Thursday, February 25, 2010

Book Review: 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood

90-Day Geisha - Chelsea Haywood

Since she was sixteen years old, Chelsea Haywood has travelled the world as a fashion model. While on her travels, she met many girls who were not only intelligent and glamorous, but also financially supported by rich Japanese businessmen.
These women were able to live the high life by temporarily working in Tokyo’s lucrative hostess clubs- accepting expensive clothes, jewellery and the best that the wealthy can offer, by simply being themselves.
Drawing on the traditions of the geisha, and regularly attended by Japanese men, the hostess clubs provide late-night entertainment and are accepted as a part of Japanese culture.
Fascinated by the idea of being a hostess, but unsatisfied with the incomplete recounts of girls’ experiences working as one, Chelsea decides to travel to Roppongi, Japan, with her husband Matt, with the intention of recording her personal experiences.
She gets a job at Greengrass, a quiet but popular hostess club, and soon meets a variety of interesting and unusual men whose only wish is to have a woman listen to whatever they have to say, or sing karaoke with them.
But as the 90-day expiry on Chelsea’s visa approaches, and the hostess life begins to take over, she finds herself becoming too tempted by material things, and struggling to maintain her relationship with her husband…

What I gained from reading this book:
These memoirs provide an interesting insight into the world of Japanese hostess clubs and dispel the negative connotations that most Westerners have of this cultural tradition.
Chelsea writes at the beginning of the novel:
“With all the other options out there, what were powerful, intelligent and obscenely wealthy Japanese men seeking in a young, Western hostess? She didn’t take off her clothes or dance around a pole… I would be required only to wear a respectable cocktail dress and speak perfect English in a polite and charming manner. I’d need to laugh at jokes, pour drinks and light cigarettes…”
This passage dictates what is to follow in Chelsea’s experiences and immediately shows readers that hostessing is a modern mimic of the Geisha traditions of ancient Japan, rather than prostitution or stripping as it is thought by some to be.
By dispelling such myths, Chelsea is able to inform her readers of a life unique to Japan that is often difficult to comprehend by many Western countries.

The author is very good with words and is easily able to set a scene using strong verbal imagery. Her descriptions of places and people, along with little historical facts about Japan, make this book quite engrossing. Chelsea is also able to portray the grittiness of working in such a seedy district, and contrasts this with some of her better experiences, allowing the reader to make up their own mind about the profession.

Some of the people that Chelsea mentions in the novel seem quite crazy, and you can’t help but wonder how she could tolerate being in the same vicinity as them for so long. This admittedly isn’t a negative on the author’s behalf, as she was only writing about her experiences, but surely if you had to face those kinds of people on a daily basis you would do your best to avoid them, rather than go on countless outings with them? I can’t really understand it, except to say that money must have been a big motivator.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Genre: Biography

Recommended for: People who have a fascination with the people and culture of Japan.

Australians can buy the book by clicking the picture below:

90-day Geisha

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