On February 12, emergency services arrived at bar Sora in Osaka’s Minami area of Chuo Ward to find a third-year high school student lying face up on the floor. She was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death was later determined to be acute alcohol poisoning. The 27-year-old manager was taken into custody initially for violating the Food Sanitation Act and later for allowing a minor to work after 10 p.m., which is prohibited under the Labor Standards Act.
Sora is a variation of a hostess club termed a “girl’s bar,” which are clubs legally registered as after-hours, eating-and-drinking establishments. The clubs are, in fact, more or less hostess clubs in disguise.
“In the Minami area there are a lot of these types of illegal joints,” says a local restaurant employee. Osaka prefectural cops have busted seven girl’s bars so far this year.
“On March 19 and 22, multiple clubs in the Minami and Umeda entertainment areas were raided by 30 investigators,” said a representative from the Osaka prefectural police. “Going forward, the crackdown will be enforced continuously.”
The girl’s bar, which was born in Osaka up to eight years ago, aims to replicate a hostess club experience. The concept has proved popular and expanded into many entertainment areas of Japan, sometimes as one of a few specialty genres, including restaurant izakayas and bars staffed by AV actresses and pin-up models.
“The basis of the system is that the girls are bartenders behind the counter serving the customers,” says a fuzoku shop employee. “At a regular club or lounge that is not the case. Casual, enjoyable conversation with a cute, young girl is the sales point, and because the girl’s bars are reasonably priced relative to a hostess club they’ve spread like wildfire.”
Another reason for the popularity is exploitation of a legal loophole. With female staff members positioned behind the counter, opposite the customers, as opposed to positioned side by side, such as in a hostess club setting, the establishment can pass itself off as a regular bar and not be subject to the strict Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses.
The popularity has brought trouble.
“In order to keep costs low, young girls who will work for low wages are being hired,” says a source in the industry, “and as an extreme sales point, the customers are allowed to touch the female staff members. The existence of shops ripping off customers with high fees is another problem.”
The trend is not limited to Osaka. In February, police raided the two outlets of the chain Pippi, located in Tokyo’s Roppongi and Kabukicho entertainment areas, for allowing female staff members to sit and serve at the same table as customers. The clubs were staffed by adult video (AV) actresses and pin-up models.
Tabloids ran stories about Pippi before the bust. “The articles were saying that the girls would sit next to the customers as a part of the service,” says a Roppongi restaurant manager. “With those rumors floating around, the cops heard about it and made the busts.”
Yet the illegal clubs are continuing to operate in spite of the actions of law enforcement. In order to overcome the current situation, “the police must begin a concentrated effort,” says the same manager.