Unpublished ethnographic essay on Tokyo hostess clubs and the political economy using marxist views and theories from my undergraduate psychology and anthropology university studies. I share my essays to track my growth and evolution through my research process and writing but also to inspire other academics at different stages of the journey. I have currently completed my Bachelor of Arts double majoring in psych and social anthropology and am currently working on my Masters of Arts Social Anthropology.
Essay submitted: 8/02/2022
Ethnograph: Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club by Anne Allison.
Anne Allison explores the natural place that Hostess clubs have in everyday white-collar careers in Tokyo in her ethnograph, “Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo. She explores who is custom to use the hostess clubs, the reasons behind the visit to the clubs on an individual approach but she also widens the lens to explore the company the individual works for, how this strengthens relationships in big corporations amongst employees, progresses careers, improves status in society, the empowerment to masculine energy but discusses repercussions this has in the family unit.
Hostess clubs in Tokyo are bars where men can pay to go and be served and entertained by women, there is a sexual nature to this adventure, but it is a non-physical service. Hostess clubs are only visited by white-collar men and usually paid for by the corporations and included in the work expectations. The more expensive the bar you visit, and the more ‘beautiful and worldly’ the women the higher your status is seen to be.
Anne breaks down the mindset and cultural reasons that accumulate to create this common trend that is normalized in Tokyo.
I was able to identify multiple theories in Anne Allison’s Ethnograph Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and the Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club, but in this essay, I will just be focusing on the theory political economy as I believe this theory was really present in her expression of what she found.
I will first begin by defining political economy. The Marxist political economy theory perceives the economy in a continual process of transformation of nature and society by production (Dimmelmeier, et al, 2016). The mode of production in political economy is the configuration of productive forces and relative forces. The structure of the mode of production also depends on the specific mode of production like slavery or capitalism. For the sake of this definition and essay, I will center it around capitalism as this aligns and is relatable with the ethnograph,and this essay as a capitalist mode of production.
The productive forces within the mode of production refer to two things. The first means of production is production of machinery, instruments, raw materials, and resources. The second part of Productive forces also encompasses labor power which is the workers, workforce.
The relative forces are how the social and political arrangements structure the production and distribution.
In the structure of this theory the economy is the foundation of the theory. Marxism looks at the distribution of wealth but also highlights the inequality in this structure. How are goods and services produced but also who owns and profits from production, and how politics encourages this mode of production.
The bourgeoise are the owners of the capital, who possess the means of production and productive forces and they exploit the proletariat who possess only labor power, relative force in which they sell.
Ultimately depending on where you are in the mode of production will determine your status in society, the economy shapes all other cultural rituals and your place in the structure of society.
Allison’s key concepts from the ethnograph that relate to a political economy structure that I will discuss, and breakdown are:
Attending Hostess Clubs is normal and expected of all white-collar businessmen
Attending Hostess Clubs ties the employee more to the company, working harder and longer hours
Work and play become merged
The modes of production in the hostess club and society
How the hostess club plays a role in not only the economy but also the family dynamic and expectations in Tokyo
1) Attending Hostess Clubs is normal and expected of all white-collar businessmen:
Japanese are not prude or puritans in relation to sex (loc 249) is discovered during part of Allison’s interviews. In her ethnograph research she interviewed not only at large in society but also women and wives of men who attend hostess clubs, as well as the men who attend the hostess clubs and all agreed or implied and dismissed ideologically as of no cultural significance (loc 263) downplaying the significance of the nightlife and the hostess club scene. This was a common theme amongst the Japanese she encountered. I believe here she shows the first example of ideology in the structure, the belief below the surface that is so normalized and expected of the Japanese white-collar businessman and discussed as no big deal.
A general idea is that the later home a man is the more harder he is working, and this belief is accepted by all who Allison interviewed. The hostess club is considered a part of building and connecting within business relationships mostly, the first encounter with a hostess club is majority of the time with a work colleague or boss first, over time and age the man may continue this on individually, but the first encounter is through work status or connection. This shows a connection immediately to the economy via a hostess club. Politically it is a normalized place for a working man to be in and in some cultures, this would be a more secret outing that would be taboo to discuss but in Tokyo this is an ideology, in both scenarios taboo or ideologic the corporation and economy of the hostess club is at the foundation. Participation in this Allison shows places you higher in society but also more praised for in your family. The economy is shaping the experience but also your standing and prestige within not only society but your family.
2) Attending Hostess Clubs ties the employee more to the company, working harder and longer hours:
In most large companies there is an allocated budget category for entertainment (loc 209) the implied entertainment is assumed for the hostess clubs and golfing. Big businesses perceive that corporate entertainment is a means of making itself stronger and more competitive. The ideology behind this is the more connected the workers feel, the higher status they receive, but mostly importantly the closer work and play comes together then the harder the worker will work for the company but also the loyalty of a lifelong commitment.
Allison shows that there is political gain behind the budget for entertainment purposes that are more than just rewarding workers for their hard work.
She shows that it relates to the status held within society and the career title offered but also the masculine engagement experienced in the hostess club which contributes to the ideology of this work and play merge, which benefits the mode of production.
The biggest spending companies are those with the highest national and transnational prestige (loc 220) the purpose of the big spend is to glamourize jobs that despite their prestige are often boring and underpaid (loc 227) thus in return aiming to bond the worker to the company.
Here in these examples by Allison we see the imbalance and exploitation of the proletariat (workers of company) by the bourgeoisie (the company) that sits at the very base of this structure, affirming her theory and connection to a structure of political economy.
3) Work and play become merged:
As mentioned previously the lines between work and play become merged, work becomes inextricably linked to play activities (loc 475) by attending the hostess clubs with their bosses and other fellow workers it creates the bond between workers, but bonds workers ever more closely, completely and inescapably to their work (loc 456).
The social interchange that happens between workers at the hostess clubs is crucial to the companies and the sustenance of so called healthy relationships (loc 651).
I believe the importance of this again is a manipulation of the proletariat and an example of the exploitation, we can make the obvious exploitation of the hostess herself but more unconsciously is the exploitation of the worker who has normalized attending the hostess clubs in association with work, Allison connects that underlying this is bonding the worker to the company, the proletariat to the bourgeoisie.
The use of the hostess club between employees implies that work does not definitively end at 5pm, and the worker has no individual identity outside of work (loc 1439).
4) The modes of production in the hostess club and society:
Allison’s fieldwork is able to show the structure of the modes of production between the hostess club and society relating back to the workforce.
The hostess club is a productive force not directly owned by the company, although the hostess club itself has its own bourgeoise, but for the sake of this essay I will only focus on the company and the worker and not the own structure within the hostess club.
The company utilizes the hostess club to long term exploit the workers, this affirms the bond to the company, the bond to the company generates more wealth for the company but also dictates the status in how each worker is recognized not only in society but in their family.
Without the work structure dictating this, none of the rest would be in place and I believe Allison has supported her theory by showing this amongst her findings.
5) How the hostess club plays a role in not only the economy but also the family dynamic and expectations in Tokyo:
Finally, the last example I will look at to support the use of the political economy theory in this ethnographic essay is the role the hostess club plays in the family dynamic.
Allison touches on a culture that has emerged and weaved in amongst the work and hostess club entanglement. The wives are at home caring for the children with no help from her husband whose main focus is to succeed at work to support his family, the wives acknowledge the place of the hostess club as to them it shows their husbands status but also his hard work. This creates a bond between mother and children and what Allison shows here through this research is the that this fixes a gender interaction (loc 1996), when these children grow up they assume the roles associated with their gender, the girl becomes the wife who stays home and looks after the children, the male grown child becomes to see his wife as the mother role and in turn engages in the hostess club.
We can see by this reflection that she is supporting the structure again of political economy by showing that structures of the family dynamics are dictated by the politics of capitalism and what end of the scale of the modes of production they sit at.
Earlier in the essay I referred to how the Japanese associate no cultural significance to the hostess clubs, and this affirms again that the economy is dictating the dynamics of culture.
I think Allison using political economy as her framework structure for this ethnographic research in the nightlife in Tokyo was correct and supported by her findings, I found this a really interesting read that capitalism although is obvious it becomes so imbedded into society that it becomes cultural, when it becomes cultural the significance of the interactions and dynamics lessens and the political economy approach seems less obvious but this was correctly engaged and theorized throughout the ethnograph. I have highlighted in this essay the main points that I was able to within the word count, but I believe she strengthened her theory by not limiting her research to just what I have mentioned.
Allison, A., (2009). Nightwork: Sexuality, Pleasure, and Corporate Masculinity in a Tokyo Hostess Club. The University of Chicago Press.
Dimmelmeier, A., Purckhauer, A., & Shah, A. (2016). Marxian Political Economy. Exploring Economics. Retrieved from https://www.exploring-economics.org/en/orientation/marxist-political- economy/