Japanese hostesses face uncertain future as clubs close during coronavirus pandemic

Bloomberg has published an interesting in-depth article on hostess clubs in Japan during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Champagne, chandeliers and glitzy cocktail frocks are all part of the fantasy world conjured up by Japan’s hostess clubs. The coronavirus has delivered an unwelcome dose of reality.”

Since the outbreak, much of the media reporting and imagery promoted by politicians has unfairly blamed nightlife for spreading the virus, rather than the various other factors (also) responsible such as crowded commuter trains, offices, and regular izakaya and restaurants.

It is true, however, that infections have spread through nightclubs, live music venues, and hostesses clubs around the country.

hostess club japan tokyo ginza kabukicho coronavirus covid19 pandemic infection closed closure

hostess club japan tokyo ginza kabukicho coronavirus covid19 pandemic infection closed closure

Especially after the state of emergency was declared, most establishments are closed for the foreseeable future. The Ginza and Kabukicho districts in central Tokyo are like ghost towns.

Many of Mochizuki’s Ginza hostesses, who are self employed, have gone to stay with their families to save money, she said. Others remain in Tokyo in tiny apartments with no work, yet may be denied access to benefits the government is providing to workers amid the pandemic.

Naturally, a hostess club falls into one of the riskiest types of workplaces during the current pandemic: the hostesses can’t wear masks (the whole point of their job is that people can see them); the clubs are small, crowded, and poorly ventilated.

The discretion of clubs has also made it hard to trace the potential infections since lists of customers are not kept and patrons demand privacy.

Custom started to collapse already in February, after companies started to stop employees from claiming “entertainment” as an expense.

With most if not all now closed, hostesses, who are technically self-employed freelancers, and owners face uncertain futures. There are fears that some will become sex workers to make ends meet. Some are turning to Zoom and apps to keep going.

The Ginza club owner interviewed by Bloomberg, though, is skeptical of the success of such online tools. They won’t allow hostesses to recreate the alluring atmosphere of a club remotely.

“It’s like performing on a stage… I think it helps to think of us like geisha. We’re professionals at the art of conversation.”

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