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Downfall of Japan’s ‘King of Hosts’

Shukan Asahi Geino May 28
Shukan Asahi Geino May 28

In 1971, Takeshi Aida opened his first “host club” in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward. Located in the gay quarter of 2-chome, the club employed men to entertain women.

Aida eventually went on to establish an empire: He and his collection of playboys wined and dined female guests within his Club Ai chain to such amazing success that his management company at one point boasted an annual revenue of 2.7 billion yen.

But then it all ended, like a shattered champagne bottle. Four years ago, the 74-year-old was befallen by a stroke. The man once known as the “King of Hosts” is now wheelchair bound and interred in a rest home in which he pays a hardly glamorous 90,000 yen per month.

Shukan Asahi Geino (May 28) speaks with colleagues of Aida in providing a chronicle of the downfall of a true legend in Japan’s nightlife trade.

An acquaintance tells the magazine that Aida has suffered from dementia for several years. “He’s struggling to make ends meet through only a pension,” says the acquaintance. “Without any savings or assets, he’s broke.”

Aida got his start in entertainment at Night Tokyo in the 1960s. Positioned near the Yaesu Exit of Tokyo Station, the establishment was generally considered to be Japan’s first host club. A few years later, Aida went on to establish that first club, simply named Ai, in 2-chome.

Sensing that he had a hit on his hands, Aida, always seen immaculately attired in a crisp suit, spectacles and numerous gem-studded rings, subsequently opened a series of outlets under the Club Ai brand in the nearby Kabukicho red-light district. Though most were standard host clubs, a couple featured female bartenders dressed as men, known by the term onabe.

In Kabukicho, Aida became known for his anti-gang stance. “In the early days, there were a lot of cases of host clubs having relationships with yakuza. But Takeshi was insistent about turning away demands that he pay protection money,” says another acquaintance says. “In facing the source of such trouble on one occasion, he famously offered to perform ritual suicide (seppuku) in an effort protect his shop. He wanted to create the image of the host as one who performs distinguished service.”

After more than 40 years of running a successful business, how then did Aida find himself in such dire financial straits? The source of his problems is his family, specifically his oldest daughter, Mari, who sold off Club Ai to a rival club.

“Those in the know realize that it is another business that uses the same sign,” says a person affiliated with Club Ai.

Mari is not a blood relative. She is his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage. In August of last year, Aida handed Aida Kanko, the management company behind Club Ai, to Mari.

“After he had his stroke in 2011, he was hospitalized, and she got closer to him,” says the Club Ai insider. “Then he made her his successor.”

The problems with Mari date back even further. She apparently funneled a substantial amount of income from Club Ai’s operation over a six-year period to support one particular host. In September of last year, the local tax office revealed that the operation had concealed 130 million yen in income, much of which was ostensibly utilized in the sponsorship of Mari’s beau.

Takeshi Aida
Takeshi Aida (The Tokyo Reporter)

Aida’s problems are not entirely financial in nature. In March of last year, his second son committed suicide. A person attending the funeral vividly recalls the elder Aida at the edge of the casket, demanding, “Hey, wake up! What are you doing sleeping in a place like this?”

Mari also received the majority of the proceeds from the sale of Aida’s Tokyo apartment, and attempted to kill his huge dogs, which could often be seen lounging outside one of the branches of Club Ai in the early evenings. Their care has since been taken over by former employees of the club.

At the rest home, located about an hour by train from central Tokyo, Shukan Asahi Geino’s reporter spoke with Aida. During much of their conversation, the gray-haired Aida, wearing a sweatshirt, seemed largely unconcerned about the recent events that had transpired.

Then the reporter presented Aida with a old photo that showed him during his peak of fame.

“I want to return, back to Shinjuku,” he said.

Though if he were to, he may not like what he finds.

Source: “Dokusen chokugeki Kabukicho densetsu no hosuto O Aida Takeshi-shi ga ichi mon nashi ni natte ita!” Shukan Asahi Geino (May 28, pages 168-169)