Description: This word apparently came from "cabaret club" but today it refers to a "hostess club," or in the case of all-male staff, "host club." Although kyabakura are a far cry from the stuffy atmosphere of proper cocktail bars, it would be absurd to write a guide about Tokyo's nightlife without mentioning them. Kyabakura are by the far the most heavily documented, often profiled, easily recognizable, and idolized establishments in this list. A mainstay of the Tokyo nightlife, hostess and host clubs offer men and women the opportunity to dive head-first into a fantasy where they are more interesting, attractive, humorous, successful, and charismatic versions of themselves. Even if only for a few hours, you can get away from the nagging wife, away from the boring boyfriend, or away from the "trying to avoid it but it's still painfully obvious" sexually harassing boss at work. While some people are able to simply say "that was fun, now let's go home" at the end of the night, others find themselves going further down the rabbit hole. They stay that extra hour, buy that extra bottle of champagne, or get yet another credit card advance. Do you want to see what it's like for yourself? Kyabakura can be fun if you take them for what they are: (pricey) temporary escapes from reality. Don't expect to be blown away by the level of intelligence or attractiveness on display at kyabakura, as hostesses and hosts often have limited education and take such jobs out of desperation rather than of their own volition.
While hostess and host clubs are not bars, they absolutely serve drinks. In fact you may find yourself being asked to buy drinks for your host/hostess. That drink may not actually contain alcohol! Remember, they're selling you a fantasy.
System: The sign will probably show a price for a "Set" of around 45-60 minutes as a given price, say 5000-6000 yen. This will probably include all-you-can-drink cheap shochu or whiskey. Notably, beer is usually not included.
Budget: Chances are the above system doesn't explain the entirety of what you're being charged. There may be extra charges just for sitting down, such as a Seat Charge, but it's not like you can avoid this by standing. If you or someone in your party asks for a specific hostess or host, expect an additional charge (this is known as "shimeiryo" / 指名料). If you buy a drink for a hostess or host, expect an additional charge. If you stay past the original Set time, expect an additional charge. If you order something besides the house whiskey/shochu, expect an additional charge. Additional hostesses or hosts at your table, additional charge. Stay past 11PM, additional charge. Oh hey a 10% "service charge" at the end of the night too. Can you see the pattern? You'll be lucky to get out for 10000 yen per person regardless of what the sign outside says.
Making friends: The hostesses or hosts you meet may exchange contact info with you. It's unlikely that this is actually his or her personal contact. Instead, it's the contact of the persona you met at the kyabakura. They may contact you occasionally, and make some small talk, and appear genuine. But ultimately the goal is to get you to come back to the club and ask for them by name, since the above-mentioned shimeiryo is usually paid in full by the club to the guy or girl. There are some complicated dynamics at play here and while it's not impossible to have a genuine friendly or romantic relationship with a hostess or host, 99% of the time, it's purely just a fantasy.
Whiskey Richard is the founder of nomunication.jp, and has been saying he has lived in Japan for ten years for the past four years. He enjoys drinking basically anything except straight-up Campari.