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.