I was recently enjoying the cold weather in Japan when I made a new friend. She took me to a host bar in Kabukicho, where we could apparently get cheap drinks served by cute guys.
I knew nothing about host bars beyond seeing Ouran High Host Club years ago. I assumed it was kinda like a maid or butler cafe, but with more boozy late nights. I’ve since been told that host bars hover more across the line in sex work within the public’s perception – and that drinks are often not all that’s on the menu. Being a host is not the kind of job that you would casually put on your resume if looking for work outside the industry.
So, my experience. I had a fun time, and yes the drinks were cheap and のみほうだい (all you can drink). The main benefit – and the reason I’m mentioning it at all on this blog – is I’ve never used so much Japanese. While in the host bar, you’re assigned a host (or hostess) whose job it is to make sure you have a good time (and continue to buy drinks – you are also expected to buy a drink for your host, but it’s not much). So I had a captive audience for my broken Japanese for hours. And he had to grin and bear it while complimenting me on my language abilities, pretending to be fascinated, and being very, very patient. They* were also kind enough to stick to topics where I’d have a chance with the vocab. For example, one easy conversational lob my way was “what are your favourite foods?”
If your Japanese is pretty poor (like mine) you will need someone fluent/local to get you in. They can confirm the prices and do the introductions. Then you’ll probably be faced with a perplexed host or hostess wondering what they’re going to do with this 外人who can’t speak Japanese. When you manage some sort of conversation the expression will turn to amazement (as if a talking dog has just appeared). My host nearly melted with relief when I read the menu on my own. I could tell he was flustered, wondering if he’d have to read each item to me. Which I guess is part of what makes them all the more ready to listen to any Japanese, no matter how ungrammatical.
If you want a different way to spend a couple hours improving your Japanese, a host bar is pretty fun. I found the prices more then fair** and I didn’t wake up without a kidney the next day.
*I went to a couple of different host bars and met several hosts (and a hostess). They were all lovely and very kind (of course, they’re paid to be lovely and kind!).
**Prices: Bar 1: ¥1,000/hr all you can drink. Drinks for the host, ¥800. Bar 2: ¥3,000/2hr all you can drink. Drinks for the host were ¥800. After the all you can drink time was over, drinks became ¥500/each.