Love And Desire: Kabukichou Book Center
Kabukicho in Shinjuku is probably one of the busiest downtown areas in the world. Dazzling signboards of kyabakura (cabaret-clubs) and host & hostess clubs fill the streets; and people looking for entertainment, love and money roam constantly around the red-light districts.
For those who aren’t familiar, the aforementioned host clubs are nocturnal establishments in Japan where women come to seek stylish and perfectly groomed men for nights of suggestive flirting, stimulating conversation, and carefully choreographed courtship.
In the midst of this glamorous and somewhat tainted area, an unprecedented new bookstore opened at the tail end of 2017. They deal exclusively with books on themes of “LOVE.” Why did they open a bookstore in this area, and what are they aiming to accomplish? We asked Maki Tezuka, who was once one of the most popular ‘hosts’ himself, and now owns 12 stores including some host clubs.
How did you get the idea of launching a bookstore in Kabukicho?
The primary objective is employee education. I have been managing host clubs for about 15 years, and I always encouraged our hosts to read books. In the past, our company used to refund their book expenditure in exchange for a book review, or hold book-reading meetings in an attempt to cultivate the habit among hosts. Nonetheless, it failed every time. Then one day, I met Yoshihira Kusaka, an editor and the CEO of a creative company Tokyo Pistol who suggested the idea of establishing a bookstore for that purpose. So that’s how it started. Kyohei Yanashita of Kamome Books is in charge of book selection.
Why do you want the hosts to read books?
I think what is most important in the hospitality business is to be able to relate to people, understand human emotions, rejoice and cry together, rather than to have abundant knowledge. I mean, metaphorically, rather than having someone who knows about the iPhone’s inner-structure, we’d want someone who can be by your side while you try to figure it out yourself. Someone honest and with a full range of empathy. To be like that, I think it is important to read books and watch films about someone who has had very different life journeys from your own, to train your sensitivity.
Also, the Kabukicho community is so welcoming and embracing. It accepts and embraces anyone. It is so easy to spoil yourself here. I want my staff to acquire social skills that can be useful anywhere they go. I want them to have a good knowledge base of what is going on in Japan, about the cultural trends etc., so that they could have meaningful conversations with people from outside Kabukicho.
Can you tell us more Kabukicho; it sounds so unique and interesting?
As I said, it is a place that accepts anyone with no discrimination. In other words, the titles or status symbols of the usual world do not count here. Whether someone is a billionaire or a celebrity does not matter much. This place has its own criteria and status, celebrities of their own. However, they vary from person to person. They don’t share a monolithic criteria. “The King of Kabukicho” or “Top Celebrities” for one person can be totally unknown for others. It is a fascinatingly multi-layered community. The Kabukicho I know is actual and real, but it is also only a small fraction of it. There are shops and venues of all styles regardless of gender, race, or nationality. The forms of love also vary here. From something a little short of romantic emotions, to some that go beyond all that.
Kabukicho also has a reputation for being a dangerous place infested by underworld gangsters. Is there any truth to that?
It may have been long time ago, but it is not now. On the contrary, it might just be the least dangerous downtown area in the world. 24-hour surveillance cameras are everywhere on the streets, and if someone calls the police, they arrive in five minutes for sure. Even if a girl sleeps on the roadside, nobody will disturb her.
What are some of the one-of-a-kind features of the Kabukicho Book Center?
I think that it is worthwhile to visit for the sake of curiosity. First of all, walking around Kabukicho during the day is an interesting experience in itself. You will see mysterious signs on the walls and doors, or completely drunk girls in the broad daylight. The bookstore has graffiti outside and a cafe-bar atmosphere inside, so one can’t tell what it is from its appearance. At night, a huge 110-inch screen is set and karaoke starts. To come here is to have that sort of unusual experience. I would be just very happy if someone comes here and says, “I don’t get it but it’s fun!”
There are really all kind of people here…
That’s right. So just watching out the street from the window is fun enough. Some drunks pass by, so do the police cars. Some get interrogated. You see people that you’d want to ask, “How come you look like that?!” pass by so casually. Really, it is more interesting than a two-hour movie. That probably means this shop is relatively normal. However, from Kabukicho’s perspective, it is absolutely abnormal, and therefore it calls attention.
Kabukicho Book Center FACEBOOK
Photo by Yosuke Suzuki（Erz）
Text by Akihiro Tajima