and my friend who accompanied me that fateful night will pay double the virgin price. When it came to me, things got a little murky. Because I essentially have to request Roses by name when we go, my portion of the bill will be "a little bit more expensive" he said. When pressed for more details, he said it is calculated by the amount I drink. And then, sweetheart that he is, he offered to meet us and escort us to the club. Without prompting he added that the "escort portion" doesn't cost any money. You know it's true love when your date assures you that picking you up won't cost a thing. But not in a J. Lo "my love don't cost a thang" kind of way.

A few days later I started doing some investigative work on the Internet into the systems employed by host clubs for return customers. Let's just say that when I have time to think about something, I really think about it, and I knew that if I didn't know approximately how much I was going to be gouged for that night I would either not enjoy myself in tense anticipation of the bill, or I would overcompensate by drinking a shitload so that when the bill came I literally wouldn't be able to bat an eye.

In general, one of the things that distinguishes the host club system from that of hostess clubs and kyabakura, is that once you take the plunge and request the host you like by name, you cannot request a different host. Ever. In other words, once you choose him, you become his customer and he will then be in charge of looking after you on every subsequent visit. So on a return visit, there will be a fee for requesting your host (every time) and then often a table charge and some crazy-ass 35% tax that I don't recall hearing the government put into effect. There is then the "set" charge which is essentially your entrance fee and from what I've heard can be from around 3,000-10,000 yen. Possibly more. We haven't even begun to discuss drinks! You can order cocktails and drinks by the glass (exorbitantly marked up of course) but your host will really want you to put a bottle in the club's bottle keep and this is where it gets expensive.

This is also where I start to sweat. There was no way I was going to walk blind into a situation next week where I had no idea as to the monetary value of at least the drinks I would consume, if not the company I would keep. Revert to the Roses hotline. After making some floozy excuse for emailing, I inquired as to whether I would be able to "play" for 15,000-20,000 yen. He immediately replied that it depends on what I drink but to put a bottle away it would be at least 30,000 yen. Oh and that he would do his best to keep my bill within 30,000. Enough beating around the bush I thought, I had had enough with our polite and vague exchanges so I asked him straight out whether I had to buy a bottle. I don't think he was too pleased as he said that a service bottle of shochu would be there to drink and it would be "OK" to drink that but that it would be better to buy a bottle so that I can drink it next time I come. To drive this point home he said that the service bottle is for that night only and that even if there is some left over, it can't be kept. And for good measure he assured me that him and his cronies would do everything in their power to ensure we had a rollicking good time drinking. I'll bet.

After that exchange I immediately thought, fuck it, we'll just go to another club. The last thing I want to do is be the cheapskate customer who only drinks water but after hearing from him that I can drink from the service bottle, I think I will keep my date after all. From things I've read online it seems that the host industry in particular is trying to make their respective systems a little more transparent and less intimidating for new customers. For a long time many women were scared to go to host clubs because they didn't want to get stuck with an overinflated bill at the end of the night, and the environment is such that it is extremely difficult to ask about prices. I mean really, once you are surrounded and being pampered, the last thing you want to do is spoil the fantasy moment and ask how much the flattery is going to run you. This way of thinking still prevails for many women and because of this, clubs in Kabukicho are very up front on their websites about the virgin price. After that however, is where it still remains quite vague. Along with the virgin price many of the clubs have a Q&A page that is not particularly helpful but one thing I found interesting was that they all had a couple lines encouraging women to feel very welcome to call the club with any inquiries they may have. Experiencing what I have with Japanese people asking questions though, I doubt many women take the clubs up on this offer.

Online there is not as much information as I had hoped. There are a large number of websites ranking all the host clubs, but in terms of Internet forums on the topic, it is quite sparse. I found a few places here and there where women were asking about going to a club for the first time, but I couldn't find any specific info on return visits. Some of the ranking sites also include "host club manner" sections and "how to spend time at a host club" sections, instructing women on the host club basics and assuring them that they would be able to visit a club even on a budget. Again though, after briefly mentioning how it can get dangerously expensive if one is not careful, these sites then remind women to feel free to ask questions. It's a bit of a catch 22 here. Women are encouraged to ask questions while simultaneously being fed lots of vague price information that makes the system out to be more complicated than it is. This in turn intimidates customers I think, customers who will then show up no questions asked and hope the bill isn't too outrageous by the end of the evening.

I would like to see just once how the return customer deal works so I most likely will be heading there one night next week. If all else fails, I will just get started a bit early on the series, and check out a new club.


jaredinnakano said...

Glad to see that your Project Host back on track. Many of us are eagerly awaiting your updates! After watching 4 episodes of Gira Gira on tv, I'd love to know about the competitive dynamics *between* hosts, too.

Lisa said...

Goodness, that is expensive! Thankfully we have you to live the experience for us!

Kelley Dawne said...

I'm not sure if it's different from club to club, but what I understand from the boyfriend is that you can indeed change your host. It's just frowned upon because it creates bad tension in the club if one host is exchanged for another.
I think the return customer rate is ridiculous. I would rather visit a new club each time and take advantage of the newbie price.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Jared: I will indeed try to touch on the competitive dynamics in future installments. I think it can become quite fierce towards the end of the month, when it comes time to tally up their earnings and name that month's ichiban.

Kelley: It may differ depending on the area, but most of the explanatory websites that I looked at (some written by hosts) say that it is not possible. Of course, I'm sure if a customer makes a stink about it, she could change her "tantou" host, but from what I understand it's just not done.