What are Japan's hostess bars? Modern-day Geisha clubs in spotlight as Japan fights coronavirus

In Tokyo, which has more than 7,000 hostess bars, the authorities could not trace the infection history in more than 40 percent of the sick.

A late surge in the coronavirus cases has shocked Japan, which had won early victories against the ravaging pathogen that has killed more than 150,000 people across the world. Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe made a fervent appeal to the public to stay indoors amid a nationwide emergency even as new cases hit a daily record in the capital.

As per the latest count, the coronavirus cases in Japan have exceeded 10,000, with most of the surge happening in the recent days. The capital Tokyo accounts for the vast majority of Covid-19 cases, triggering fears of an overburdening of hospitals and a collapse in medical systems. Along with this came reports that a multitude of 'hostess bars' are fuelling the surge in Japan's coronavirus cases. While these dubious entertainment hubs work as virus accelerators they also make detection and prevention difficult as they operate secretively.

Shinzo Abe
Viral image of Shinzo Abe Twitter grab

What are Japan's hostess bars?

Hostess bars are woven into the business culture of Tokyo and other big cities. These bars are hugely popular among business leaders and working folks who spend time in the company of female escorts. They aren't brothels or red light streets, and the services are more nuanced. According to Bloomberg, men spend thousands of dollars every night to be in the company of the hostesses.

The hostess bars come alive in various quarters of Tokyo every evening as men and women pack the streets after a hard day's job. Most of the male customers usually only engage in conversations with the beautiful hostesses and share drinks. Very often they pay the women to accompany them to dinner dates, and sometimes they get tinto long-term platonic relationships with the women. Most of the hostess bars do not offer sexual services, though.

Japan's hostesses and Geisha culture

The hostesses are modern-day Geishas, well to an extent. There are all grades of hostess bars in Japan, and hostesses at the truly high-end of the pyramid could easily lay claim to being a geisha. The geishas were an intrinsic part of the Japanese culture, more so of the business culture. These finely-bred and arduously trained women of eclectic tastes were an integral part of Japanese business for decades.

Arthur Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha' gives a peek into the role played by these women in the backrooms of the business world. It's a world of nuanced debauchery, where elaborate tea ceremonies as well as music and dance performances often make the perfect setting for seduction, and most often a willing submission to the power and money of the chairmen and CEOs.

However, as the perception of women and their role in society evolved over the years, the Japanese geisha culture also underwent changes.

The population of Japan falls for the seventh consecutive year
A general view of Tokyo Reuters

How hostess clubs make anti-Covid fight laborious?

Men who frequent the clubs do not leave a trace or do not want to be openly associated with the clubs, making it difficult for public health authorities to figure out the contact list of the infected. In Tokyo, the authorities could not trace the infection history in more than 40 percent of the sick. Japan's hostess clubs don't keep a log of their clients, making the jobs of authorities difficult, while it is easy for them to track the virus in regular health clubs and gyms.

How are hostess bars different from brothels?

The Japanese hostess bars are mostly registered as amusement businesses. They do not offer the formal settings of a brothel offering sexual favours for money. Officially the hostess bars do not offer anything more than drinks and conversation and the owners are required to register the business with the local police. The Bloomberg report says that the guests are entertained by the women offering close physical proximity. The face-to-face interaction often happens in tight quarters.

How many are there in Tokyo?

According to the report there are more than 7,000 hostess bars in Tokyo alone. They range from highly expensive ones where the hostesses are held in the ranks of the geishas of yore. At the lower end of the line are cheaper bars and cabaret clubs.

Related topics : Coronavirus