If you’ve been to Kabukicho in Shinjuku—Tokyo’s red-light district—you’ll almost certainly have come across girls bars, which are bars tended by women. Men visit girls bars and pay not just for the drinks but for the company of the girl bartenders who will talk to them throughout the night.
For those of us who grew up outside of Japanese society, the idea of paying someone just to talk to them may be hard to grasp. But girls bars may actually be a product of Japanese work culture that leaves employees very little time to cultivate and maintain a healthy relationship. It’s a compromise that allows men in Japan to enjoy the company of women, even if it’s just for a while.
How does it work?
It’s simple! You go into a girls bar, take a seat at the bar counter, and you just start talking with the cute bartenders over a few drinks. Unlike in hostess bars where you usually get one hostess for the night, the bartenders in girls bars will rotate around customers and groups, so you’ll end up chatting with two to three bartenders throughout the night.
What do we talk about?
You can talk about anything you want, as long as you don’t make your bartender uncomfortable! Steer away from any sexual kind of talk, and try to keep it innocent and uncomplicated.
Who goes to girls bars?
Mostly men. It could be a tired businessman who’s just gotten off work and wants a drink and a chat. Or it could be a young man who’s nervous around women and wants to practice his conversational skills. Or even a foreign resident who wants to improve his Japanese or rather a tourist who just wants to see what Japan has to offer.
It could be a person like me who unwittingly wandered into one and didn’t realize it was a girls’ bar until my cute girl bartender told me I’d be charged for every half-hour I was there!
Do I have to go alone?
Not at all! While hostess bars are more intimate and private, girls bars are more casual and easy-going, so feel free to hit up a girls bar with a rowdy group of friends!
Is sex involved?
Absolutely not! A girls bar is a bar, not a brothel. In fact, the bartenders will stay firmly behind the bar and may even report you to the owner if you touch them with intent. Just keep a respectable distance and have a fun conversation!
Can I date my bartender?
Most girls bars do not allow customers to exchange contact information with the bartenders (it’s one of the rules that they explain to you when you enter). Very few do, but even then, don’t expect anything serious to come from it. You’ll most likely just maintain a customer-bartender relationship with your crush. A number of bartenders who work at girls bars have complained about customers texting them all the time. Don’t be one of those guys! Manage your expectations and just have a good night out.
How much does it cost?
Girls bars usually charge customers in increments of 30, 40 or 60 minutes, and it can cost anywhere between 2,000 to 2,800 yen for an hour. This only gets you in the door and a seat at the counter. A drink costs between 900 to 2,000 yen and you are also expected—or may even be asked—to buy your cute girl bartender a drink. They won’t kick you out if you don’t, but you risk upsetting or offending your adorable bartender.
Many if not all girls bars will have set deals that combine the seating charge and drinks charge. For example, a girls bar might charge you 5,000 yen for an hour with a free flow of drinks. So if you plan to stay and drink in the girls bar for a while, be sure to ask them about their deals to save some cash!
Going to a girls bar is not just about having a conversation with a cute girl; it’s also about how they make you feel. They initiate the conversations, they ask you questions about yourself, they laugh at your jokes—they make you feel important and good about yourself! Plus, some also have karaoke machines, and who doesn’t like that?