Although I've shamelessly neglected Project Host for the better part of 2009, I breathed life into its failing lungs recently when Tokyo's illustrious male vanity expert Tokyo Moe expressed an interest in visiting a host club. Always up for a challenge and never one to refuse an evening surrounded by cigarette-lighting coiffures, I began hunting for Japanese information on male patrons of host clubs.
The information was a bit dire, a smattering of Yahoo! Q&A posts touching on whether men could enter host clubs but not a lot else. Even after viewing the websites of at least twenty host clubs, there was no clear information: some did not allow men, some made a mention of the "male" price for drinks and others said nothing at all. In the small print on one of the sites it said, If you feel the prospect of visiting a host club for the first time daunting, please feel free to bring a friend or male escort. And thus I began to fabricate a story to explain to any one who asked why I was visiting the club with Tokyo Moe: he is my gentleman cousin who has kindly agreed to escort me on my maiden voyage to a host club.
Armed with a list of ten clubs, Tokyo Moe (TM) and I descended into Kabukicho's neon sleaze, the faces of hosts on the brightly lit billboards smiled down on us like Greek gods with slightly more outrageous hairdos. TM made the decision easy and suggested we aim high and head to Top Dandy , and really, who was I to argue? They have a winning entrance page on their website depicting some moody-looking dandies against a brick wall. There is even some smoke (London fog?) sneaking in from the corner of the mirror. You cannot argue with brick walls and smoke, it is a sexy, sexy combination.
Upon alighting from the elevator, I immediately announced that it was our first time and were men permitted? The men at the door were extremely gracious and after quickly explaining the system, ushered us in to the chandelier-lit interior. The first time fee was 5000 each with the requisite bottle of either shochu or brandy and there was no time limit either. Most club websites that did list entrance fees for men upped the price by anywhere from 3000-5000 yen so I was chuffed to have gotten such a deal.
We were immediately presented with the man menu, which was a heavy leather-bound tome filled with A4 glossies of our potential male companions. Hobbies, blood type (always important when choosing a mate) and height were among the data listed for each host. As is always the case when presented with the man menu, I was hesitant to choose anyone, preferring the manager to send over a variety of pointy-toed men throughout the course of the evening.
The hosts were fine, as with every other club, they tend to subscribe to different looks: there are the "classic" hosts, the "semi-goth with piercings" hosts, the "natural" hosts. Both TM and I were impressed by one host who was both very tall and looked like Kimura Takuya, especially when posing in pictures, which I suspect he perfects at midday in front of a mirror. When he told me I could touch his blond fountain of hair I just about fell into his lap. He was very sweet, although not the most engaging conversationalist. We spoke with around twenty hosts altogether and as with the other clubs, you can usually find at least one you wouldn't mind rubbing up against. TM was able to have some interesting conversations with a couple of the hosts - I think his gender was in his favour in this instance - and he gleaned some juicy tidbits about the darker side of hosting. On my side of the table, however, things were neither juicy nor saucy. At every other club I've been to, the flirty dirty talk has started early on, and encouraging girl that I am, sometimes gets quite interesting. Halfway into the evening one of the hosts told me that he had assumed TM and I were an item and this was when the light went on: because the hosts made an assumption about our relationship, they were keeping the conversation tame and to approved topics such as the amount of alcohol I can drink, upkeep of hair and food. From then on, TM and I went out of our way to drunkenly proclaim to every host coming by that we were cousins, but the conversation still remained fairly stagnant.
There wasn't much wiping of condensation from our glasses, but when it came to lighting cigarettes, I had two or three lighters held to my cigarette each time, which never failed to charm me. The first few hosts we met didn't give us their name cards, and just as I began to wonder what exactly the problem was, we started receiving them from each subsequent host. Despite receiving them though, there were no numbers or email addresses exchanged at the end of the evening, nor any hosts pressing us to return. Again, I think part of this can be chalked up to demographics - as a male/female pair, the hosts probably assumed we were just visiting the club to see what the host thing was all about and nothing more. This was a little disappointing. TM was the perfect male escort however, eager to ask the hosts all manner of question and very discerning when it came to analyzing the physical attributes of each host. I was honored to visit a host club with such a distinguished connoisseur of the Japanese male, and I look forward to future installments of Project Host with his assistance.
Looking around at the other customers, most women were by themselves and fairly plain looking for the most part. I couldn't help but wonder why they had decided to start frequenting the club, and what their first visits had been like. One highlight of the evening was getting to see a champagne call, the elaborate song and dance that goes on when a customer orders a bottle of champagne. All the hosts gather around the customer's table, clapping and cheering and showering attention; I can see how one would lose her head and end up ordering a 60,000 bottle of champagne (wholesale value: 8,000 yen).
I would love to visit the club during their second session, which starts at sunrise due to the entertainment laws and is generally frequented by hostesses and other women in the mizu shobai. With such a different customer base, it would be fascinating to see how the club dynamic changes when catering to other people in "the business". While you always learn more each time you visit a club, I can really see the draw in going to the same club again. After a while, having the same conversation with each guy who comes by starts to feel suspiciously like sitting at a bar and being hit on by a series of guys, each conversation as unoriginal and forgettable as the last. The point of the host club is to create a fantasy where the men fashion themselves after a somewhat forgotten image of the gentleman, with modern accents of bling cuff links and hair injected with air. The female customer is not supposed to worry about directing the conversation, and a skilled host can quickly discover which direction to take the conversation with a new customer. Top Dandy was well-run, clean and sparkly and had a large number of hosts, but I can't remember much of the conversation, which of course means it was forgettable, not that I was too smashed. Whatever the reason for this lacking conversation, I would consider visiting it a second time based on the quality of everything else to see if things improved, if not just to touch the pseudo-Kim Taku's golden candy-floss hair again.