It's a demonstration of the tenet of unintended consequences, when government responds to one faction of society by imposing rules intended to control social behavior of another faction of society.
When Mayor Alan Arakawa extended a liquor control rule limiting the number of hostess bar licenses allowed in Maui County, there were two groups condoning the decision - citizens who wish the county would prohibit hostess bars, and owners of hostess bars, whose businesses operate more successfully as government-licensed monopolies.
That's in addition to the reality that a hostess bar license itself becomes a valuable commodity, as former liquor commission Chairman Robert Tanaka says.
For the faction that sees hostess bars as morally repugnant, unfortunately the decision to void a provision to lift the limit on licenses does nothing to resolve their concerns.
When the late Mayor Hannibal Tavares urged the Liquor Control Commission to impose the licensing limit, it was similarly in response to the moralistic faction. Tavares would have preferred eliminating the license format, but that would have meant shutting down existing businesses, hardly a position appropriate for a Republican elected official.
The cap on 12 represented the number of licensees in operation at the time, effectively shutting out potential competition, although the argument at the time was that the limit would prevent proliferation of such morally questionable liquor operations.
Few involved challenged the allegations of immorality, except possibly the workers at licensed hostess bars. Women working as hostesses readily acknowledge they engage in sexual tease to persuade customers to spend more. Critics claiming hostess bars promote prostitution paint the venue with an overly broad stroke.
The other criticism, cited foremost by Mayor Tavares, was the effect on marriages when husbands stray into secluded booths at a hostess bar. The argument that men seduced by the attentions of a hostess spend to excess is legitimate. For women with few other skills than an ability to be a pleasing, compliant female, serving as a hostess is an effective way to prompt men to part with their money.
But to suggest that hostess bars cause marriages to decay is a denial of cause and effect. A more valid argument is that a husband in a troubled marriage is more likely to be lured by the attentions of a woman who isn't his wife - whether at a hostess bar, on the job or at any other social venue.
If there is any stigma attached to hostess bars, it applies to the male customer, who is more likely to lack the social skills to maintain a conversation, much less a relationship, with a woman - which is a reason for resorting to a hostess bar rather than other social venues.
In contrast, it takes a high level of intelligence for a woman to maintain a facade of demure attention when dealing with vapid trivia laced with sexual innuendo.
Hostess bars fulfill a peculiar niche in Hawaii's cultural scene. In Japan, they are derived from the Japanese geisha tradition in which highly trained women entertain groups of male colleagues - usually workers from an office or business - over a dinner. In the island tradition developed in the post-WWII era, bar hostesses provided platters of pupu, with the understanding that favored customers received more and better quality treats because they tip heavily. Over the decades, bar clientele began to degrade from groups of office-worker colleagues comporting to their roles for a danna (chief) to socially unskilled men seeking company to go with their drinking and tipping well for conviviality as well as food.
Few drinkers enjoy drinking alone. The company of a woman who isn't nagging, scolding or oblivious fills a need.
* Edwin Tanji is a former city editor of The Maui News. He can be reached at email@example.com. "Haku Mo'olelo," "writing stories," is about stories that are being written or have been written. It appears every Friday.