Okinawa Night Life by:Hiromi Tso
If you have the desire to go out and experience a "Japanese type bar" vice the places that specifically cater to the foreign community. There are a few things I've come up with to help you out.
Types of places.
Let's clearly define the different types of bars that exist and place them into various classes. Legally bars are categorized to determine the types of services available, the hours it can be open, what hostess are supposed to do, and the like.
These are the most fun and are generally the cheapest. These are also frequented by the younger age groups like college students.
These are fun to go out and sing karaoke at. The songs you sing will be about 100 or 200 yen each. Snacks are by far the most common and they are located all over the island. Customers in snacks may include women. In a snack generally the hostess sits on one side of the counter and is there to provide basic conversation friendly only. There is very little sexual implication or suggestion. Snacks usually sell food in addition to drinks.
These are fairly common in drinking neighborhoods, and is totally different from the snack. The only women customers found in salons are generally hostesses from other similar establishments who are friends with one of the hostesses or the mamasan. You can expect them to behave like an employee, as well. Hostesses in a salon are much "friendlier" than in the snack bar. Generally they will sit next to you and behave as though they are your girlfriend. They may hold you hand, put there arms around your, feed you your drinks often faster than you'd like, as well as other intimate gestures that make you feel good.
If you drink in a salon expect to pay more for what your get. This could possibly include a table set-up fee, over priced drinks, often if the hostess sits with you there may be a fee as well. Remember also that tatemae talk (gomasuri or sweet talk) is the standard in these places and anything promised that is not a legal business service is to be considered as talk only. The hostesses job is to make you feel good right now and not to carry through later on any promises made remember there are no friends on duty. This is clearly understood by all Japanese patrons. If you drink at a salon you need to understand this.
Salon and Cafe hostesses also have a reputation for being "very accommodating" while you are buying but, the second you quit they change into flesh eating wenches. This may not be true in all cases.
There is a Japanese word used in bars "oshibori", which refers to a little hot (or sometimes) a cold towel they give you to wipe you hands and face when you first come in. Along the true path of intent is the Japanese verb "shiboru or shibori" to squeeze or ring out till dry. "O" in front of a Japanese word makes it polite or honorific. A common joke in these places is that the hostesses are actually are there to politely ring out your wallet until it's dry.
The rules in the cafe are about the same as in a salon. They are fairly common in drinking neighborhoods. The only women customers are hostesses from other similar places. Watch out for oshiburi. These are different from coffee shops and when your toasted and enter the wrong one you'll be able to quickly discern the difference.
The cabaret is not as common as the others. This is a class of bar that is usually clearly identifiable even if you do not speak or read Japanese. There are NO women customers in a cabaret. There is a trend in main land Japan nowadays providing these types of clubs for women customers only. There are a couple in Naha that cater to women only and the men are hostess. The entrance typically has a guy there to greet customers accompanied by the ever present "Irasshai , irasshai" ( welcome, welcome) bantering. Most have signs showing prices as much as 30,000 yen . This is the set fee to pay to enter and all of your drinks are free for a limited period that is anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. This is also called Nomi hodai (all you can drink). There are places that are Nomi hodai that provide a little less seedy atmosphere than most cabarets.
Hostess in these clubs employ the age-old time tested tricks and treats to get drunk. This is to entice you to buy the hostess expensive drinks (which are not included in the entry fee). Naturally, she will do or say anything to get you to feel as generous as possible. If you do not have the cash to blow I'd stay away. Be warned now if you get trashed and cause and argument about how much you did or didn't spend and didn't even get... The bouncers will come from the wood work so to speak. Most of these thugs are younger kids without jobs paid to be there and most of them have girlfriends working as hostess there or are very close friends with the hostess or mamasan.
All the Japanese customers know that "if you didn't get it before you leave chances are you ain't gettin' it". Remember, no matter how nice the hostesses are when you are spending money, as soon as you stop paying they want you to leave. Many of these do not accept foreign customers.
Members Clubs and Bottle Clubs
There are not very many of these member clubs or bottle clubs around but there is generally one or two in each drinking area. You pay a membership fee, which might mean buying a bottle (keep) of booze, in order to drink there. Many of these places do not allow foreigners either.
Fashsion or Lingerie Clubs
These are places where the hostesses may wear fancy lingerie and serve you while half clothed. In some, the hostesses take turns dancing on stage and partially remove some of their lingerie. These are not to common on Okinawa but there are a couple in Naha and up in Nago around Midori Michi. They are expensive and most do not allow foreigners. "Nihonjin dake!"
There are only about two dozen of these clubs left here. Nearly all of the hostesses speak English and are recruited from the Philippines as cultural entertainers, models, and dancers. Contrary to popular belief the individual hostess doesn't determine what she may say and do, and the level of truth you can expect from her should be judged with care.
Most of these clubs place limits on when the hostess can leave the club and when she must be at the boarding house where she lives. So if you plan on trying to date one expect a thousand valid excuses. If she leaves either place when she is supposed to be there, she has to pay a fine, sometimes as much as $300 or about 30,000 yen. The intention is to keep them "off the streets". Her sponsor, generally the club owner, is responsible for her behavior and it will be trouble for his business should the hired help be outside of a specific liberty area.
You should keep in mind that many of these hostesses may have financial problems back home and that is what they hope to alleviate by being here. So, it is possible to set up dates with them, but generally they will be expecting to get paid for their time. It is very uncommon for one of them to go out with you because they like you only. After all, if you like them you must be sensitive to their personal problems.
The remianing few of these are located Kin Village, Okinawa City, Kitamae, Kadena town and a few in Futenma town. The number of these types of clubs or bars a fading fast and is no where near the number that there was in the 80's and early 90's.
Night clubs and Discos
Nightclubs are similar to those in the rest of the world. There are generally one to two discos in nearly every major drinking area. They offer some form of entertainment which is usually a live band, stage act, or dancing. There may be male hosts as well as hostesses, but they only provide the business services of taking orders and delivery your order.
Some nightclubs have hostesses that will sit with the customers. It is safe to say that most are not involved with providing any form of companionship for the patron.
The places that do not normally let in foreigners will usually allow you in if you come as a couple, regardless whether you are with an American or Japanese woman. They are concerned that overly aggressive girl hunters will chase off the women customers or tourist from mainland Japan.
Rock houses were originally designed with an American theme. There a few still left, most from the 80's and 90's. The most well known are 8 Beat, Abbey Roads, and Downtown All located in Okinawa City's Naka no Machi bar district and a couple in Kin Village. This is where the young crowd go to meet and listen to great music. There are no hostesses and house rules are pretty much like any bar in the States.
These places have outstanding sound systems, play good music in a nice nostalgic setting, and have good food and drinks for a fair price. Be careful in these areas though. It's best not to go alone when it is late after 11:00 p.m., especially if you are new to the island. But definetly worth going and checking out.
Okinawa City is probably the most Americanized town in Okinawa because it is right next to Kade-na Air Base. On weekend evenings, many young Americans spend their leisure time at discos or places that offer live music in Okinawa City, and on those nights the streets of the city are peopled with pedestrians of many nationalities.
Many of the Okinawan discos are large and elaborate, and some are even well-known to tourists from mainland Japan. Young Okinawan men and women dance enthusiastically and sometimes even more wildly when mixed with Americans. The discos are places where communication between young Okinawans and Americans can take place without knowing a common language; they make themselves understood through dancing. Through the mutual enjoyment of discos, they become friends. During the summer, young people from Japan come to Okinawa City to experience an exotic atmosphere that they cannot find on the mainland. Because so many places to visit in Okinawa City are located in a small area, some people may visit three or more discos in one night.
Live music entertainment is also concentrated in Okinawa City, where one can find hard rock, soft rock, and even reggae music. Weekend nights in Okinawa City belong to a world different from what is found elsewhere in the prefecture.
Naka no Machi (The Inner City)This is one of the most famous watering holes on the island. Those it has a long history - it is now in serious decline. The popping of the Japanese economic bubble has cause most revelers to sit home and drink, or drink at friends houses. In addition to the hundreds of tradition Japanese bars and Izakiyas (restaurants), most of the rock houses are located in this area also. These rock houses are favorite pick-up spots.
Park Avenue / Peace Park Avenue (BC Street)
This is one of the most famous watering holes to those who were here during the 70's, 80's, and early 90's. In the old days BC Street was the place for nighttime entertainment. It was the wild west. Boasting every type of floor show imaginable, both sides of the street were lined with club after club. But I'm dating myself.
In the early 90's, the local city government decided it was tired of that image, and changed it from BC Street to Park Avenue or Peace Park Avenue. They also spent a great deal of money and effort to renovate it to the present tourist friendly image.
Though it is mostly just gift shops for the mainland tourists who come to Okinawa, there are still a few nightclubs and a Fillipino bars left for the hard core party animals.
About the author
A writer in Okinawa about travel to Japan.