People in the margins: a conversation with a Japanese male host
One day while in transit I started talking to another traveler who was also going the same way. He was a handsome young Japanese man, mid-twenties, in full backpacker outfit. He told me he was a Master’s student in one of Japan’s top universities studying biology informatics, though at the time he was on a leave of absence. A few months back he had taken a job as a host in a host bar. Curious, I sat him down for a beer and asked him about it.
Why did you get this job in the first place? My whole life I’ve always been by myself, or with books. I’m always reading. I really wanted to take a break and experience people. Really try to understand people.
So who are your customers? They are usually young girls, in their mid twenties, some as young as 19. Actually more than half are from that night girls: kabakura girls or straight up prostitutes. People on the margin, who don’t have a community, don’t have many friends.
There’s two types of girls: the ones who push and the ones who pull. The ones who push are easy. They talk, and you just have to listen. One time I was with one girl for two hours who just kept saying how strong she was at drinking. The ones who pull are harder. They are usually shy, so I’m the one who needs to start talking. I need to identify how I can reach her emotionally. Does she want to laugh and feel entertained? Or does she want to tell me something within her? So I have to tell her something about myself, my experiences, to try and draw her out.
Are the stories real? No. They’re not totally fake, it’s always based on something, otherwise it would be too hard. But they’re not real. I’m naturally a shy guy, an introvert. When I joined the club I learned to not be like that. But it’s a persona. Actually in the club I am Soma, not Kei. Kei would tell them to stop spending so much money on drinks. 300 bucks on champagne? Crazy. But Soma has to make sure they get more and more drinks. So Soma has all these stories
So tell me, why would girls pay so much money to be with someone like you? In one word, manzoku. Satisfaction.
Sometimes I have sex with them too. Then they pay more. It’s not legal to get paid outside the club, but then they come back to the club and spend more.
Do you enjoy having sex with them? I don’t mind, it helps me earn more money.
I talk to them, on LINE, on the phone, but not for long, max 15 minutes. It keeps them wanting more, and increases the chances of them coming to the club.
I’m one of the older hosts. Usually they are younger, 23, 24. So I won’t be doing this for much longer.
How much money do you make? Now I have more skill, so I’m making more than before. In a month I take home around 27000 (USD). Not a lot.
That’s a lot! I don’t think so. It’s a lot of work. In Osaka or Tokyo, with a bit more skills, someone could make two or three times as much. There are some legendary hosts in Tokyo who can make 500,000 USD in a month for the club, so they take home around 135,000.
So why don’t you move there? Maybe I could, but I’m doing this for the experience. It’s really opened my eyes. And I like living in this student dorm. It’s dirty, but I love being there.
Do your friends know that you are a host? Yes, I am generally very open with a lot of my friends. My living situation is great. It’s a bit dirty but I love being there. It’s a student residence, and everyone is very liberal. Everyone is very concerned about issues like discrimination, the way minorities are treated, like women, or immigrants. It’s a really great environment. I have some really great friends there.
Do you consider yourself a minority? Yes. I’m at the margin. For three reasons. One is this job, but there’s more. When I was a child they diagnosed me with ADHD. I was always reading manga in class and stuff. So they sent me to one of those classes with a bullshit name for special kids. Mine was “the Dandelion class.” I was there for four years.
Do you think you actually have ADHD? I don’t know. It’s a spectrum. The point is that it had an impact on my life in the sense that it moved me to the margin.
And the third reason? From when I was a boy I felt like I didn’t belong in this society, and I really felt like I needed to go out of Japan. I really wanted to be part of a community, and I really believed I could find that abroad.
I tried for 7 years to study abroad. When I was in junior high school I was studying to become a medical doctor, even though I was a very bad student. But still I was applying to study abroad. The first time I had a chance to do that my parents blocked it at the last minute. They had let me go through with the application process because they didn’t really think that I’d actually go through with it. Then in my first university they had a program where only one student in the whole university could study abroad every three years, and I didn’t get it. Then I transferred to another university that had a better study abroad program, but professors kept rejecting my application. There’s a thought in many Japanese universities that if you’re studying sciences you get to go abroad only once you’re at the graduate level. Anyway, in the end I got it and was able to go Alberta for 10 months.
So, how was it? Did you get what you wanted? Yes. I made friends. For the first time I had friends.
This story doesn’t make sense. You say you were a bad student, that you had all these problems learning, and yet you’re now a master’s student at one of Japan’s top universities studying something extremely complex. I think it’s because I wasn’t really aware of the gap between where I was and where I wanted to go. Looking back I can see that gap, but at the time I didn’t really pay attention to it. So I just went for it.
So what now? I don’t know. Maybe I will start my own company, or get some work experience at some company like everyone else. I’m not sure I will finish the Master. In the end I think I want to be doing something to improve society, help people.
What are you reading now? I used to read a lot of science non-fiction, but I’m taking a break from that. Now I’m reading this book about the world of blind people, how they live their world and how they use their other senses to make sense of the world.