There’s a joke, which can be disturbingly true in tech circles, that the best way to start an innovative company is to do things that were cutting edge in Japan 5 years ago. I’ve always had great admiration for the Japanese ability to take things from other cultures, improve it until its barely recognizable, then sell it back to the point of origin. Obvious examples include Japan’s automotive industry and Manga / Anime. Heck, even the much vaunted “Kaizen” is an evolution of work from two Americans.
Widespread in Japan is something they call “Hostess Bars“. The general idea is that you (you being a Japanese salary-man) come in either alone or with friends. You’re greeted warmly, taken to a private area of the establishment, then an attractive woman joins you. She finds everything you say witty and fascinating and encourages you to drink the night away (drinking with you and receiving a commission on the bar bill).
This is the “Big Mac” version of Geisha.
My idea for how to introduce this to the West is have a bar in a big city and maybe just do it one night a week at an existing bar to test out the idea. Hire a bunch of attractive men and women, and get them to dress and act as a caricature of themselves (so if a woman liked hockey, she’d come dressed in a Leafs jersey, if a man was training to be a firefighter, he’d come decked out in rubber pants and suspenders). The hosts and hostesses could choose if they’d just sit with singles or groups, and men or women (whatever they’re comfortable with).
The expectation is that the host / hostesses focus on the patrons enjoying themselves, be nice to them and talk to them as long as they want to stay. Patrons are expected to buy the hosts / hostesses drinks (which would be over-priced, low/no alcohol drinks). When they first come in, the greeter would point out the options of who they can have join them, the patron would pick, then that person would be brought over to their table.
When I’ve pitched this idea to gay men, they think its great until I get to the point of no sex, then they lose all interest (thus proving, once again, that all men are pigs). That’s been the biggest criticism people (men and women) have made when I’ve talked about this idea, that Westerners wouldn’t be satisfied paying for conversation.
I think this is actually incorrect. I think many Westerners are desperately lonely and looking to connect with other people, not necessarily in a physical manner. That would be my biggest ethical objection to starting a business like this: You’re selling people a fantasy (friendship in this case). That being said, many businesses sell fantasies, so you’d at least have lots of company…