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July 27th, 2007

Posted on 2007.07.27 at 18:18
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I chanced upon a feature article in Metropolis, a Tokyo English language magazine, called “Boy Toys” (http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/687/feature.asp). The article begins: “No longer under the shadow of their sisters, Japans hosts have taken center stage”. Hostesses and hosts are an interesting topic to me because I have met one hostess and two hosts, and because I have been encouraged by many friends to attend maid cafes and hostess Izukayas. My reaction to such encouragement has been dismissive, as I feel uncomfortable with the idea of ignoring the fact that someone is acting to entertain me, and as I completely rule out anything sexual involving strangers. In Japan, though, as I have learned from others and from this article, there are various levels of hosting, and not all of these levels are even considered to be on the same spectrum as that which includes sex. One of the hosts that I met told me that, if I have a Japanese girlfriend, she’ll be “allowed” to be angry at me only if I attend certain types of hostess bars of cafes, but that if I sip coffee presented to me by a woman dressed as an old fashioned servant girl, my girlfriend would have no reason to become upset. This was an interesting way that he chose to introduce the variety in host/hostess business and in the way that it is perceived. Often my friends at Hiyoshi campus of Keio University tease me, telling me I ought to go to a hostess bar so I can meet some fun girls. I took this to be bantering and never considered it an actual suggestion until one of them mentioned to me that he’d go all the time himself if it weren’t so expensive. With these and other similar conversations in mind, I read the Metropolis article eagerly.

The article explains the business of male to female host entertainment in Tokyo, and it covers not only specifics on what the hosts and clients do but also on the specific backgrounds of various hosts interviewed. The former topic is what I’ll focus on, since exploring what kind of people are attracted to the host profession seems to me to be something to focus on after establishing what the profession is about. The boys dress is really expensive and fashionable clothes, upturn their collars, and spike their hair. They entertain ladies by dancing in synchrony together, by singing solo karaoke acts, and one on one over fancy dinners (on the ladies).
What’s curious is how personal everything is. The hosts are rated and ranked based on the number of clientele and the revenue attained by each. Clients are more often than not aware that if they refrain from purchasing a very expensive bottle of alcohol to share with their host over dinner, they run the risk of embarrassing the host in the presence of his colleagues and diminishing his rank. Regular clients get so caught up in the game, trying night after night to boost the reputation of their favorite host, that many spend huge sums of money and have to take on additional, part time work to support the hobby. Sex, in the particular category of business covered in the feature, is purely personal and is in no official way related to the financial transactions of the business. However, the connection is obvious: sex deepens relationships, and clients who are more attached to their hosts are more likely to spend more on him than those who aren’t so personally invested. The other point that stuck out was how much alcohol these hosts drink. If they have to entertain four ladies a night, and if it’s rude of them not to match her drink for drink, and if these ladies are, for the most part, looking to have a good time and lose themselves a little, then the hosts are likely to drink so much that they would run daily risks of hospitalization were it not for their trained ability to manually detoxify.

I am both intrigued and disgusted by this whole thing. I would feel horrible on both sides of the business. As a host I would feel fake and insecure and sick. Worst of all, I would feel terribly guilty, leeching off of sympathetic girls in order to boost my ego and my reputation among other, similarly insecure men. As a client I would feel even more dishonest, as, rather than pretending to adore someone I don’t know anything about, I would have to pretend that the false shower of attention and respect and devotion I received from my host was real. To indulge in that frightens me horribly. What kind of person is capable of that indulgence? It must be someone who is terribly lonely and unloved. Scary! The only thing that I like about the whole mess, and it’s only because I’m such a nerd and so curious about people, is that the hosts are also expected, when they can finally drag themselves out of bed each morning, to keep up by email with all of their clientele. At night they do nothing but woo, but over email they learn all about who the women actually are, and they are able to befriend them and offer encouragement. This introduces, as a possibility, the new hot topic (and very serious, very real problem) of blog alter-ego-ing. People may pretend to have a life that they don’t, and I would not want to deal with that.

To sum things up, I have discovered that there is such a thing as relationship trade, and that in Japan it is not necessarily affiliated with sex trade. People can do very different things in Japan than in America while still maintaining social dignity. Finally, this, like capsule hotels and curry-train restaurants, would never work in a big American city. I can’t see the average American single woman doting over some boy toy host who she doesn’t know. I think that, in America, when you begin a business relationship with a stranger, there is less of a widespread social obligation to become that stranger’s friend and to maintain integrity. People use each other to get ahead in America, and they are trained by the business world to be unsympathetic to the problems of those with whom they do business. In Japan, all sorts of interesting, and to me, sometimes discouragable, businesses exist because people are not expected to sue if something goes wrong, and because people are expected to be socially considerate and entirely trustworthy.

As for research, I am a little disappointed about project one (single atom transistors), because summer vacation (Mid July through August) has changed everyone’s work ethic and work hours. Some people have gone out of town, and others have simply cut back on coming to lab. This is entirely understandable for them, but I did no expect it and had planned on have fuller weeks in which to get things done. I have mentioned this to Tian, who is actually in Sukuba near Tokyo now, and I am under the impression that since last year the lab has perhaps changed policy regarding people researching by themselves. It is one thing for a student to stay in the computer room alone (all night) drafting a report, but it is entirely different if the student wants to run an experiment alone in lab. I have been told by several people not to touch the equipment or do any experimenting on my own. I think this is because we have had a recent history of explosive machine failure, and, although nobody was hurt, safety precautions are increased.

I have learned yesterday that the Itoh group would like me to give a presentation on August 6th about my research at Rice University. I was surprised that they did not want to hear about my present research this summer helping them, and I feel a bit like a failure. On the other hand, the presentation made recently by the students of project 2 (nano-scale MOS FET), whom I helped, was a big success, and I think people realize that I contributed to that. With two weeks left in the internship, and with many helpful lab members away, I don’t think I will be able to pull off developing project 1 or 2 enough to warrant a new presentation. So, I think I ought better to present my research from last semester at Rice as requested. As a way to challenge myself and impress the group (they all have to give their presentations in English), I will attempt to give my presentation in Japanese. I will therefore devote a lot of time in the near future to studying Japanese and preparing my slides.

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