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University of Chicago Press
Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club / Edition 1

Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club / Edition 1

by Anne AllisonAnne Allison
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In Nightwork, Anne Allison opens a window onto Japanese corporate culture and gender identities. Allison performed the ritualized tasks of a hostess in one of Tokyo's many "hostess clubs": pouring drinks, lighting cigarettes, and making flattering or titillating conversation with the businessmen who came there on company expense accounts. Her book critically examines how such establishments create bonds among white-collar men and forge a masculine identity that suits the needs of their corporations.

Allison describes in detail a typical company outing to such a club—what the men do, how they interact with the hostesses, the role the hostess is expected to play, and the extent to which all of this involves "play" rather than "work." Unlike previous books on Japanese nightlife, Allison's ethnography of one specific hostess club (here referred to as Bijo) views the general phenomenon from the eyes of a woman, hostess, and feminist anthropologist.

Observing that clubs like Bijo further a kind of masculinity dependent on the gestures and labors of women, Allison seeks to uncover connections between such behavior and other social, economic, sexual, and gendered relations. She argues that Japanese corporate nightlife enables and institutionalizes a particular form of ritualized male dominance: in paying for this entertainment, Japanese corporations not only give their male workers a self-image as phallic man, but also develop relationships to work that are unconditional and unbreakable. This is a book that will appeal to anyone interested in gender roles or in contemporary Japanese society.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226014876
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/28/1994
Edition description: 1
Pages: 228
Sales rank: 630,171
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Anne Allison is the Robert O. Keohane Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Professor of Women's Studies at Duke University.

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Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club

By Anne Allison

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 1994 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-01488-3


A Type of Place

The nightlife is defined by Japanese more by what it does than by where it exists. Accordingly, it is not geographically specific and does not occur in only one region of Japan or one section of a particular town. Rather, men recognize the nightlife by the pleasure it promises to deliver. Here customers can escape from the responsibilities that burden them elsewhere—so runs the advertisement, and the message is encoded in the decor, atmosphere, and service offered by bars and clubs.

This sense of distance from the social spheres of one's normal habits is the mark of the mizu shobai, the broadly based service and entertainment industry within which the more specifically male-oriented establishments of the nightlife are set. Literally "the water business," mizu shobai connotes fluidity—an occupation that one can float into and out of without the rigidity required by other forms of employment, and a service that one can enjoy while being freed from duties and responsibilities that matter elsewhere. As in the ubiquitous kissaten, the often intimate and luxurious coffee shops where the price of coffee is exorbitant but the service is exquisite, being a customer in the mizu shobai allows not only the taste of a particular luxury but momentary displacement from the mundane world outside.

It is these distinctions of service that situate the mizu shobai in the broader landscape of Japanese society. They are critical to the operation and meaning of the nightlife, service in this context being symbolized by one gender of servicer—female—and one gender of serviced—male. This is not to say that no women enter the nightlife as customers or that no men enter the nightlife as servicers, but the operative of the nightlife is that of a woman who serves.

The kind of woman who gives the service and the quality of service a woman gives, however, vary greatly. The two extremes are the expensive, refined, and mildly provocative format of the geisha or high-class hostess club and the moderately priced, seedy, and overtly sexual enticements of the pinku saron or touchy-feely bar. The reasons men choose one type of female service over another also vary: one man only has enough money for a pinku saron, another desires the sexual guarantee of a "soapland," a third prefers the voyeuristic distance of a strip show. Those who choose the hostess club, in contrast, do so less out of financial or sexual considerations than for the club's convenient double life as an arena for (male) work and (male) play.

Play and Work for the Businessman

Men go to a hostess club to relax; they also go there on business. Such was the commonest explanation I was given for the existence and popularity of hostess clubs in Japan. Yet the one purpose seems to oppose the other. Work is escaped when one relaxes, for example, and play is defined as being "not work." It is a floating reference (or floating signifier, in Barthes's sense [1972]) between, around, and within these two concepts that ultimately produces and makes meaningful the institution of the hostess club. When relaxation is the essential spoken, work is the essential unspoken of its motivation.

Men will go alone to the hostess club, but much more commonly they go in groups, either as coworkers, or in some way socially related, or in an existing or potential business relation. No matter what the relationship, however, most men, when asked, would tell me that they were friends (to-modachi). The friendly atmosphere—masculine, egalitarian, and liberating—appears to be the motivation for choosing the hostess club over other forms of nightlife. Here, coworkers can associate on a basis different from that of the hierarchy that operates during the day. And in this setting, men approaching one another for a business deal can learn to trust one another simply as men.

Work thus provides the guise, rationale, and impulse for the hostess club. Employers will take their employees out periodically for a night of drinking and making the rounds of various hostess clubs. The expense is exorbitant and the pleasure for the host perhaps nonexistent, but the social interchange is considered crucial to the sustenance of so-called healthy relations. Why this is so is commonly articulated by Japanese in terms of structure and communitas, as these concepts are used by Victor Turner (1969). During the day, work relations are structured by hierarchy and by the accompanying control of expectations and responsibilities. At night, men can obscure and displace this hierarchy by drinking together. At night, in other words, men can become buddies.

When a group of men from the same company come into a hostess club, the highest ranking among them is likely to set the tone with "Bureiko de ikimashoka?" (Shall we bureiko?). Bureiko means a breaking of regimen, courtesy, and demeanor—a release from status and tensions. When status is suspended, the employees are allowed to tell their bosses what they think of them, and the bosses are expected to "forget" everything once back at work. In a similar vein, the employees may be asked for personal or business advice by their supervisors. The relationships, in short, are pseudoegalitarian. And through such relationships, business is sustained in Japan.

It is typically accepted that men working together should go out to a place like the hostess club every so often. It is also acknowledged that business deals must be initiated and cemented within the relaxed atmosphere of such an establishment. Women as well as men explained to me that hostess clubs are "only business"—business in different surroundings, conducted at night, but business all the same.

The Japanese I talked to always coupled the concept of work with the seemingly opposing concept of relaxation. Some Japanese would claim that relaxation was the real purpose of the hostess club. Men work hard, men are always responsible, men must be dutiful both at work and at home, and the nightlife provides the only setting in which they can relax. Here their honne (their "true" feelings, intentions, motives, self) can come out, they do not have to worry about anything, they can be whatever or whoever they wish, and they can "rest up" psychologically for the ordeal of living and working.

Choosing the Hostess Club from among Other Places

Answering the need for a space away from work that will encourage both a release from work and an extension of the commitment to work, the hostess club is theoretically only one of several possibilities. Individual homes, inexpensive pubs, hostessless bars—all are used by groups of workers to "have a good time." What distinguishes the hostess club, and particularly Bijo, is revealed primarily by Bijo's clientele: middle- to high-level white-collar workers, most of them middle-aged (between the ages of forty and sixty-five), with tabs being paid by their companies. Approximately 70 percent arrive in the company of coworkers, usually with an employer or superior as host, and approximately 25 percent more come in a business relationship, with the host entertaining actual or potential clients or customers. Roughly 5 percent come with friends. The business affiliations that predominate are brokerage firms, followed by trading companies and construction firms. Rarely seen at Bijo are professionals, scholars, government employees (unless they are present as guests), and men working in small- to medium-size companies, banks, and blue-collar jobs. Men who are young, alone, or dressed in anything but a suit are infrequent customers. Women are less common still.

Beyond providing a relaxing and convivial atmosphere for its customers, the hostess club offers a space that is not home. For a number of reasons, a Japanese home is impractical, inappropriate, or even hostile to either work or social gatherings. First, most homes in Tokyo are located far from business centers and require a lengthy commute. Second, most of the men have wives involved in raising children or, if beyond that stage, unaccustomed to entertaining their husbands' business colleagues at night. Some Japanese men do bring friends or coworkers home after work, but this happens least often when the men have white-collar jobs in large companies and their wives are taking care of children; from the perspective of both the mother and the family, such wives must concentrate their energies on child rearing.

Third, for many Japanese sarariiman, home is not the space where they can or want to relax. There they are constantly reminded of the problems and responsibilities of being a husband and father. And the demands of work may keep men away from home so much that home lacks the familiar, comfortable appeal that Bijo and other hostess clubs hold for regular customers.

Another appeal is the club's luxury and status. As virtually everyone who enters Bijo does so on a company expense account and for reasons that are at least ostensibly businessor work-related, a connection is made between the money spent, the class of the establishment, and the importance of the client or employee. Bijo has the air of a first-class club. The Mama is gracious, the furnishings are beautiful, and the cost is about $105 (15,000 yen) per person, compared to perhaps three times that at a club on the Ginza or in Akasaka. Despite the fact that the top clubs are much more costly, Bijo has strong appeal.

Finally, the hostess club offers its customers excellent service by concentrating on the people who are doing the entertaining. Bijo is very much a club where the host (in many cases the boss) is the main concern. The piano and piano player will accompany guests as they sing, the hostesses and the Mama will stimulate conversation around the table, and so the "host"—here used in the loosest sense—is free to relax. The men who entertain at Bijo know their party will be satisfied, but they will themselves be spared the responsibility for making the outing a success.

The Spatial Order and Appeal of Bijo

Bijo is located on the top floor of a modern high-rise in the Roppongi area of Tokyo. Situated close to the kosaten (a crosswalk by which the geography of Roppongi is calculated), it comprises a neighborhood of shops, coffee houses (kissaten), restaurants, discos, bars, and hostess clubs. Roppongi offers, in atmosphere, a mix of the sleaziness of Kabuki-cho (in Shinjuku), the youth of Harajuku, the funkiness of Asakusa, and the expense and elegance of Ginza and Akasaka. Its signs of middle age and respectability are counterbalanced by the glitter and excitement of its many discos.

Bijo, at the time I worked there, was a relatively new club, established about the beginning of 1980. Consisting of two main rooms, a small kitchen, a bathroom, a hallway, and a small receiving closet area, it is of average size for a hostess club. Very large clubs seat two to three hundred people, but most are small, even minuscule, seating a handful of customers and offering a cozy, intimate environment. Bijo is neither so small as to be homey nor so large as to seem strictly commercial. It can accommodate up to forty-five or fifty customers but manages about twenty-five or thirty most comfortably.

A little glitzy by Western standards, Bijo has floors covered in deep carpet, walls hung with Parisian paintings, and a glass wall, etched with butterflies, separating the hallway from the main room. The front door opens into a hallway, with the bathroom and receiving closet off to the right. Straight ahead is the closed door to "A" shitsu, the more private area of the club, which contains a velvet booth against the back wall, three small tables, chairs, plants, a painting, a mirrored wall, and the pièce de resistance, a tiered, locked glass table displaying expensive bottles of liquor. Off to the left of the hallway is the main room, "B" shitsu, into which most customers are immediately ushered. Approaching, one first sees the red of the baby-grand piano filtered through the glass wall. Obviously the focal point of the club's furnishings, the piano is fitted out with a polished wooden counter and five expensive bar stools. A mirrored wall to the right of the piano reflects the keyboard and the bar's occupants.

Plain, heavy drapes along the left wall of the room cover the club's only window and conceal the outside world. High plush booths, separated by potted plants, line each of the three unmirrored walls. Nearby are small glass tables for individual parties. Facing each booth are several high-backed chairs, stately if not also somewhat cumbersome.

The same heaviness characterizes the room itself, despite its modest size. Even the painting of a young girl is hung so as to command rather than to adorn its surroundings. And even the fresh flowers are intentionally luxurious and are displayed in thick glass vases. Viewed together, the furnishings and decorations of Bijo create a nighttime sanctuary.

The spatial arrangements of Bijo produce a sense of luxury and order that is appreciated by most Japanese. The obviously costly objects themselves—the chairs, tables, vases, and artwork—are chosen with great care and kept in prime condition. The mirrored lavatory is cleaned after each use, the shining gold-plated phone and sparkling glass wall continually polished, the velvet chairs pushed in if they seem to project a few centimeters too far, and the lacquered piano never allowed to retain a single smudge.

Furnishings are not solely responsible for the sense of aesthetic wellbeing. Also contributing are the service provided by the manager and male waiters; the snacks, drinks, and ice at each table; and, most important, the Mama, owner and ultimate manager of Bijo. Her given name is Tamae-san. When I met her in 1981, she was thirty-three years old and a longtime veteran of the mizu shobai. Trained as a geisha (a woman trained to entertain and serve men who is highly skilled in a number of Japanese arts such as dance, singing, and the playing of Japanese instruments), she initially entered the mizu shobai when she was nineteen and came to manage her first club when still in her early twenties. Her father, a sumo wrestler, and her mother, a woman of the mizu shobai, apparently never married. For many years the owner of a club in Nagoya, Tamae-san's mother now teaches the samisen (a traditional stringed instrument), adhering to the old association of "night women" as keepers of the arts.

Like her mother, Tamae-san has adopted the self-image of a refined lady of the traditional nightlife. She is always impeccably dressed in beautiful, extremely expensive kimonos; her outfits are subdued but perfectly coordinated, her accessories few but exquisite. She has her hair coiffed daily in the traditional upswept style, and makeup, though heavy, is never extreme. She is often described as a bijin—a beauty of the traditional type—in reference not only to her figure (which is delicate) and her attractive features, but her attitude, style, choice of fashion, and even her singing voice. For Tamae-san, the description serves as recognition of her success as a mizu-shobai woman. Her "beauty" is that of both refined taste and seductiveness; she keeps her pinky raised and her mouth modestly hidden behind a hand, yet smiles mischievously in a way few wives ever would. Called "Mama" by all the employees and by most of the customers, she is Bijo's principal attraction.

The waiters are in their mid-twenties, slender, handsome, and faultlessly groomed. Like the manager, who is in his late thirties, they always dress in black tuxedo, white shirt, black bow tie, and black shoes—models of elegant correctness.

The manner in which food and drinks are served at Bijo follows a similar style. The care given to the presentation may even overshadow the food, often no more than an insignificant snack—three bean pods, a small mound of peanuts, five or six grapes—elegantly arranged on a beautiful small plate and ritualistically served. The snack often remains untouched by the customer, for to actually consume this dish as if it were intended as food runs counter to the purpose for which it is presented.

Drinks are a somewhat different matter, for imbibing alcohol is the basic activity of the club, and men will drink their liquor no matter how it is served. Still, service as a formal display is important at Bijo: bottles, usually purchased in advance by the company and kept on the premises, are brought out immediately by a waiter and set before the customers with an air of ceremony. The hostess will add ice from crystal buckets to the glasses of guests and fill them with mineral water poured from freshly chilled bottles. Thus, the mundane act of drinking is given a touch of elegance. The bottles of mineral water, silver ice tongs, and cut-glass ice bucket remain on the table, their presence a reminder of the status of the customer and of the faultless service provided by the club.


Excerpted from Nightwork by Anne Allison. Copyright © 1994 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Pt. 1: Ethnography of a Hostess Club
Ch. 1: A Type of Place
Ch. 2: A Type of Routine
Ch. 3: A Type of Woman
Pt. 2: Mapping the Nightlife within Cultural Categories
Ch. 4: Social Place and Identity
Ch. 5: The Meaning and Place of Work: The Sarariiman
Ch. 6: Family and Home
Ch. 7: Structure of Japanese Play
Ch. 8: Male Play with Money, Women, and Sex
Pt. 3: Male Rituals and Masculinity
Ch. 9: Male Bonding
Ch. 10: The Mizu Shobai Woman: Constructing Dirtiness and Sex
Ch. 11: Impotence as a Sign and Symbol of the Sarariiman

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Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
zerraweth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A little dense, but nevertheless very insightful look into gender in Japan. If you follow the building of the arguments through to the end, you will find that it's definitely worth it.