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Patrons make final pilgrimage to Club Ai

Club Ai is saying goodbye in June

TOKYO (TR) – Novel coronavirus pandemic pandemic be damned.

On Sunday, dozens shrugged off the continual rain and concerns about the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to bid farewell to Club Ai, the venerable host club in the Kabukicho red-light district.

The Ai Honten is the last remaining outlet in the Club Ai empire. Earlier this month, the club announced that it will be closing at its current location after a 49-year run due to the redevelopment of its building.

To enter the club is to be immediately hit by its gaudy interior of chandeliers, golden statuary, shimmering gems and a mirror on nearly every wall surface. Over its run, the look attracted elite clientele, including socialite Dewi Sukarno and actress Hitomi Kuroki.

As a sendoff, the club is hosting special weekend events this month. Between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. each day, the club will become a cafe serving soft drinks. Guests are paying 1,000 yen to experience the Showa Era one last time.

Takeshi Aida
Takeshi Aida

Crisp suit, spectacles and numerous gem-studded rings

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

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 nearby Kabukicho.

At one point, his empire that boasted an annual revenue of 2.7 billion yen and 400 Casanovas on staff.

In 2011, Aida was befallen by his first stroke. Three years later, he suffered his third stroke and handed over ownership of the chain to his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage. He died in 2018.

Drinking, smoking, conversation in close proximity

The closing festivities will be subdued, with typical host activities — drinking, smoking, conversation in close proximity — not being on offer.

That didn’t stop a throng from gathering outside the establishment on Sunday. Umbrellas in hand, they formed a line that snaked around the block outside the door — this in spite of reports from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government over the past week indicating that host clubs in the quarter were the source of dozens of coronavirus infections.

One user on Twitter described venturing to the club as “like going to a World Heritage Site,” which, for some, is probably an apt description.