A new glamour for the cabaret club girls

A new glamour for the cabaret club girls

As the New York Times reports, the collapse of the rural economy swells the ranks of the Japanese hostess industry but the girls don't mind all the attention
Japanese hostess
The appropriately named Hot Men's Box, a free service of the Kabukicho red light district, shows the faces of the neighborhood's most popular cabaret club girls (image by Flickr user Colin McMillen).

In her article "Young Japanese Women Vie for a Once-Scorned Job," New York Times writer Hiroko Tabuchi reports on the growing acceptance for "hostessing" as a profession for young women. Hostesses, of course, have been a part of Japanese society since the early 20th century, but thanks to the recent popularity of "hostess fashion magazines" like Koakuma Ageha and ex-hostess celebrities like Eri Momoka, young girls now openly aspire to dress up like gaudy princesses and earn six-figures just for fawning over every utterance emanating from their crusty old customers' shochu-scarred mouths.

To be perfectly accurate, the contemporary boom is not for the girls who work at "hostess bars" -- high-class Ginza establishments stocked with the latest in erudite and elegant women -- but those who work at cabaret clubs, nicknamed kyabakura in Japanese. Kyabakura are much less exclusive and lower priced, and the women need no real skills other than adequate good looks and a strong stomach for misogyny. The entire hostess genre cannot be classified as "prostitution," as no sexual services are exchanged on the premises, but the idea is for older male clients and hard-working corporate teams to swing by the clubs and have a chance to talk to real life 20 year-old women who don't immediately scream "Get lost, old man" in their faces.

The NY Times article never asks why these cabaret clubs have such huge demand amongst men, even in this current economic crisis, but the appeal is clear. Market researcher and pop sociologist Atsushi Miura, who is quoted in the article, calls the cabaret clubs "theme parks of traditional gender roles" in his 2008 book "Why Do Women Want to Become Cabaret Club Girls?" Men happily pay the ¥6,000 or more per hour in order to re-imagine a world where women are still delightfully subservient and men do not have to actually practice basic hygiene or etiquette to cavort with the opposite sex.

But who are these girls raring to be cabaret club girls? The NY Times article does not go very deep into this territory, but Miura's book builds an average profile of the kyabakura worker: uneducated, poor, broken family, and from some tiny impoverished village in Northern Japan. Fitting that pattern, the star hostess Mineri Hayashi in the Tabuchi article is from the northern island of Hokkaido, rather than, say, the affluent suburbs of Yokohama.

The current recession isn't really to blame for sending Japanese women into the wading pool of the Japanese sex business. The two decade-long collapse of the rural economy is probably the main factor. With no education and no jobs in their hometowns, these girls' only chance to earn a decent salary is coming to Tokyo or other big cities to be a mock princess in a sketchy industry. And in an eerie parallel to the pre-War days of selling off farmers' daughters into prostitution, most of the cabaret club girls send money back home to their parents each month.

And yet with such fabulous makeup and gravity defying hairstyles, everything looks so glamorous!