Taikomochi beats drum on virtues of lavish spending

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Despite the worsening economic gloom, clients of traditional Japanese saloons have sustained their spending spree, literally throwing away hundreds of thousands of yen on the nightly extravaganzas.

“There will always be rich people in this world,” observes Shozo Arai, 56, one of the few remaining “taikomochi,” or “drum holders,” in Japan.

Taikomochi are the male counterparts of geisha. Since the early Edo period, they have entertained patrons with comic performances and lewd stories at saloons in the traditional adult entertainment quarters of Tokyo and Kyoto.

One of Arai’s frequent patrons, asked why he spends 1 million yen on each of his visits, replied that spending more would be possible — but physically draining.

Sheltered from scandal-mongers in a secluded world, where nothing goes beyond the paper screens and wooden walls of the saloons, Arai’s high-powered clientele indulge in this rather exorbitant money-throwing game.

Clutching wads of 10,000 yen bills, some guests toss them toward Arai and geisha at the slightest excuse.

“These people don’t have time to spend the money,” Arai explained. “And they cannot have fun unless they spend all the money they decide to use for the night.”

As outrageous as it may appear, there is an unspoken code of conduct regarding the money-throwing ritual. During the heyday of the bubble economy, there was a nouveau riche client who used to tear up 10,000 yen bills to make change. “It’s obscene to treat money like that,” Arai said, pondering what might have become of the man since the boom turned into bust.

Arai’s first encounter with a traditional saloon party was in junior high school, when his uncle took him to Kyoto’s Gion entertainment district.

The dream-like world unfolding within the tatami-lined space, complete with beautiful geisha and ethereal trappings, enthralled the barber’s son from Fukui Prefecture.

“I just fell in love with that world, but, of course, I could not afford to visit such places,” he said. “So, I decided to become a taikomochi so I could always have fun with geisha.”

It wasn’t until he was in his 40s, however, that he was able to win the trust of his patrons and finally make a living in his chosen profession, he said.

A smooth talker who loudly professes his love for money and women, Arai is not merely a flatterer who relies on dirty jokes, an image conjured with the modern use of the word taikomochi.

At the whim of clients, he finds himself playing the fool at one moment and tested on his knowledge of culture, history and current issues the next.

“My patrons often ask my opinion on business issues,” he said. “I just tell them what I honestly think, although I don’t know if it really matters, actually.”

And it is not only corporate bosses who seek his advice.

Nowadays, he is often invited to lecture young business owners, who want to tap the wisdom of someone who has closely observed the rise and fall of money-makers during three decades of professional service.

On such occasions, Arai’s advice is simple — use money on nightly extravaganzas, like his tycoon patrons. “You can afford to do that if you stop using money in a stingy fashion,” he says.

But contrary to what his remarks may imply, Arai is not preaching waste. Citing the virtues of making, saving and spending money, Arai said people nowadays seem less concerned with how to spend money to help enrich their lives.

“During periods of economic growth, you should just do what others do because you can just ride the upward wave,” he said. “But in today’s economic slump, you should do things differently from others, otherwise, you will go down with them.”

In recreation, too, spending money in dribs and drabs, as others do, is no help at all, Arai claims.

“Save up for a year and spend all the money in one night in a lavish way. That way, spending money for fun will come to have meaning in your life.”