All the charm and none of the hassle.

A lot of businesses in Japan have been hit hard by the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, but it’s been especially tough on the hostess bar industry. When pretty much your entire business model revolves around customers coming in after work to sit next to a stranger and chat in close proximity, it’s hard to operate as normal when health officials are calling for bars and restaurants to close early and for people to stay two meters (6.6 feet) away from one another.

So with a lot more downtime on their hands, a number of hostesses are instead offering their services thorough a platform called Onkyaba Japan, with “Onkyaba” being a mashup of “online” and “kyaba kurabu,” what hostess bars are called in Japanese.

▼ Onkyaba Japan’s logo

Curious to see how Onkyaba Japan works, we decided to try it out for ourselves, with our Japanese-language reporter Yuichiro Wasai selflessly volunteering to drink with a pretty girl. While walk-in customers at brick-and-mortar hostess bars are often assigned whichever hostess happens to be unoccupied at the time, Onkyaba Japan operates strictly on a by-reservation system, with customers selecting a drinking partner ahead of time.

▼ The Onkyaba Japan has hostess profiles and introductory videos to help customers narrow down their choice.

Sessions can be scheduled from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. on weekdays, 6 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and 6 p.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. Payment can be made by credit card, the Line Pay app, or, as with many services in Japan, in cash at your local convenience store.

Once Yuichiro had made his reservation, he was sent a Zoom video chat link. When the time came, he clicked on his link to sign in, and…

…he immediately got a warm, enthusiastic greeting from the hostess (who, by the way, gave her permission for Yuichiro to use her photo in his review).

▼ As she flashed a welcoming smile, Yuichiro began to feel his internal temperature rise.

From there, things progressed pretty much like they would at a regular hostess bar, with the hostess skillfully keeping the conversation fun and flowing. However, Yuichiro did discover a couple of things that make the online format unique, and perhaps even preferable, to a physical hostess bar visit.

First off, hostess bars make money not just through their seating fees, but through food and beverage sales as well. Sure enough, Onkyaba Japan has a similar system, so Yuichiro bought a drink for his hostess. However, the big difference is that, obviously, Onkyaba Japan can’t sell the customer any food or drink, which means there’s no incentive for the hostess to coax her customer to drink more than he wants to, or to sweetly pressure him into buying high-priced items for himself. For example, during his session Yuichiro enjoyed an ice-cold happoshu (a super-cheap low-malt class of Japanese beer) and a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which cost him far less than a meal at a hostess club would.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a guy who can’t drink very much liquor,” Yuichiro’s hostess told him. That’s something you’re very unlikely to hear at a regular hostess bar, since alcoholic drinks are their high-margin money makers. Even when Yuichiro revealed that he likes Cassis Orange, an inexpensive cocktail with a “girly” reputation in Japan, his hostess made no attempt to goad him into trying something higher in alcohol content and price.

Another advantage: being in the comfort of his own apartment meant the conversation was free of invasive noise and second-hand smoke, allowing Yuichiro and the hostess to focus on what each other was saying. Add in the fact that the 2,000-yen (US$19) seating charge for the 30-minute session was less than half of what you’d pay in a Tokyo hostess bar, and Yuichiro can definitely see the appeal of Onkyaba Japan, and compared to his shift when he shot cooling spray directly into his nostrils, this turned out to be a very enjoyable day at work for the guy.

Related: Onkyaba Japan
Top image: SoraNews24
Insert images: Onkyaba Japan, SoraNews24
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