A homeless man who turned his life around to become one of Japan’s top club hosts has inspired others in the booming industry.
Akaya Kunugi is regarded as the No. 1 host at Acqua Group, one of Japan’s most popular host clubs. He works at the company’s main branch in Kabukichō, its largest in the country.
In a new video from Asian Boss, Kunugi reveals how he started living independently after dropping out of high school.
“After I graduated from junior high, there was this famous high school at that time. You could get in just by writing your name,” Kunugi recalls. “It was known as the school for stupid people.”
“But even though I wrote my name, I failed to get in. Then I decided to work straight away.”
After failing to get into the “legendary school” three times, Kunugi’s parents told him to live on his own. He worked at a construction site for about six months.
“I worked at a local construction site,” Kunugi shares. “Half a year later, I made my own small house in the park. It was kind of small, made of cardboard boxes.”
Despite failing out of school, Kunugi understood that the world was his oyster. With only $53 in hand, the 16-year-old headed to Tokyo to explore opportunities for himself.
“Of course I didn’t dream of becoming a host as a child. But I had big childhood dreams … like driving a fierce sports car or having an expensive watch or wearing nice clothes. I dreamed of having these things.”
Little did Kunugi know that he would in fact have all those things many years later.
Despite the obstacles ahead, the young Kunugi coursed through life with the type of sheer determination and street-smarts that are unlikely taught in school.
“I thought hard about my next step and where to go and so I decided to become a host.”
Like in any other business, starting out in the club host industry was a challenging time for Kunugi. At 18, he had to clean the club for two to three hours before his shift started, and again after the club closed — unless he brought in $4,500 for the night.
“I didn’t [get paid hourly]. It was pretty much all commission. My pay came out to $18 per day after penalty fees (from low sales). Of course it is [illegal] but I had a dream. That was the deal.”
Kunugi learned that working hard does not always pay good money.
“I worked so hard but I only got $400 a month. How was I supposed to live? I paid $150 for my phone. I rented a room, which meant my salary was gone, so I had no money for food.”
Instant noodles saved his life.
“I went to a convenience store and bought fried noodles which costs $1. I would split it up so I could eat three meals a day.”
While poverty made it more difficult to win clients, Kunugi turned the situation to his favor through honesty.
“When you don’t have money, you don’t have customers either. Guys want to look cool in front of girls, right? But what if a host acts cool and pretends to be the popular one at the club, but when he takes the customer out, he can’t afford anything?”
“I changed the way I approached customers and began to be totally honest about myself,” Kunugi admits. “I told them, ‘I don’t have money. I’m the least popular one here.”
“But once I became more honest, people started supporting me. From the point on, my sales have gone up.”
Kunugi has since been financially stable, recording earnings of $186,000 at one point last year. He is able to afford the luxurious things he wanted as a child, including the $100,000 watch he wore for the interview.
It turns out that his regular clients spend somewhere between $350 to $35,000 on monthly visits. Among them is a 19-year-old who bought him a drink for $110,000.
“It was the time when he became the No. 1 host,” the client says. “I bought a crystal magnum decanter of Louis XIII (cognac). That cost me around $110,000.”
While Kunugi has inspired countless others, he encourages anyone planning to enter the club host industry to find their own style.
“Please don’t copy what I do. That’s about it. There are many things only I can get away with. There are a lot of hosts who start wanting to be like me. But then they start looking up to other hosts because they realize they can’t really imitate me … It depends on what [style] fits you. And I’m a hard act to follow.”