At first glance, the man and woman at the nightclub look like any other couple on a date. He flirts and pours champagne. She looks at him and laughs. This isn’t a date, though. It’s business.

The woman, a successful executive, has joined a growing number of professional women in Japan in forking out from $1,000 to $50,000 a night for male companionship.

They meet their “hosts” in hundreds of clubs that have sprung up around Tokyo – the industry says only compliments are exchanged. The women pay for a man to lavish them with undivided attention.

“There’s nothing wrong with a woman paying to be entertained by a man,” one female client says. “It’s just another step in equality.”

It’s a dizzying reversal of traditional gender roles in a country long known for geishas pampering male clients with conversation, singing and dancing. Now a new breed of entertainer has cropped up — think of them as male geishas.

“I give women things that men normally don’t do, like complimenting their appearance,” says one host, 24-year-old Yunosuke, who only goes by his single host name. “I make women happy.”

And they make him happy: Yunosuke says he earned more than $200,000 last year, enough to let him visit a salon once a day to have his hair dyed and blow-dried.

“Women see us as one of their accessories,” he says. “They like to wear nice things, so I try to look prettier for them all the time.”

What drives the business boom is an increase in the earning power of Japanese women, according to Air Group, a company that owns a chain of “host” clubs.

“Japanese women are now working hard and making more money,” says Yuko Takeyama, a woman in her early 30s who manages Air Group. “They see this as a way to de-stress.”

Women love being treated well without the pressures that come with dating, she says.

Yunosuke’s customer from the nightclub agrees.

“This is a gift for myself,” she says. “It’s the same as spending money on a trip or buying something.”