A Tale of Two Host Clubs: Yaoh vs The Great Happiness Space

They live fast, drink hard and have more game than a pachinko parlour.

Some say that hosts are good-for-nothing cads who live off women but for those who love ’em, they’re a therapist, boy toy and rock star rolled in one. In the interest of research (but of course), I recently watched Yaoh and the British documentary The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief to get a better understanding of the subject.

So, low-life gigolos or cold-eyed casanovas out to make a killing? I’ll leave it to you to decide but suffice it to say: Toto, we’re not in Ouran anymore. 

The Skinny

Yaoh2006 drama about an ex-thug (TOKIO’s Matsuoka Masahiro) who overcomes various obstacles (read: backstabbing, over-amorous patrons and host club power struggles) to become the number one stud in Tokyo’s red-light district.

Put it this way: If Jackie Collins were a Japanese woman and she had written a novel about a rookie host who out-beds, outwits and out-charms his rivals to become Tokyo’s top lothario, this would have been its live-action adaptation (well, except for the out-bedding part.)

The Great Happiness Space2006 documentary by British director Jake Clennell that takes viewers behind the scenes at Stylish Rakkyo Cafe, which used to be one of Osaka’s top host clubs till it closed its shutters. We meet its owner Issei, his boys, as well as the club’s clients, and through a series of candid interviews find out the answers to all the burning questions that you’ve ever wanted to know: Do hosts sleep with their clients? If it’s all just make-believe, why do women bother spending so much money at host clubs? That whole “healing a woman’s heart” spiel — is there any truth in it or is it just plain BS?

The Den of Iniquity

Yaoh: Club Romeo, Shinjuku, Tokyo

Located a discreet distance from the gaudy neon lights of Shijuku’s main thoroughfare, Club Romeo is basically a more adult version of a butler cafe. Its waist-coated employees and Euro-esque interior are meant to evoke suggestions of class and refinement. Too bad no one told their patrons that carrying bricks of yen around in their purse spoils this illusion.

The Great Happiness Space: Stylish Rakkyo Cafe, Minami district, Osaka

Rakkyo caters to a young clientele and its style is similarly laidback and unfussy. In fact, it looks rather unassuming and if I were to walk past it without seeing the club’s signage, I wouldn’t automatically think it was a host club. The furnishings aren’t particularly fancy but for those willing to splash out a bit more, there are semi-private booths for rent, which are ideal for jealous types who don’t want to see their hosts mingling with other customers.

Host with the Most

Yaoh: Seiya, age unknown

Suave and charismatic, Seiya is a charmer who never fails to dazzle his clients, not even when he is wearing a suit that has obviously been fashioned out of 17th century brocade curtains. Or a polar bear.

Seiya: Not a friend of PETA’s, obviously

No club hostesses for him, Seiya deigns only to entertain women from the top echelons of the business and entertainment worlds. And they in turn are only too happy to drop millions of yen (sometimes literally) just for the pleasure of smelling his lip gloss.

While his underlings are often seen enjoying sexy times with their clients, Seiya’s own encounters are very chaste in comparison, which makes sense if you think about it. Who knows what kind of a bloodbath would ensue if they found out he was sleeping with one of them? This explains why his clients are mostly content to hang on to his arm, though he’s been known to go wild and reserve an entire cinema for a private movie date.

The Great Happiness Space: Issei, 22

Oh, Issei’s got game all right. At the time of filming, he was apparently the number one selling host in the entire Minami district and it isn’t hard to believe this. On the surface, he has a disarming charm that draws people to him. Though he’s got a swagger that comes with knowing that he’s the district’s top dog, he’s not obnoxious about it (then again, he was being filmed. For all I know, he could be a complete asshole off camera.)

Charm, however, isn’t the only thing that he has going for him. Like all successful hosts, Issei is a born salesman. He can read his clients like a book and more importantly, he has, in the words of his bar manager, “an instinctual understanding of women’s needs.”

Considering that he’s peddling dreams of a relationship that can never be, the fact that one woman even went so far as to break up with her fiancé just so she could be with him at the club should give you an idea of how good he is at his job. And unlike his drama counterpart, let’s just say he’s seen a lot of action on the side.

Issei: I’ve done whatever girls asked of me. Sure, I had sex. I was having non-stop sex. I had sex with 365 girls a year.

A Day in the Life…

Yaoh 

Unspecified hour of the day: Wake up, thank the drama gods that your hairdo has the tensile strength of concrete so you don’t have to spend hours styling your hair every day.

What are the chances that Ryosuke and Margaret Thatcher share the same hair stylist?

This leaves you time to hang out with your friends at your friendly neighbourhood diner and do good deeds such as helping soapland girls clean their bath tubs and saving clients from a life of prostitution.

Evening: Head for work. If you’re the leader of a host faction, gather your boys together to do The Strut™ down Kabuki-cho. Presenting the Fall/Winter 2006 Rent-a-Stud collection:

Night: Enjoy civilised tête-à-têtes with clients and since this is a club of sophistication and taste, this means no rowdy karaoke sessions or champagne calls. Club Romeo must be the only host club in Japan where the employees do not suffer from alcohol poisoning or liver failure.

Morning: Close shop for the day. If you’re Ryosuke, retire to the rooftop to admire Tokyo’s skyline. One day, all this will be yours when you become the King of Kabuki-cho because behind every successful man is a woman, and behind every woman is obviously a host. As you can see, logic is clearly not this drama’s strongest suit.

The Great Happiness Space

Unspecified hour of the evening: Crawl out of bed, check that liver is still alive, drag self into bathroom.

Nighttime: Head to club, style hair, accessorise, get ready for another night.

Midnight: Solicit and pick up new customers, flirt and chain smoke with regular clients, down 10 bottles of champagne and abuse liver all over again, think of the money you’re earning while throwing up.

Morning: Say goodbye to clients, close shop for the day, stagger out into the daylight, try not to walk into a lamp post. Head home for much needed sleep.

The Rest of the Boys

Yaoh: The rest of the hosts at Club Romeo basically fall into two factions – Team Seiya (aka the Baaaaad Hosts) and Team Ryosuke (the good guys who just want to make women happy — for a fee.)

Over on Team Seiya, we have:

From left to right: Psychopath, Pimp and Man-whore

Hikaru: The cold-blooded Madam killer (think Honey-senpai but older with a knife fetish)

Taiga: the ex-boxer who lures girls into prostitution

Ran: The man skank who will suck you dry, in more ways than one

Making up the numbers for Team Ryosuke are:

From left to right: El Kaname, that dude from Gokusen, some geezer

Shu: Takeshi Kaneshiro’s long lost twin an ex-medical school student and heir to a family hospital who gives up his fortune so that he can answer his true calling — healing women’s hearts as a host. (Given the kind of roles Kaname Jun has been playing, I can only guess that his rent must be exorbitant. Either that or he has some very expensive habits to maintain.)

Natsuki: The loud, annoying one no one wants to fuck Ryosuke’s yankii kouhai

Kin: The granny killer

As you can see, Team Ryosuke is quite the egalitarian faction. It doesn’t matter if you turn tricks (as long as you’re not related to any of them) or if you’re a little on the mature side, there’s a host for everyone!

The Great Happiness Space

What’s your poison, baby? Do you want someone cool, someone with a sense of humour or someone who makes your heart beat like a boombox? In a sense though, it doesn’t really matter who you end up choosing because ultimately, their job is to be whatever you want them to be.

Issei: Catering to women’s desires is what it means to be a professional host…We facilitate their desires. If she wants a humble, cool guy, I will be [that person.] If she wants a funny guy, I can be like that too. 

The Women 

YaohThe big spenders at Club Romeo are lonely businesswomen with lots of disposable yen to splash around. Ryosuke’s patron is a successful fashion designer who saved him from a life of crime and introduced him to the world of host clubs because — wait for it — he has the ability to make people happy. (If you need career advice, these are not the people to speak to.)

The Great Happiness Space:

In reality, sex industry workers are the ones who form the financial backbone of the host club industry. They’re the only ones who can afford to a) visit regularly and b) drop up to a few grand each time they visit. For them, host clubs are a place where they can enjoy themselves without being judged for their profession and receive the kind of attention that they give their clients. Of course, things are rarely that simple when feelings are involved and the relationship between a host and his clients can often turn into a vicious cycle, especially when he’s the reason they have to continue working in the trade since they won’t be able to afford the regular visits if they were to quit the industry.

Further Reading

Quite a bit has been written about Japanese host clubs and if you’re interested in different perspectives on the subject, here are a few links to check out:

  • CNNGo interview with Manabu Numata, a Tokyo-based photographer who held an exhibition of host club portraits in 2009 after spending a good number of years taking photos of the city’s smooth talkers. Read it here.
  • Memoirs of a (Male) Geisha: An American Host in Japan — Part 1 | Part 2| Part 3
  • Interview with Usagi Nakamura, a popular Japanese columnist who spent 15 million yen (US$195,570) on her host over a 14-month- period.
  • Are Japanese host clubs a modern phenomenon? Not really, according to this feature story. Though written in 2003, Casanovas for Hire still makes for an entertaining read as it navigates the inner sanctums of some of Tokyo’s most popular host clubs.
  • Once a host always a host? Not so for Kanehara Takumi, who walked away from a life of honeyed words and liver failure to become a manga artist. Check out his stunning Ghibli fanart here.
  • Finally, if you’re planning to visit a host club during your trip to Japan, here are a few things to keep in mind: The Rules of Host Club
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12 comments

  1. I haven’t watched yaoh,i still need a link to that drama streaming. but i’ve watched the great happiness space and that docu just made me so sad. but i’m glad someone managed to film the lives of the hostos. thanks chingu.

    1. Psst! http://doramax264.com/drama/yaoh-j-drama-150mbep/

      I know I’m ridiculously late with my mini review but you know how deadlines are — they love company, just like misery T.T

      But yes, I agree with you. The Great Happiness Space does make you feel sad for the people interviewed in the documentary. What they’re involved in is really a vicious cycle that doesn’t leave anyone unscathed. But at the same time, I find this entire host club business and Tokyo’s underground scene really fascinating from an anthropological perspective. I must visit the country one of these days!

  2. Thank you for this post. I really like to comparison pieces like that and it is informative also engaging read.

    The idea that actually buying companionship/sex is such a turn off in and of itself that it is one of the aspects of human nature that I’m unable to understand.

    1. I’m glad you got something out of this post, Eliza :D

      All I know is that I felt very sorry that the girls who were interviewed had no one to turn to for companionship and were thus, in a way, “forced” to visit host clubs. How sad is it that in a city of millions, one is all alone?

  3. This is actually really interesting. Hosts are always the eeevil/misunderstood bad boys of the few jdramas I’ve seen, so seeing their real life complements, is like you said, cool from an anthropological perspective.

    Although it’s kind of sad that they always get stuck in this cycle where they can’t escape. I know the female equivalent “the oldest profession” is all over the world, but that proliferation of male hosts is something I’ve heard about only in connection with Japan.

    1. Actually, the female equivalent of male hosts would be cabaret hostesses. They’re not prostitutes per se but part of the mizu shobai (a nebulous euphemism for the nighttime entertainment industry, though whether it’s less sleazy than its more hardcore counterpart, the fuzoku (or sex) industry is debatable.)

      I know that there are host clubs in Korea as well, though I think (and I could be wrong) that the idea was imported from Japan. However I find it really interesting how enterprising Japan’s adult underground scene is compared to other countries in Asia and the West. It really is a very unique space.

  4. I would love to know what’s happened with Issei since we left him in 2006. I found a facebook page for him, but it’s just full of pictures – no real, personal information. However, in three of his pics, he’s dressed in full drag. Innerestin’… from an exhaustive search, I’ve found Cafe Rakkyo is closed, and he’s opened two news clubs, Loveless, and Loveholic. I think the director should revisit not only the male hosts, but also the women featured in the documentary. I would LOVE to know what they are up to…

  5. The Great Happiness Space is highly recommended but it is only watchable if you have no idea what you are in for. This documentary is indeed covering toxic material.

    It’s beyond words or my own intellectual capacity to be able to grasp how venomous and vampire like a society that funds this would have to be.

    I have it on tape somewhere and it is like a precocious ten years old reading Agatha Christie for the first time and understanding all the words but not quite grasping the import yet.

    We definitely do not want this society running the world. you know?

    but this movie should be REQUIRED watching for all daughters of dating age and all men with sisters and daughters and mothers – OMIGOD.

  6. Okay this post really made me laugh and now I must see the Yaoh drama. I’ve watched the great happiness space and, goodness, I did not know who I felt worse for. At first I felt worse for the girls, but then I got to the part where they admit they have boyfriends and aside from that they love multiple hosts! That documentary threw me through a loop. This was an industry I had never heard of and now I’m very curious about this industry and its clientele. Whoever said this makes for great anthropology was right.

    1. Hey there, Amy. I’m glad you enjoyed this post and I hope that you get just as many laughs out of Yaoh…just remember to leave your standards at the door first XD

      I’ve watched the great happiness space and, goodness, I did not know who I felt worse for. At first I felt worse for the girls, but then I got to the part where they admit they have boyfriends and aside from that they love multiple hosts! That documentary threw me through a loop.

      Personally, I think it’s unfortunate that The Great Happiness Space is the only English language documentary that exists about Japanese host clubs. As much as I enjoyed (if I can use the word lightly) watching it, I also felt that it merely scratched the surface of its subject. Sure, there’s only so much you can cram into a 90-minute documentary but I think it would have benefited from a variety of opinions, not just those of the hosts and their regular clients. What, for example, do other Japanese people think of host clubs? And while I don’t doubt that sex workers make up the majority of their clientele, I’m pretty sure that host clubs get customers from other walks of life as well. I think it would also have added more depth to the documentary if Clennell had included interviews with ex-hosts who had left the industry — I can only imagine how cut-throat the industry must be and it’s fair to assume that the turnover rate is pretty high. I’d have liked to know why these ex-hosts dropped out — were they not making enough money? How do they feel about the industry now that they’ve been on both sides of the fence?

      I get a lot of people coming to this post looking for information on Japanese host clubs, and I gotta say this: don’t just take this documentary as gospel. I think it’s an interesting introduction to this particular industry but there are many questions that this documentary doesn’t ask and after watching it again, I do think it’s also quite narrow in scope, not to mention a wee bit manipulative, which is why I included links to other articles to provide other perspectives on the subject :)

      Btw, I hope you don’t think I’m beating you over the head with this. I had originally wanted to write a mini review of The Great Happiness Space but kept putting it off due to sheer laziness. Your comment reminded me of my intention, hence the extra long reply. Consider it killing two birds with one stone.

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