Business

Japan's nightlife entertainers head to cyberspace to dodge virus, host clients online

by Masumi Koizumi

STAFF WRITER

Hosts and hostesses in Japan’s famous nightlife industry are turning to remote entertainment sessions as the COVID-19 pandemic forces them to create a safer environment to survive the public safety crisis.

YouTuber Reiko Naka, who has about 10,000 subscribers, announced the official opening of her one-woman online establishment Club Reiko in a video Thursday. Naka, who used to be a hostess at a club in Saitama Prefecture, said her kyabakura (short for cabaret club) will open on YouTube Live at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays.

For each session, she will set a theme for discussion and take questions over the internet from her “customers.” Past themes include true feelings, inside stories about hostesses and the inner workings of the industry.

“Even though it’s over a screen, I hope we can drink alcohol and enjoy spending time together,” Naka said, asking viewers to prepare their own drinks.

Japan’s nightlife industry has been one of the economic sectors hardest-hit by the coronavirus pandemic. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has placed nighttime establishments like bars and clubs on its list of places that should be asked to close during the crisis.

Given the harsh business conditions, the clubs and their employees in this sector fear they are being discriminated against by the government in terms of support.

The association representing nighttime businesses submitted a request to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday asking that they not be excluded from the economic relief package announced last week for small and midsize companies.

The crisis has spawned other virtual entertainment offerings as well.

Zoomcaba — a website whose name combines the name of a teleconferencing app with kyabakura — allows customers to have one-on-one conversations with hostesses in a club setting via Zoom. The basic rate for a 60-minute session is ¥4,000, with ¥2,000 extra required to get the hostess of your choice.

“For those who are having trouble because the kyabakura you work for is temporarily closed due to the coronavirus, you can reach out to Zoomcaba!” the company’s website says. The recruitment page says Zoomcaba is looking for applicants 18 or older from across Japan with experience in the industry.

People on Twitter reacted favorably, leaving humorous comments.

“There may be few ojisan (middle-aged men) with wives and children who can do it from home,” one said. Others cheered the hostesses for carrying on despite the difficult times.

An online club with male hosts has also emerged.

Zumuhosu features rosters of men from five clubs in Tokyo’s Kabukicho district that are managed by the New Generation Group.

“I’ve been wondering whether people must be fed up with all the dark news. We have been unable to open our host clubs, so I was thinking about what we can offer,” said New Generation CEO Ryusei Kuwata.

With the pricey clubs unable to bring customers inside anymore, Kuwata said he first considered asking the hosts to chat from home but quickly decided against it.

Asked why, he said, “We place value in hosts who do their hair properly and behave like a host at our club.”

Customers who use Zumuhosu can purchase 30-minute video chats with the host of their choice for ¥5,000, while new clients are currently entitled to an hour’s chat with a random host for ¥2,500. They can also treat the hosts to alcoholic luxuries, like ¥300,000 bottles of Dom Perignon.

With the industry hurting, he also made a pitch to potential foreign customers interested in sampling Tokyo’s racy nightlife: “We have a host who can speak six languages.”

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