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The ‘girl’s bar’ emerges as viable nightlife alternative amid ongoing crackdown

Outside a 'girl's bar' in Kabukicho
Pedestrians pass a “girl’s bar” in Shinjuku Ward’s Kabukicho red-light district
TOKYO (TR) – From couples entering the restaurant Gonpachi to tipsy groups piling into club Muse, typical evenings at the Nishi Azabu crossing are never short of brisk activity. But in recent months, the most interesting developments have been taking place in front of standing-bar Joe, located around the corner from Hobson’s.

On any given weeknight a steady flow of ladies can be seen entering and leaving the fifth and sixth floors of a nearby building. Positioned outside is a young gentleman holding a clipboard containing three columns of names.

Girls exiting, who have conceivably just changed clothes, will consult with the list, cross Roppongi-dori, and then duck into a nearby club called Girl’s Garden Kaze, whose Web page indicates that it is staffed by 300 girls (with 80 on call on any given day).

A check of a few Japanese blogs reveals that the establishment is billing itself as a large “girl’s bar,” a nightlife trend whereby young women serve drinks and make conversation from behind a counter — and not while seated next to a customer, as is standard practice in a conventional hostess club.

In recent years, discos, hostess clubs, and various sex businesses in Tokyo have come under increased pressure as a result of a stricter enforcement of the Law Regulating Adult Entertainment Businesses. This national law, enacted in 1948, dictates that all entertainment operations close by 1 a.m. Bars only for drinking, however, are not classified as entertainment.

Kabukicho has seen numerous clubs shut their doors. Hostess clubs wishing to stay in business have had to either carefully watch the streets for police patrols or begin escorting their customers out after midnight. Many host clubs have started to offer two periods of operation, with the second shift beginning around sunrise.

Insiders have postulated that Tokyo’s bid for the 2016 Olympics and the redevelopment of centrally located property, whose value has increased substantially in recent years, are both motives for the recent police activity.

A 'girl's bar' in Kabukicho
A ‘girl’s bar’ in Kabukicho
At Roppongi crossing is Girl’s Bar G’s (open until 6 a.m.), and in Kabukicho sits L, which serves until 5 a.m. On a weekday evening in October, a tout outside of L told me that the establishment is not an adult entertainment operation (fuzoku), but instead an inshokuten, or literally a place for eating and drinking – this in spite of the three dolled-up ladies who were seated behind the long wood counter and waiting for their first customers.

Charges, though highly variable and possibly subject to hidden extras, are generally more reasonable than a hostess club. Girl’s Bar G’s, for example, has a cover of 1,000 yen for each hour.

The first girl’s bars are generally credited with starting in Osaka a few years ago. But their initial incarnation, it could be argued, dates back more than a decade, to when small one-coin operations staffed by pairs of female bartenders, perhaps in costume, popped up in various entertainment quarters. It was only recently that the concept has been upgraded and modified into what amounts to a rearranged hostess club whose intention is to exploit a legal loophole.

“The name ‘girl’s bar’ is solely the doing of the club owners,” says a representative from the National Police Agency. “Maybe their activities are technically different from an adult entertainment operation but under the law they are the same.”

The industry is taking notice of the popularity. Girl’s Garden Kaze, the club in Nishi Azabu, is in reality a hostess club with lounge seating and no prominent bar counter. “Everybody knows that it is a girl’s bar in name only,” a waitress at another nearby watering hole told me, implying that the club has merely adopted the girl’s bar tag for promotion.

To this point, the police have not considered the situation to be an issue. “If there is a substantial increase in the number of these businesses in the future,” says the NPA official, “it will eventually become necessary for them to be properly registered.”

Note: This article originally appeared in the November issue of Japan Inc. magazine. An article about the bust of a girl’s bar can be found here.