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Flamboyant 'host club king' Takeshi Aida given an extravagant sendoff

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

An extravagant wake and funeral was held earlier this month in memory of host club Ai Honten’s flamboyant founder, Takeshi Aida, who passed away on Oct. 25 at the age of 78 after a prolonged illness.

“At the request of the deceased, in addition to a gold coffin there was a memorial display composed of a 12-step tower made up of more than 1,300 gold champagne coupes,” the organizer of the funeral for the man who became known as the “host club king” says, adding that the cost for the display came to ¥400,000.

A photo — in monochrome, alas — published in Shukan Shincho (Nov. 15) shows the display. The champagne coupes were left empty. Had they been filled with Dom Perignon at the rates normally charged to customers at Ai Honten in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, the organizer estimates the price tag would probably have exceeded a whopping ¥10 million.

Born Takeshi Enomoto in a rural community in Niigata Prefecture, Aida was the sixth of nine children. As was a common practice at the time, he was given over to adoption by a prosperous farming family. From a young age Aida was engrossed in the opposite sex, and in 2009 confessed in Shukan Gendai that he received his initiation to sex at age 13.

“She was a prostitute in her late 20s,” he told weekly magazine Friday (Nov. 23). “While I was in the bath she got in with me, and taught me everything. That gave me the confidence to approach women. I thought about women 24 hours a day.”

Aida first came to Tokyo on a high school excursion and, bedazzled by bright lights of the big city, made plans to return and seek his fortune. After running away from home, he initially began work as a bartender.

He subsequently showed his mettle as a persuasive salesman of Western-style beds.

“Back when the starting monthly salary for a wage-earner was about ¥100,000, I became the company’s top salesman, selling 130 beds in a single month at ¥30,000 each,” Aida told Friday (Nov. 16). He did this by charming prospective customers, who he described as danchi tsuma — literally, wives living in public housing tracts, which in the tabloid media serves as the equivalent of “bored housewives.”

“‘Let me explain to you about how to use a bed,’ I’d tell them, almost seductively. Even if the ladies were married, it didn’t matter; they were lonesome and craved attention.

“Once I formed a relationship with one woman, she’d cooperate and introduce me to other wives in her social network, one after the next.”

By 1966, Aida had founded his own company, Nihon Bell, marketing burglar alarms and other security goods.

In 1971, at the age of 31, Aida opened the Ai Honten host club in Shinjuku. “Ai” means “love” in Japanese.

During the short-lived bubble economy from the late 1980s, Japanese felt inclined to let the good times roll, and women, as well as men, sought stimulation and titillation — with female patrons paying top prices to be ministered to by the young hunks employed at Aida’s club.

At the pinnacle of Aida’s business empire, his company, Aida Kanko, reportedly posted revenue of ¥2.7 billion a year.

He recalled a time when some Shinjuku gangsters decided they wanted in on the action, converging on his club in an attempt to shake him down.

“There were three out front, three in the doorway and three inside the shop,” Aida recalled. “One of them whacked me over the head with a telephone handset, shouting, ‘How does that feel, eh? You like it?’

“One of our staff slipped out the back door and summoned the police, who came to the rescue. If they had arrived five minutes later, I suppose it would have been curtains for me.”

As if to affirm the belief that behind every successful man is a strong woman, Aida gave full credit to his wife, Shumi, a woman nine years his senior.

“She was originally a customer at the club, married to a University of Tokyo graduate, the branch manager of a major bank,” he told Friday. “Her father was a famous architect who instructed at Wako University. She would discuss anything with me, so I proposed to her, promising, ‘I will absolutely make you happy,’ but naturally her family was strongly opposed. Still she chose me, going so far as to break off relations with them in writing.

“She was very bright and the advice she gave me was almost always correct. I give her credit for the prosperity and growth of the business,” Aida said.

While Aida might not quite qualify as a household name, the business model he nurtured — currently some 100 host clubs are said to be in operation in Japan — has received plenty of coverage in international media. Foreign correspondents from CNN to The Guardian have made the pilgrimage to Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district to cover the topic.

Aida suffered a crippling stroke in 2011 and his three children battled over who would take over his business. Between his contentious offspring, the tax office and the lawyers, he was left virtually penniless.

In 2015, a reporter from Asahi Geino magazine traveled to the public rest home where Aida was living, about an hour by train and bus from central Tokyo.

“Is it true you’ve lost everything?” the wheelchair-bound Aida was asked.

“Yeah,” he grunted, apparently in the affirmative.

“Was Club Ai sold off?”

Aida’s confused expression made the reporter wonder if he was also suffering from senility.

“Well, how do you like it here?” the reporter asked, trying to change the subject.

“It’s fine,” he muttered. “Uh, everybody’s nice to me.”

“So what would you like to do?”

“I’d like to have a beer,” Aida answered. “Not a chilled one. I prefer warm beer. A Sapporo would be good.”

The reporter showed Aida an old photo taken at his club during better times, and his face lit up in recognition.

“I want to go back there, to Shinjuku,” he said wistfully.

When he finally did, three years later, it was inside a gold coffin.

Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.