Hosts Set Hearts Beating in Kabukicho (Part II)

Club Prince > Part I > Part II

...back to Part I...Since any given host's ranking is based on the income he brings to the club, Kanako believes, this faux bond creates an obligation for the customer to faithfully support her man.

A stroll through the crusty alleys of Kabukichi will reveal numbers assigned to host mug shots plastered outside the windows of most establishments. Club Ai, an empire of clubs generally credited with being the best in all of Japan, is known for its top-ranked hosts jumping ship to start their own businesses. When Kids Alive ceased in 2003, Yuga soon after started hosting at Raphael, a Kabukicho club where he managed to ascend to the number one spot in three months.

"If I like a particular host," explains Kanako, "I want to see his stature increase. So I will keep buying drinks. My feeling is that it almost becomes my duty."

It is here that things can get monetarily dangerous very quickly. The price of that bottle of Dom Perignon from the dance number? 80,000 yen. Other more select varieties are ten times that figure. Even generic white and red wines that might be priced at less than 1,000 yen at a Tokyo liquor store sell for 8,000 yen.

The go-go club environment further inflates the bills, almost exponentially.

"I might see one customer at another table buy an expensive bottle," says Kanako, who often ran up tabs of around 40,000 yen. "And then invariably there will be another. I don't want to be a loser. So it is like a challenge to keep up."

Factor in an entry fee of 3,000 yen, kick in a shimeisha charge of 2,000 yen, and sing a dozen tunes in the executive karaoke room (15,000 yen per hour) and it is not surprising to hear reports of nightly tallies amounting to hundreds of thousands of yen.

Of course, any customer will be matched one-for-one in drinking by her trusty sweetheart - after all, his compensation is mainly a 50% commission of total sales. This leads to, Yuga estimates, an average host downing a staggering thirty glasses of various booze throughout one evening of entertaining multiple customers.

Offsetting this intestinal strain somewhat are the handsome pay packets hosts receive. Though a rookie just cutting his teeth might only pocket 150,000 yen a month, it is not unusual for a veteran of as little as six months to be taking home 3 or 4 million. Likewise, top-earners will be expected to look the part, dolling out a few hundred thousand yen a month on fancy threads and accessories, perhaps fancy rings or a sparkling necklace.

While legendary in host circles as a standard perk, lavish gifts (Armani suits and Bulgari watches, for example) are not allowed to be received by hosts at Club Prince. "This is the case," explains Yuga, who sports a 3.5 million yen gold watch that he says he purchased himself, "because otherwise hosts will not be motivated to generate more sales at the club."

The profession depicted in the lyrics of "Love Dokkyun" is that of a charismatic, virile gentleman who possesses superhuman skills to drink into the wee hours. But make no mistake; these boys take their lumps. Rookies are assigned to scrub toilets, heavy drinking often necessitates forced vomiting in the bathroom in order to indulge again for subsequent patrons; and the continual promotion process necessitates that dozens of phone calls be placed and hundreds of mails be sent each afternoon to prospective or steady clients, all while nursing a cloudy head.

Then there is sex. Even though it is not on the menu and a legal element needs to be navigated as to protocol - what's done in private without direct payment is not the police's business - succumbing to a request for physical favors might be a last resort in getting a customer to return.

"Once it happens, she will want it to continue," says Yuga of the type of customer referred to in host slang as a makura (pillow). "Of course, the host will then request that she make a return visit to the club. Otherwise it won't happen again. It is a part of the service necessary to meet the customer's demand."

Further complicating customer recruitment is a recent amendment to the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses that prohibits hosts from trolling the streets to snag clientele. As well, strict enforcement of an existing regulation that says clubs must shut their doors between 1 and 5 a.m. is further making business difficult. (Club Prince reopens in the morning to service hostesses getting off work.)

Biz insiders say that these restrictions have been set in place following continued instances of girls accruing mind-boggling bills, for which they were forced to secure high-interest sarakin loans or - worse - pushed into a fuzoku (sex service) gig. The former has been the case for a friend of hostess Kanako, who in spite of not having visited a host club for over a year is still in the hock for approximately 1.5 million yen.

Yuga does not deny these shady elements exist in the industry. But he feels it is time for a change. "We have to stop painting a picture of violence and dirty behavior," he says.

He even will go so far as to claim that his club is in defiance of yakuza gangsters, who traditionally extort money from business operators by requiring the purchase of mundane goods like ice and towels at outrageous prices in exchange for "protection." Yuga says quite simply: "They are not welcome."

Today Yuga possesses a collection of a half-dozen businesses that reach as far as Hokkaido and include one Akihabara maid café. This summer will see an expansion into Kyushu. "My dream is to be tops in Kabukicho in two years," he says of his lofty goal to surpass Club Ai.

Though he is now primarily involved in the business side of things, Yuga still can't resist the need to serve. "If I sit here in this seat," he says from the edge of a table opposite one of the original four women, "it is my mission, my habit, and part of my personality to make sure that each lady enjoys herself."

Club Prince > Part I > Part II

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