The ’Sin City’ Has Its Own Rules – The Myths and Structures of Kabukicho Vol. 01


Suzumi Suzuki
Suzumi Suzuki


Born in 1983, Ms. Suzuki graduated from Keio University Faculty of Environment and Information Studies and The University of Tokyo Interfaculty Initiative in Information Studies. After obtaining her master’s degree, she became a journalist at Nikkei Inc. Her debut book, 「Adult Video actress」’s sociology (『「AV女優」の社会学, SEIDOSHA, Inc.), was based on her 2013 master’s thesis. After resigning from Nikkei Inc., she published her first essay, If You Sell Your Body, Farewell: Lady of the Night’s Love and Eudemonics (『身体を売ったらサヨウナラ 夜のオネエサンの愛と幸福論』 ,Gentosha Inc. ) in the fall, 2014. She is currently pursuing many areas of writing.
Kabukicho is known worldwide for its unusual characteristics through numerous stories, but none of them explain the real nature of Kabukicho. On the surface, its residents seems to be immoral, but they have created their own morals, language, and hierarchy. Its world has religious ceremony such as initiation and commendation. Even visitors are not permitted to deviate from the role they need to play in that society. It is a unique society, remarkable for its surprisingly complicated and rigid structure. Social structure like this, “society’s self-organization,” is found not only in Kabukicho, but in any community throughout Japan. Sociologist Suzumi Suzuki takes up the challenge of explaining the new Kabukicho’s image and building a view of Japanese social life. (by XAMOSCHi staff)


“Kabukicho(歌舞伎町)” is a name of a town in the Shinjuku ward, and it has been criticized with many different stereo types. Although it use to have the biggest nightlife district in the Oriental world, due to recession, high crime rate, and the government imposing tough regulations, it almost became a slum at one point. But in recent years, thanks to a large scale development around the Shinjuku Koma Theater, and the revitalization project utilizing artwork, the image of Kabukicho is getting better, and the crime rates has been declining.


There is, however, an extraordinary and a complicated world behind all this, which is deeply entrenched. When you go through the main street, Hanamichi Dori (Hanamichi Street), you can see billboards that have boys with make-up. They are called hosts, and they specialize in entertaining female guests. These special nighttime entertainment clubs are called host clubs, and there are more than 200 in Kabukicho. The hosts are the ones that built up this city, work every day and night, and have close relationships with the female guests and employees.


The language, the conventional protocols, and the power hierarchy can only be used there and are not really rational. Despite this, citizens of the city, both clients and suppliers try hard to sustain the system of the city. By looking into this city’s system, I will explain the characteristics of this extraordinary nightlife district.


In this series, I will explain in detail about the original language, how the hosts, customers, and management work, and the system of the host club in Kabukicho. By looking at the rules and the structure in details, I intend to point out what is actually offered at a host club, what the citizens yearning for, and what they want to be rescued from.


It seems like they are following rules that are irrational, wear a weird fashion that is only accepted in that city, and enjoy a system that costs a fortune. But by think that this is just one of those thing that young people do, you will be missing the essentials of Kabukicho. What they are seeking in this city is not just amusement or sightseeing but to fulfill human desire with something outside the social norm. One of the goals I want to achieve through this series is to make the complex rules, their essence of life, visible.


In the final episode, I would like to look back at this city; how the city is built up on government rules and a desire that would never be met. I will point out that the city and the citizens have such a tight connection, much more than residents and location usually have. By doing so, I will clarify the origins of manners that started so spontaneously but have become so complicated.


Now, I would like to explain what I intend to cover over the course of this series.


Vol. 02 The Outline of Kabukicho

Who are the citizens of Kabukicho? What is the difference between the visitors that just come and go through the city and the actual citizens? I will explain different types of citizens, such as the host club hosts, the guests, and the scouts, and what makes them citizens. Kabukicho citizens don’t become citizens because they are born there, but become citizens through many factors after growing up. I will discuss how much choice they actually have to become a citizen or not.


Vol. 03 The Proof of Citizenship and the Power Hierarchy

I will explain the characteristics of the citizens and the power hierarchy. There is a power hierarchy for the hosts, but there is also one for the customers, too. It depends on how much money the customer spends. Some examples are Ace, Gokubuto (極太,meaning very thick), and Seni (繊維,meaning threadline). Recently, however, customers can gain high status for being a valued client even without spending much money. This is called Shumi (趣味, meaning hobby), or Honkare (本彼, meaning real boyfriend), and it makes the power hierarchy very complicated.


Vol. 04 The Door to Citizenship

For the people that are not a citizens, how do they know how to behave and follow the protocols? I will explain in detail how to get along with the city by describing the flow of a first visit to a host club. The meanings of Okuri-Shimei (送り指名), and Shimei-Kaeshi (指名返し) will be explained here.


Vol. 05 Internal Rules

Rules that the host clubs/hosts of Kabukicho originally made will be discussed. A famous rule is the Bakudan (爆弾, meaning bomb), which is considered taboo. What makes it a taboo? Why do the “permanent nomination system,” and “drink on tab” exist when it is not legally binding? We will take a look at online word of mouth.


Vol. 06 The Special Language That is Spoken

Aori (煽り), Okuri (送り), Bakudan, Honei (本営), and Shumi are only a few of the examples of the language spoken by the citizens. Why do they have their own language?


Vol. 07 The People that Don’t Become Citizens

To become a citizen, you either become a host or a customer, but there are those that come into the city many times but never become citizens. They are called Shokai-Arashi (初回荒し). I will explain in detail.


Vol. 08 Regulations and the Impact

The regulations, such as no late night service or checking a photo ID, are imposed by the government. They have created problems, though. Because there is no late night service, open hours are now shorter. This makes the host spend more of his private time with the customers. Also by checking a photo ID, it’s hard to serve more than one person at a time. This is not what the government was intending by imposing the regulations.


Vol. 09 The Ceremony for the Winner, and the Power Hierarchy

There is a ceremony to praise the champion at a host club. Whoever has the most sales that night gets to sing the “last song.” There’s also a power hierarchy for the sales ranking, a ranking within the whole industry, and host magazines even have their own ranking.


Vol. 10 The Relationship Between the Citizens

There are many kinds of relationship between the “host” and the “customer,” such as Honei, Shumi, Tomoei (友営), and Makura (枕), but these are only a few of many, which makes it very complicated. There’s also a competition among the customers online, and they drag each other down by Tataku (叩く) or Matsuru (まつる). We will look into the different kinds of relationships here.


Vol. 11 Bankruptcy of the Citizen

At a host club, the prices are about 10 times the original cost, then another 40% is added as tax, so it is almost like a con. Some people are not able to pay the amount on the day so there is a “drinking on the tab” system. What happens when love and lust credit collapse?


Vol. 12 Kabukicho as a Culture Which is Held Up by a Fantacy

I will sum up the desire of the Kabukicho citizens in a city where real intentions and sly intentions alternate.


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