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» » The Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo

The Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo by J. E. de Becker

The Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo
The Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo
J. E. de Becker
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1371 kb
Dover Publications (September 19, 2007)
496 pages
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When The Nightless City was first published in 1899, it was deemed taboo in polite circles. It is now considered a valuable historical document—albeit still provocative—as a pioneering sociological study of the Yoshiwara Yukwaku: Tokyo's infamous red-light district where the giving of pleasure became both a tradition and a business. A consequence of old Japan's polygamous family system (where men had multiple wives who bore them many children), the Yoshiwara quarter offered a rough road to survival for the surplus daughters, many of whom were sold into prostitution by families who could not afford to keep them. It was thus regarded as a "necessary evil" that thrived from the late nineteenth century well into the 1950s. Despite its dark underbelly of slavery and abuse, the area was celebrated for its veneer of gaiety and the refinement of pleasure. In fact, the Yoshiwara district held such an honored place in Japanese tradition (and sexual tourism) that its demise in 1957 was lamented all over the world. Rich in detail pertaining to the many aspects of Yoshiwara life—folklore, ceremony, costume, erotic practices, and the like—The Nightless City is a compelling examination of life behind the teahouse doors. Two maps and over 40 plates of illustrations are included from the original edition.
This was written in 1912, and seems to be more interested in presenting the Yoshiwara as exotic, barbaric, decadent (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) and passe than actually conveying the truth. Despite being hellbent on an Victorian agenda, it does a surprising job of being accurate (some wobbles.) Most western works focus on Geisha, so it's very interesting to read about the Tayu and Oiran as the subjects of a work as opposed to seeing them regulated to the sidelines.

What was most interesting to me, however, is the letters in the last chapter of the book. It so clearly mimics the conversation that the USA is having about legalized vice. We could learn a lot from the politics of 100 years ago.
  • Golkis
Amazing how far back Japan's History on courtesan life goes. I had no idea it is so old, meaning it goes back quite a few centuries. A lot of detail goes into this publication, and if you can sort out the Japanese names for the different provinces and titles, it makes for very interesting History. It seems at times Rules and Regulations were very strict and exact back then, but fact remains, it was not a reputable time in Japanese History, or so it turned out.
  • Beahelm
This is not really a geisha book. You understand a little bit about what a geisha is, but the focus is on courtesans like the tayuu. It was written in the Victorian era, so some things are described as more derogatory than it was. This is maybe one of the best works about the yuukaku. My only big complaint is that the romaji is not what one would be used to today.
  • Sardleem
  • Castiel
Not exactly what I was looking for. While there is doubtless much correct material in it, it's written in the "ripping yarn" flavor of so many books by 19th century gentlemen adventurers. One has to wonder how much the author observed himself, and how much was told to him by locals who could see the gaijin wanted to be titillated. There are better documented and much better organised books on this topic available.
  • Araath
Very disappointed. Too much detail to logistics and numbers. Not a lot of info on the history of the Geishas. Evasive information and I stopped readingafter 50 pages.
  • Anazan
I adore this book. It is a delightful history of Japanese courtesan culture (possibly the most glamorous time & place in history) and that makes this novel a truly rare find. The emotional depth was stunning, as were pictures and photographs. It was written around the turn of the century, and definitely reads that way. There were also a lot of Japanese words used regularly. I like glimpses into history, as well as other languages. If that's not something that really interests you, I wouldn't consider this book.
Holds your interest. I would recommend it.