Japan Data

“Settai”: Coronavirus Clusters Put Spotlight on Japan’s Nightlife

Society Lifestyle Food and Drink Politics

Clusters of coronavirus cases tied to nightlife have focused attention on bars and clubs that pamper clients with flirtatious entertainment.

The term settai in Japanese is generally used to describe different types of “entertainment.” In corporate Japan it refers to companies wining and dining clients, while in entertainment districts settai denotes establishments where customers, often middle-aged men, can eat, drink, and socialize with staff, typically women. The latter businesses, defined as settai fūzoku or “adult entertainment,” have come under scrutiny recently following a rash of COVID-19 cases linked to nightspots. The rise in coronavirus clusters have prompted Tokyo Governor Koike Yuriko and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō to take the unusual step of openly calling on regular patrons to stay away during the pandemic.

What is Settai?

Businesses offering settai services are governed by Japan’s adult entertainment law, which defines them loosely as establishments where customers come specifically to eat, drink, and be entertained. Service typically involves clients paying a fee to spend time with one or more female employees who serve food and drinks and engage the customer in conversation. There is a staggering array of shops that fall under the category of settai, ranging from upscale eateries employing traditional entertainers like geisha to neon-lit hostess bars to niche maid cafes. While the type of entertainment on offer is generally flirtatious, it is not expressly sexual and intended only for the amusement of clients, although some places may blur these lines.

In 2018, the Community Safety Bureau of the National Police Agency released an updated list of rules for adult entertainment businesses that included a more detailed description of settai services, to make a clearer distinction with non-settai services.

Settai Services Non-Settai Services
Employees sit at specific customer tables, serve food and drinks, and take part in conversation. Employees take customer orders while behind a bar or counter and only approach tables to mix or pour drinks. Conversation is not considered settai as long as it remains at the level of greetings and light banter.
Live performances such as singing and dancing staged specifically for a group of customers in a private room or area. Performances such as hotel dinner shows intended for the general enjoyment of a large number of people.
Employees join a specific group of customers, encourage members to sing alone or invite individuals to join in a duet, and create a lively atmosphere by clapping along during songs and openly praising singing ability. Employees invite all customers to sing and create a lively atmosphere by clapping along and praising singing ability. Services like entering song requests into karaoke machines or performing musical instruments are not considered settai as long as they are provided to all customers and not just a specific group.
Employees are expected to dance with customers, either closely or while touching, for an extended length of time. Dancing taught at dedicated schools by professional instructors.
Employees engage in games, contests, and play with specific groups of customers Customers engage in games, contests, and play alone or with other patrons.
Any service where employees remain in close proximity to customers, hold their hands or touch them, or offer to directly put food or drinks in their mouth, such as by spoon feeding. Shaking hands as social etiquette, touching related to moving or looking after an inebriated customer, unintentional or limited contact when serving food or taking items like baggage or coats.

As businesses gradually reopen following Japan lifting the state of emergency across the country, there has been some confusion about the government’s warning over establishments that provide settai services. While such shops are popular venues for indulging corporate colleagues, some firms have interpreted settai to mean any business-related entertainment and have cut back on taking clients out for dinner and drinks even at eateries and bars that are not subject to regulation under the adult entertainment law. This has slowed the recovery of the restaurant industry and even forced a number of establishments to shutter their operations for good.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pixta.)

entertainment nightlife coronavirus COVID-19