Diary of a Tokyo hostess

I worked as a modern-style geisha and learned how to fake being in love, but after becoming addicted to the attention, I learned that the money wasn't worth destroying my soul.

Topics: Sex, Love and Sex,

I’m studying Japanese literature in graduate school at Berkeley, and over the past few years I’ve gone back and forth to Tokyo half a dozen times, to study the language, literature or dance. I hostessed for the first time in the summer of 1999, when I was in Tokyo on a fellowship to study Japanese.

Having completed my first year at grad school in the high-rent Bay Area, I needed to make some money, and I wanted to improve my spoken Japanese. But even more than that, I was lured into the job by years spent reading literature set in Tokyo’s “ukiyo,” or floating world — that neon-lit funhouse of desire inhabited by geisha, politicians, business tycoons, entertainers, thwarted lovers who have decided to commit double suicide (a favorite, idealized topic of Japanese literature) and other would-be romantics. During earlier stints in Japan as an exchange student, I had heard stories from friends about the money to be made and the absurdity to be witnessed in the world of the modern geisha.

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Series chapters

Part 1: “Love” for hire

Part 2: Starting at the bottom

Part 3: Fictional devotion

Part 4: Believing in fairy tales

Part 5: Special arrangements

Part 6: Flirting with danger

Part 7: Illusory passions

Cynthia Gralla is a Ph.D. student in comparative literature at the University of California at Berkeley. She spent about six months working as a hostess during visits to Japan in 1999 and 2000.

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