They're called "hosts", tyvm

When Jill linked to an article on “geisha guys” in a recent link roundup, I thought to myself, “I bet they’re talking about hosts. I mean, what would an article about Japan be without using Othering terminology to emphasize how Different! And! Exotic! it is.” And lo and behold, CNN’s Kyung Lah did not disappoint with the article, Japan’s ‘geisha guys’ the latest accessory.

Now, first off, hosts have been around for long enough that it’s just ridiculous to call them “the latest accessory”. What that really translates to is, “the latest thing that racist foreign media has picked up on to titillate their readership about that ‘wacky land of the rising sun’.”

Just in case you think that the “geisha guys” reference was an unfortunate choice of a copy-editor choosing a title or somesuch, observe this quote:

It’s a dizzying reversal of traditional gender roles in a country long known for geishas pampering male clients with conversation, singing and dancing. Now a new breed of entertainer has cropped up — think of them as male geishas.

Now, there are several things wrong in that one little quote that I don’t have the energy to get into. But to the assertion that we should “think of [hosts] as male geishas”, I say, “Let’s not.” Seriously. Hosts, like their hostess counterparts, are pretty much escorts. But I suppose that since escorts are available in most countries, using that comparison just doesn’t invoke the same “exotic Japanese sex worker” vibe that “geisha” does.

Whatever influences the sex work industry here may or may not have gotten from geisha culture doesn’t make it accurate, or a good idea, to conflate everything and anything under the header with geisha. It’s Othering. It’s fetishizing Japan. It’s racist. Full stop.

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8 thoughts on “They're called "hosts", tyvm

  1. Ah, so you noticed that too?

    I am thinking about doing a piece on Racialicious about it – there is a lot of crazy othering going on in that piece, that does nothing to actually discuss what hosts do and why. I think I am going to compare it to that really layered documentary about hosts “Great Happiness Space” – the latter is a long film that reveals what host actually do bit by bit, allowing them to tell their stories. First they do the glamour, then they show the reality…fascinating stuff.

  2. Doesn’t stuff like this fuel the tourism industry?

    “Look at all that weird stuff that happens in other countries! They’re not like us ordinary Americans/Canadians/British/etc. Would you like a plane ticket to experience the ultimate weirdness of the non-Americans/Canadians/British/etc.?”

    I remember a comic page in one of my old school textbooks. There were two pictures, the first one had a white Canadian teacher pointing his stick to a map of Africa, while the second picture had a black African teacher pointing his stick to a map of Canada. The single caption at the bottom read something like “And now we will learn about the strange people of…”, indicating that each teacher was teaching about the “strange” people of the other place.

    Also, in a textbook (most likely the same one), they described the life of the average American/Canadian/etc. but spelled some nouns backwards. Let me do an example here.

    “One day, Frank woke up and got out of bed. He shut off his mrala kcolc, then he cooked some nocab and sgge, traditional American food, for the first meal of the day, known as tsafkaerb. He then takes off his samajyp, and puts on some traditional clothing, which includes a trihs to cover his chest and arms, a stnap to cover his legs, raewredun to cover his genitals, and skcos to cover his feet. Sometimes Frank wears a tah on his head. He then goes out to his rac, which is the American form of transportation, and he evirds his rac to the local retaeht, where he gets to see a form of entertainment called an “eivom”. Once Frank finishes watching the eivom, he drives his rac to his esuoh. The esuoh is the form of shelter used by the Americans.”

    Doesn’t Frank’s life sound so exotic and cultural?

  3. Some Guy: That sounds very similar to the piece “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema”

    An excerpt: In the hierarchy of magical practitioners, and below the medicine men in prestige, are specialists whose designation is best translated as “holy-mouth-men.” The Nacirema have an almost pathological horror of and fascination with the mouth, the condition of which is believed to have a supernatural influence on all social relationships. Were it not for the rituals of the mouth, they believe that their teeth would fall out, their gums bleed, their jaws shrink, their friends desert them, and their lovers reject them. They also believe that a strong relationship exists between oral and moral characteristics. For example, there is a ritual ablution of the mouth for children which is supposed to improve their moral fiber.

    The daily body ritual performed by everyone includes a mouth-rite. Despite the fact that these people are so punctilious [6] about care of the mouth, this rite involves a practice which strikes the uninitiated stranger as revolting. It was reported to me that the ritual consists of inserting a small bundle of hog hairs into the mouth, along with certain magical powders, and then moving the bundle in a highly formalized series of gestures.

    It’s basically what you describe- taking “normal” American behaviors, but describing them the way we do the behaviors of other cultures, and obscuring the names of things by reversing the spelling (American = Nacirema). It’s a great read.

  4. I remember that piece – we read it for a class of mine to demonstrate defamiliarisation as a writing exercise. It was very odd to read, but at least it made me feel better about not being as dental-health-obsessed as other people :p

  5. excuse me! dont speak of things you obviously dont know about. i was a hostess in tokyo, we do not have sex with customers and therefore hostessing is not a “sex worker job” since there are places that arrange a women to meet a man in a hotel for sex, hostesses have nothing to do with that, and are threatened they will be fined if the bosses or co-workes find out the lady made arrangements OUTSIDE the club with the customer.

  6. elizabeth: My apologies for being unclear; I was assuming that my audience was familiar with the term “sex work”, which encompasses a wide range of services that don’t necessarily involve sexual contact (see the Wikipedia entry for more information). For the record, people who work in the “adult” entertainment industry are generally classified as “sex workers”, which would mean that hosts and hostesses fit into that category.

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