A life to die for
Japanese male escorts live a lavish life, but it comes at a price. -TNP
IT is a job many men would die for.
The job description - flirt, party, and drink with beautiful women on a full-time basis - may be enough to make some draft a resignation letter from their current job.
The pay? Over six-figures a year if you're an above-average worker. Higher if you're really good at it, putting you on the same pay scale as some CEOs.
And this doesn't include the gifts you receive from satisfied clients, which can include luxury cars, and even property.
The best part? No experience or educational qualifications are required.
On paper, working as a male host in one of Japan's host clubs seems like a dream job.
But in reality, male hosts, or hosuto as they are known, pay a heavy price for their lifestyle.
Not all of them earn these fancy sums. And they go through enormous stress.
According to a CNN report last week, a growing number of professional women in Japan are splashing out US$1,000 ($1,360) to US$50,000 a night for the companionship of these male equivalents of the geisha.
The money buys them the undivided attention of their male hosts, who shower them with compliments, pour them ridiculously overpriced drinks, and engage them in mindless chit chat to help them forget the stresses of their regular lives.
As a result, thousands of these clubs have sprung up all over Japan, with many concentrated in Tokyo's Kabukicho sex district.
Host clubs have been around for more than four decades, the first one reportedly opening in Tokyo in 1966.
But it is only in the last few years that hosutos have come into the mainstream due to heavy media coverage, Dr Akiko Takeyama, an assistant professor at the University of Kansas department of anthropology and women's studies, told The New Paper on Sunday.
'For example, Reiji, a former top-ranking host at one of the oldest and largest host clubs in Tokyo, frequently appeared on Japanese variety shows and published a series of popular books on how to seduce women. He also offered advice on how to improve chances of success in business,' said DrTakeyama, who has published studies on host clubs.
'Hosts' image began to change from that of a socially stigmatised sex worker to a kind of entrepreneurial figure.'
The lure of this seemingly glamorous life has attracted guys like Yoshi to the job.
'I wanted money for a better life - living in a nicer place, eating gourmet food, and wearing expensive watches,' the 24-year-old told Dr Takeyama during her research stint in Japan.
'I quit construction work to become a host, who, I imagined, would receive cash and expensive gifts from women while merely drinking alcohol and flirting with them.'
Hosutos are typically good-looking, in their 20s or 30s, snappily dressed in designer suits. They sport mid-length hair, and have the personal grooming of a supermodel.
They are usually paid a meagre salary, often not more than 7,000 yen ($95) a day.
But what they get in commission for helping the club to sell heavily marked-up alcohol to clients more than makes up for this.
The Japan Times reports that customers pay an average of over 25,000 yen for drinks. Some are known to fork out as much as 2 million yen for a bottle of designer brandy. And whatever a client splurges at the club, hosutos can get up to 60 per cent in commission.
In this way, top hosutos can earn more in one month than what a Japanese salaryman typically earns in a year.
CNN reported that top hosuto Yunosuke who, like most of his peers, go by just one name, earned more than US$200,000 last year.
That's not all. Make a rich client happy enough, and she'll shower him with extravagant gifts.
Misaki, a top host at Club Gigolo, told Japan Times that he received a Jaguar car from a client. His colleague, Kauro, was even luckier - he received an apartment in Tokyo.
He said: 'I accepted it graciously, but sold it quickly because I didn't want to be kept by her.'
As popular hosutos bring in big money, clubs post rankings of their top staff outside their doors. Many hosutos also maintain personal profiles on their club's websites to attract potential customers.
While some hosutos are known to offer sex as part of their 'service', many in the industry frown on the practice. This is based more on economics than moral principle, though.
Once a host sleeps with a client, she has no reason to patronise the club any more.
Although the media has portrayed the lifestyle of hosutos as being glamorous, Dr Takeyama said they lead hard lives.
'I learned that most hosts struggle to survive in Tokyo. Only a handful make more than a million yen a month, while most make between about US$1,500 to US$3,000,' she said.
'I quickly learned how hard their work is physically and mentally, and how many health problems they face because of constant smoking, drinking and partying.'
Thor Williamson, a hosuto of Canadian-Japanese decent, told the Hiragana Times that most busy hosts often work seven-day weeks, sometimes sleeping an average of just two to three hours a day.
He remembers taking only six days off for the whole of one year. And not for a vacation.
'I was too tired, too hung over, too sick to come to work,' said the 20-something looker, the only bilingual host at his club.
'The hours are crazy.'
Despite their partying ways, the life of a hosuto is full of stress.
Host clubs often penalise hosutos who don't meet sales targets.
Newbies start at the very bottom of the ladder and are made to do menial tasks like sweeping the club and scrubbing toilets before they are even considered for frontline duties.
The Japan Times reports that newbies are often bullied by senior hosutos, to the extent that workplace harassment at some clubs have led to reports of fatal beatings.
If they survive their 'probation' period, newbies are put on the streets for 'catching' duty, where they solicit prospective women clients to come to their clubs.
And a significant number of them never make it past this stage, said former hosuto Asamitsu Kosugi.
'Some guys spend years pacing the streets and never go anywhere,' he told Japan Times.
That's why Williamson warns wannabes that the life of a hosuto is not what the media makes it out to be.
'A lot of what happens in our business is just fantasy,' he said.
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