“The origin of the term mizu shobai (the water trade) is endless debated. The more prosaic interpretation is that the ‘water’ is simply the alcohol upon which the trade floats; the more poetic is that the business reflects the impermanence of life itself.
“The ancestor of today’s mizu shobai was the ukiyo – the Floating World, a name ascribed to thep pleasure quarters in major towns during the 17th century.
“… Bars, already popular as ‘cafés’ during the 1920s, were all the rage in Japan during the 1950s. The traditional nomiya (drinking shop), with its red paper lantern outside, now had a serious rival. The tone was ostensibly American. Sporting Western fashions, the girls enticing customers to drink were hostesses, and the owners of the establishment were mama-san and/or masutaa (master). These characters, the mainstays of the mizu shobai, signaled the demise of the teahouses and the geisha of prewar times, as their establishments increased in numbers, standing, and price.
“… All bars and many nomiya have a system called bottle-keep. On your first visit you buy a bottle of liquor (usually whisky), which is replaced on the shelf with your name on it – yours to drink from when you come back next time. If you are sharing with friends and/or planning to come back, the system can be very economical.
“Things are seldom what their English name implies. A hostess bar is usually called a club (kurabu), which it may be, and sometimes a supper club, which it is not. Be wary of piano bars, for some keep hostesses. If one sits at your table, you will be charged accordingly.”
– Japan, by Nicholas Bornoff, 2008