Antonio Hermosín Gandul and Yoko Kaneko
Tokyo, Dec 12 (EFE).- Young women in vulnerable situations with unpayable debts and driven into prostitution: these are the victims of “host clubs,” legal businesses in Japan that are causing growing social alarm due to their methods of attracting clients and then exploiting them.
Kabukicho, Tokyo’s red-light district, is known for its nightlife and for its numerous establishments offering a wide range of “escort” or sex-related services in a country that prohibits prostitution (defined in its legislation as sexual intercourse between strangers in exchange for money).
The most prominent of these establishments are the “host clubs,” bars where female customers come to talk and drink with their young, attractive “host,” which also have a male counterpart, “hostess clubs.”
The hosts are young men who offer a pseudo-romantic fantasy; they are paid for their ability to create an illusion of intimacy, and to fulfill the romantic dating ideals of their clients.
Money as a token of love
Yu Tanaka (not her real name) was 18 when she began frequenting one of these establishments. Although she was under the legal age to drink alcohol, she was contacted by a public relations officer of the “host club” and developed a close relationship with one of the “hosts,” with whom she would drink, sometimes until she passed out.
One day, the host told her that she owed 1.6 million yen (about 10,200 euros) for bills she had accumulated at the club in just a few months, she said in an interview with EFE.
This bill came from the consumption of food and drinks, such as bottles of champagne, that Tanaka ordered “while drunk” and “feeling obliged” to return all the attention offered by her host.
“I didn’t want him to stop seeing me or sending me messages. At the time, I thought that love corresponded to money. They told me that the more money I spent, the more love I could show him,” she says.
Tanaka had no family or “anyone to turn to” when the “host,” with whom she believed she was romantically involved, began harassing her to pay her debts. She then contacted an NGO in Kabukicho that helps victims of these businesses.
The profile of the victim is a young woman between 18 and 20 years old, who has moved to Tokyo from another prefecture, does not have a close social circle and has become more isolated as a result of the pandemic.
“The method used to recruit these girls is brainwashing,” Hidemori Gen, founder of the association Seiboren, told EFE.
They attract young women by approaching them in the middle of the street and offering them to try the club for very low prices, or by contacting them through social networks or dating applications. Once inside, they are dazzled by “a dreamlike atmosphere” and hosts who look like “K-pop idols,” according to Gen.
After their first visit, the girls receive “hundreds of messages from the hosts full of nice words asking them to meet again,” and on subsequent dates, the “hosts” begin to become intimate with their clients as they rack up the bills.
“By then, some of the girls are deeply in love, and they even talk to them about getting married in the future,” says Gen.
The next step for many of them is to look for new, better-paying permanent or temporary jobs in order to pay off their unmanageable debts, a situation that the “hosts” themselves take advantage of by suggesting that they try lucrative sex-related businesses or even introduce them to brokers or pimps.
Other research also points that many clients are aware of the commercial background of the relationship, this does not refrain them for amassing increasing amounts of debt in tending to their hosts, and turning to prostitution.
Cases on the rise