Next February, Nintendo is releasing its new handheld, the Nintendo 3DS. New titles are being revealed for the system, but they're typical fare: fighting games, puzzle games, action games, etc. However, one in particular isn't.
While Tecmo Koei readies a Samurai Warriors game and Capcom works on a Street Fighter game, Level-5 is bringing its mobile phone hostess game to the Nintendo 3DS. "Kyabajyoppi" ("kyabajyo" is a hostess) is a bar girl sim and debuted as a mobile phone game. It is popular enough to merit a Nintendo 3DS release.
The title might seem like a bit of an anomaly for the Fukuoka-based game studio, which is best known for its Professor Layton games, but it actually reflects Japanese society. Hostess bars are not new to Japan, but in the past few years, the perception of them has changed.
In the past, hostesses at top level hostess clubs were viewed as clever. The stereotype was that they kept up with current events and read books so that they could carry on conversations with elite salarymen.
Then there were the rest of the hostesses - girls simply working in bars, singing karaoke, pouring drinks and lighting cigarettes. They're paid to flirt and flirt they do.
Read this post for more information about hostesses.
If sex is not specifically involved for many hostesses, the "mizu shobai" (water trade) of the hostesses industry exists in Japanese urban nightlife. The same space is also occupied by prostitution: the image clubs, the pink salons, the soaplands. Granted, this falls into the grey area of Japanese law, but it is legal and it's not exactly a world one would thing women would want to enter.
Until recently. In the middle of the last decade, hostesses became fashion icons dubbed "princesses of the night". Cheap and gaudy, their fashion occupied the pages of new magazines like Koakuma Ageha ("Little devil swallowtail butterfly"). The original Kyabajyoppi trailer actually makes reference to a butterfly of the night. Around the same time, several Japanese television dramas depicted the glamorous life of hostesses.
That same year, Sega released the first Yakuza game in Japan. The title's publicity campaign played up the in-game bar girl appearances, and Sega even held events at Tokyo drinking establishments to promote Yakuza. The ensuing sequels increasingly played up the hostess angle - so much that Yakuza wasn't merely a game in which players could experience the Japanese underworld, but also the Japanese nightlife.
Books have been written attempting to answer the question why some Japanese women want to become hostesses. Traditionally, hostesses were from blue collar backgrounds and from rural backgrounds (i.e., they recently moved to big cities from the countryside). With the Japanese economy still reeling and young women hoping to pick up some extra scratch, that isn't necessarily so anymore.
The number of hostess-type games have increased, and it's become so normalised that Level-5, a company built on family-friendly puzzle games and soccer anime, can include a hostess game in its initial batch of Nintendo 3DS games. Nobody bats an eye, not even the butterflies of the night.