Geisha, a Life

( 77 )

Overview

No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story — until now.
"Many say I was the best geisha of my generation," writes Mineko Iwasaki. "And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave." Trained to become a geisha from the age of five, Iwasaki would live among the other "women of art" in Kyoto's Gion Kobu district and practice the ancient customs of Japanese ...

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Overview

No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story — until now.
"Many say I was the best geisha of my generation," writes Mineko Iwasaki. "And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave." Trained to become a geisha from the age of five, Iwasaki would live among the other "women of art" in Kyoto's Gion Kobu district and practice the ancient customs of Japanese entertainment. She was loved by kings, princes, military heroes, and wealthy statesmen alike. But even though she became one of the most prized geishas in Japan's history, Iwasaki wanted more: her own life. And by the time she retired at age twenty-nine, Iwasaki was finally on her way toward a new beginning.
Geisha, a Life is her story — at times heartbreaking, always awe-inspiring, and totally true.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The geisha has long been a mystery to those in the West. In her compelling memoir, Mineko, often called the best geisha of her generation, reveals the secretive world that inspired a bestselling fictional counterpart, Arthur Golden's bestselling Memoirs of a Geisha.

Mineko's remarkable story dispels Western myths about the geisha as prostitute and describes a demanding life as a highly trained artist. With an even and objective voice, she tells of leaving home at the age of four to enter a geisha house. Here, Mineko made her fame and fortune as a dancer. Appearing and entertaining at as many as ten parties an evening, she would dance for ten minutes at each and earn tens of thousands of dollars for the night's work. Mineko also covers the importance of appearance, describing the elements of beauty, including the kimono. These garments were a special -- and costly -- part of a geisha's appearance, and could only be worn a few times.

In Geisha, Mineko Iwasaki leads us through a fascinating profession. While a glossary of Japanese terms would have been helpful, nothing detracts from this powerful and intimate glimpse into a mysterious world.

This is a fantastic book that will enthrall its readers. Glenn Speer

From the Publisher
Kirkus Reviews [A] valuable look at a little-known world, and an intimate glimpse into Japanese culture.
Publishers Weekly
From age five, Iwasaki trained to be a geisha (or, as it was called in her Kyoto district, a geiko), learning the intricacies of a world that is nearly gone. As the first geisha to truly lift the veil of secrecy about the women who do such work (at least according to the publisher), Iwasaki writes of leaving home so young, undergoing rigorous training in dance and other arts and rising to stardom in her profession. She also carefully describes the origins of Kyoto's Gion Kobu district and the geiko system's political and social nuances in the 1960s and '70s. Although it's an autobiography, Iwasaki's account will undoubtedly be compared to the stunning fictional description of the same life in Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. Lovers of Golden's work-and there are many-will undoubtedly pick this book up, hoping to get the true story of nights spent in kimono. Unfortunately, Iwasaki's work suffers from the comparison. Her writing style, refreshingly straightforward at the beginning, is far too dispassionate to sustain the entire story. Her lack of reflection and tendency toward mechanical description make the work more of a manual than a memoir. In describing the need to be nice to people whom she found repulsive, she writes, "Sublimating one's personal likes and dislikes under a veneer of gentility is one of the fundamental challenges of the profession." Iwasaki shrouds her prose in this mask of objectivity, and the result makes the reader feel like a teahouse patron: looking at a beautiful, elegant woman who speaks fluidly and well, but with never a vulnerable moment. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Now in her fifties, Mineko Iwasaki was once the best geisha of her generation, retiring at 29 because of disillusionment with the archaic system of her profession. Her intimate autobiography takes readers into the secret world of the karyukai, where geisha are trained in the arts. She dispels the myth that geisha are prostitutes. In fact, they are professional entertainers who perform at exclusive banquet facilities known as ochaya. Iwasaki left her home when she was five to live in the karyukai and seldom saw her parents. She was surprised to find two elder sisters working there, sisters she had known nothing about. Initially she lived a pampered life. She excelled at the dance, but also played musical instruments. After she made her debut, she was much in demand, but her popularity did not come without a cost. She writes, "It's hard to imagine living in a world where everyone—your friends, your sisters, even your mother—is your rival. Inevitably, all of this took a psychological toll...I suffered periodic anxiety, insomnia, and difficulty speaking." She used comedy to ease the stress. She met a famous actor, fell in love, and became his lover even though he was married. He promised to divorce but never did. Finally, she met an artist. They married 23 days later and now have a daughter. Behind the smiling faces and perfect grooming of geishas is a life of pain, stress, disappointment, limited opportunities, a narrow education, and hard work. Iwaski's book is a vivid picture of a hidden part of Japanese culture. Sixteen pages of photos accompany the text. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002,Simon & Schuster, Washington Square Press, 297p. illus., Ages 15 to adult.
—Janet Julian
Library Journal
Iwasaki, who started training for her demanding profession at age four, here takes readers into the rarely glimpsed world of the geisha. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An exponent of the highly ritualized—and highly misunderstood—Japanese art form tells all. Or at least some.

In her homeland, Iwasaki’s account begins, ". . . there are special districts, known as karyukai, that are dedicated to the enjoyment of aesthetic pleasure." This "flower and willow world" has been a very specialized field for Japanese women for the last 300 years, she adds, and it endures even today. During the 1960s and early ’70s, "when Japan was undergoing the radical transformation from a post-feudal to a modern society," the now-52-year-old Iwasaki trained to become "certainly the most successful" geisha of her generation; had she not taken up this line of work, she writes, she would instead have become a Buddhist nun or a policewoman. Attaining the top spot, as in any other show-business venue, meant waging crafty campaigns against jealous rivals; training endlessly in the arts of singing, dancing, conversation, and walking in a mincing gait; putting in 20-hour days; and cultivating the friendship of the otokosh (dressers), who assure that all is well in the kimono and obi department while acting as "the standard brokers of various relationships within the karyukai." This account, the first of its kind from a contemporary Japanese woman, does a good job of spelling out the "aesthetic pleasure" component of the geisha’s world, although the author is quite reticent about other kinds of pleasure that the geisha is alleged to provide; on this point, Liza Dalby’s Geisha (1983), set at about the same time as Iwasaki’s memoir and offering another firsthand view, is more forthcoming. Iwasaki’s narrative can sometimes be a little dense; as a not untypical passage puts it, "Idecided to try to orchestrate the company myself by asking the okasan of the ochaya to invite certain geiko to attend the ozashiki for which I was booked"—quite a mouthful for the uninitiated.

Still, a valuable look at a little-known world, and an intimate glimpse into Japanese culture.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743444293
  • Publisher: Washington Square Press
  • Publication date: 9/30/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 274,493
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in 1949, Mineko Iwasaki was Japan's star geisha until she retired at the age of twenty-nine. She now lives in a Kyoto suburb, with her family.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

In the country of Japan, an island nation in East Asia, there are special districts, known as karyukai, that are dedicated to the enjoyment of aesthetic pleasure. These are the communities where the professionally trained female artists known as geisha live and work.

Karyukai means "the flower and willow world." Each geisha is like a flower, beautiful in her own way, and like a willow tree, gracious, flexible, and strong.

No woman in the three hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition, and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling.

But I feel it is time to speak out. I want you to know what it is really like to live the life of a geisha, a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and richly glorious rewards. Many say I was the best geisha of my generation; I was certainly the most successful. And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave.

It is a story that I have long wanted to tell.

My name is Mineko.

This is not the name my father gave me when I was born. It is my professional name. I got it when I was five years old. It was given to me by the head of the family of women who raised me in the geisha tradition. The surname of the family is Iwasaki. I was legally adopted as the heir to the name and successor to ownership of the business and its holdings when I was ten years old.

I started my career very early. Events that happened when I was only three years old convinced me that it was what I was meant to do.

I moved into the Iwasaki geisha house when I was five and began my artistic training when I was six. I adored the dance. It became my passion and object of greatest devotion. I was determined to become the best and I did.

The dance is what kept me going when the other requirements of the profession felt too heavy to bear. Literally. I weigh 90 pounds. A full kimono with hair ornaments can easily weigh 40 pounds. It was a lot to carry. I would have been happy just to dance, but the exigencies of the system forced me to debut as an adolescent geisha, a maiko, when I was fifteen.

The Iwasaki geisha house was located in the Gion Kobu district of Kyoto, the most famous and traditional karyukai of them all. This is the community in which I spent the entirety of my professional career.

In Gion Kobu we don't refer to ourselves as geisha (meaning "artist") but use the more specific term geiko, "woman of art." One type of geiko, famed throughout the world as the symbol of Kyoto, is the young dancer known as a maiko, or "woman of dance." Accordingly, I will use the terms geiko and maiko throughout the rest of this book.

When I was twenty I "turned my collar," the rite of passage that signals the transformation from maiko to adult geiko. As I matured in the profession, I became increasingly disillusioned with the intransigence of the archaic system and tried to initiate reforms that would increase the educational opportunities, financial independence, and professional rights of the women who worked there. I was so discouraged by my inability to effect change that I finally decided to abdicate my position and retire, which, to the horror of the establishment, I did at the height of my success, when I was twenty-nine years old. I closed down the Iwasaki geisha house, then under my control, packed up the priceless kimono and jeweled ornaments contained within, and left Gion Kobu. I married and am now raising a family.

I lived in the karyukai during the 1960s and 1970s, a time when Japan was undergoing the radical transformation from a post-feudal to a modern society. But I existed in a world apart, a special realm whose mission and identity depended on preserving the time-honored traditions of the past. And I was a fully committed to doing so.

Maiko and geiko start off their careers living and training in an establishment called an okiya (lodging house), usually translated as geisha house. They follow an extremely rigorous regimen of constant classes and rehearsal, similar in intensity to that of a prima ballerina, concert pianist, or opera singer in the West. The proprietress of the okiya supports the geiko fully in her efforts to become a professional and then helps manage her career once she makes her debut. The young geiko lives in the okiya for a contracted period of time, usually five to seven years, during which time she repays the okiya for its investment. She then becomes independent and moves out on her own, though she continues to maintain an agency relationship with her sponsoring okiya.

The exception to this is a geiko who has been designated as an atotori, an heir to the house, its successor. She carries the last name of the okiya, either through birth or adoption, and lives in the okiya throughout her career.

Maiko and geiko perform at very exclusive banquet facilities known as ochaya, often translated literally as "teahouses." Here we entertain regularly at private parties for select groups of invited patrons. We also appear publicly in a series of annual performance events. The most famous of these is the Miyako Odori ("cherry dances"). The dance programs are quite spectacular and draw enthusiastic audiences from all over the world. The Miyako Odori takes place for the month of April in our own theater, the Kaburenjo.

There is much mystery and misunderstanding about what it means to be a geisha or, in my case, a geiko. I hope my story will help explain what it is really like and also serve as a record of this unique component of Japan's cultural history.

Please, journey with me now into the extraordinary world of Gion Kobu.

Copyright © 2002 by Mineko Iwasaki

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Introduction

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Mineko Iwasaki's Geisha, a Life. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Many fine books from Washington Square Press feature Readers Club Guides. For a complete listing, or to read the Guides online, visit http://www.BookClubReader.com

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1) What were your perceptions of the life of a geisha before reading this book? How does the picture that Mineko paints of the world of Gion Kobu compare to your previous impressions of "geisha girls"?

2) Similarly, what were your views of Japanese culture before this memoir? In what ways were these views changed, if at all, after experiencing Mineko's story?

3) Among those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, geisha are often presumed to be well-born prostitutes. Why do you think Western audiences have relished this view of geisha and perpetuated it even though it's not true? Why is this view of geisha still prevalent even though more accurate information about geishas is available? What does this say about our culture? Why might the Japanese themselves have perpetuated this stereotype?

4) Although Mineko makes it very clear that entering the Gion was completely her choice, did you feel it was right for such a young child to work so hard for so many hours a day? In a sense, Mineko had no childhood. Do you consider the rewards that she has reaped as a famous geiko to be worth the sacrifices she made? What do you think she would say?

5) On page 194, Mineko states,"It's hard to imagine living in a world where everyone — your friends, your sisters, even your mother — is your rival. I found it very disorienting." Because of the overwhelming competitiveness among the geikos, it seems sometimes that the only real connections that a geiko or maiko can feel is with her customers. Do you think this is a product of the business itself, or of the innate competitiveness of human nature? What place does sisterhood have in the walls of Gion Kobu?

6) Do you consider the geiko tradition to be a sexist one? Although the geiko and maiko are obviously restricted and shaped completely by the expectations of their lives in the Gion, they also make their own money and are not confined to the kitchen or the home. Does this affect your opinion at all? Do you think the geiko tradition has any place in the modern world?

7) After reading this memoir, what do you think are the most profitable skills for a geiko or maiko to have? Were you surprised at how shrewd, smart and cunning Mineko, and the other women, had to be in order to succeed in their business? Why do you think Mineko, above all the other women in Gion Kobu, met with such success, holding the number one spot for six years and becoming the favorite of countless customers? What do you think Madame Oima saw in her at such a young age that convinced her that she was the future of Gion Kobu?

8) At heart, what do you think the geiko and maiko represent for their customers? Why are the men and women who frequent the Gion Kobu willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for time and attention from these women? Do we have any similar institutions or traditions in our culture? What aspects of Japanese culture make the presence of geikos possible?

9) At one point, ruminating on why she was so hard on herself from early childhood on, Mineko explains, "I believed that self-discipline was the key to beauty" (203). Do you agree with this idea? Do you think, by the end of her time as a geiko, that Mineko herself would agree with this?

10) Discuss the role that material possessions have in this book and in Japanese culture in general. What are the beautiful and delicate kimonos representative of for both the people who wear them and the people who admire them?

11) Mineko's father often reminded her as a child that "the samurai betrays no weakness, even when starving. Pride above all." What is it about Japanese culture that demands pride must come first, no matter what the situation? How do concepts like these translate into everyday interactions for the people in this book? Which people in Mineko's life subscribe to this idea and which ones don't? Does this affect whether or not they are successful in the long run?

12) What role does family play — specifically blood relations — in the world of Gion Kobu? Like Yaeko, do you blame Mineko's parents for allowing Mineko and her sisters to enter into the Gion at such a young age or are they fully free from blame? To what degree does familial responsibility trump monetary or business responsibility?

13) What do you consider to be the basic differences between the Western world and the culture of Japan? How does Japanese culture view the individual and his or her needs, wants and desires? What value do they place on the idea of the group? Why do people in Japanese culture struggle so hard to do what is proper over what might be fair or just?

14) Mineko is a truly fascinating, amazingly talented woman whose unique experiences would rival any celebrity or politician's. Look at Mineko's growth from a scared young girl to an international symbol of Japanese culture. What kinds of life lessons do you think Mineko learned from her years as a geiko? What did you think of her decision to close the Gion Kobu in her pursuit of family and other interests?

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Interviews & Essays

Talking with Mineko Iwasaki

Barnes & Noble.com: What made you want to write this book?

Mineko Iwasaki: I actually wanted to write this book after I started to work professionally as a maiko (young performer) when I was 15. Soon after I became a professional, I began to think there was something wrong with the system, but no one paid attention to me.

The misconception that geisha are courtesans or prostitutes exists not only in the West but also among Japanese people. I was training very hard to be a dancer. While I was dancing to the best of my ability, some people had the impression that we were prostitutes, and I was horrified. Once I began to realize what was going on, I began to wonder how this misconception occurred.

Historically, there has been confusion.. There were geisha who were courtesans -- which was another profession where women were licensed to be high-class prostitutes, and they plied their trade in a place called the "pleasure quarters." And there were maiko and geiko, who were the entertainers. Around the time of Madama Butterfly, Western men were introduced to the two women and thought they were all prostitutes. However, we maiko and geiko were never prostitutes, and I wanted to explain this to the outside world.

B&N.com: You left your parents at the age of four to live with geisha and prepare for that life. How unusual was that?

MI: In traditional Japanese culture, most children who are chosen to begin rigorous training in the traditional disciplines such as dance begin as early as three. The latest we are supposed to begin is on June 6th on the year we become six, in other words, 6-6-6. That is a very standard tradition among Japanese.

B&N.com: Could you talk about the importance of dance and music in the training and life of a maiko and geiko? What is the difference between maiko and geiko?

MI: Dance and music are very important in the life of a geiko, but they are also extremely important to the customers. It is very important because this is how we communicate the essence of beauty to the customers. They see us dance. Even if they are blind, they somehow absorb what we are trying to communicate. It is a form of communication. We and the customers are sharing a common experience, and we are going to a higher plane together. On some level, you can communicate this to anyone, no matter what his or her level of cultivation.

On the difference between maiko and geiko, maiko is a younger geiko, and the "mai" of maiko is derived from the dance. Other young women become musical and vocal accompanists. Geiko are more mature, and they are either dancers or full-fledged musical accompanists.

B&N.com: What changes have occurred among geisha, especially since the end of World War II? Is the institution dying?

MI: Our whole system of interaction is based on trust and social connections, so you have to be connected to someone to visit the tea houses. But I feel it is very important that we open the system up. Individually we geiko have become more personally open and accessible and friendlier with whoever we meet.

When I was in active service, there were 700 geiko and maiko working. Now there are only 100. So it could look like things are declining, but now there is a whole campaign to encourage young girls to become maiko. It is very important to be the envoy of Japanese culture in society.

B&N.com: What was a typical working night for you like? How did you entertain, and what kind of money did you earn?

MI: I would begin to prepare for the evening around three or four o'clock in the afternoon, take a bath, and then it would take five people to dress me. Then I would begin my round of appointments for the evening. Because I was in such demand, I would attend easily at least ten banquets on most evenings. It was much more common for people to have five or six. As for the amount of tips, to be honest, I really didn't pay attention, and I don't know how much I earned. I didn't really know about money.

B&N.com: Why did most geisha forsake marriage and a family?

MI: Most geiko do not marry while they are working, but many retire at some point and get married. What I was trying to express was that most women find it difficult to be both a geiko and a wife. But there are people who manage to do it.

B&N.com: Who were some of the most interesting people you met and/or performed for?

MI: The one who really stands out is Henry Kissinger. He was just such a marvelous human being and so much fun. There was a banquet and President Ford was sitting there very serious and very conservative. And Henry Kissinger was having a really good time. Everyone was saying to me, "Please, you have to come and entertain the president." But I really didn't want to go. I would go downstairs where the president was, and then I would run back upstairs because I was having so much fun [entertaining] Henry Kissinger.

B&N.com: You were recognized as the greatest geisha in Japan. Why did you retire at the top of your career at the age of only 29?

MI: I felt I had done what I needed to do as a geiko and I wanted to move on to meet the other challenges that life had to offer me.

Interview translated by Rande Brown

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Reading Group Guide

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for discussion for Mineko Iwasaki's Geisha, a Life. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Many fine books from Washington Square Press feature Readers Club Guides. For a complete listing, or to read the Guides online, visit http://www.BookClubReader.com

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1) What were your perceptions of the life of a geisha before reading this book? How does the picture that Mineko paints of the world of Gion Kobu compare to your previous impressions of "geisha girls"?

2) Similarly, what were your views of Japanese culture before this memoir? In what ways were these views changed, if at all, after experiencing Mineko's story?

3) Among those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, geisha are often presumed to be well-born prostitutes. Why do you think Western audiences have relished this view of geisha and perpetuated it even though it's not true? Why is this view of geisha still prevalent even though more accurate information about geishas is available? What does this say about our culture? Why might the Japanese themselves have perpetuated this stereotype?

4) Although Mineko makes it very clear that entering the Gion was completely her choice, did you feel it was right for such a young child to work so hard for so many hours a day? In a sense, Mineko had no childhood. Do you consider the rewards that she has reaped as a famous geiko to be worth the sacrifices she made? What do you think she would say?

5) On page 194, Mineko states, "It's hard to imagine living in a world where everyone — your friends, your sisters, even your mother — is your rival. I found it very disorienting." Because of the overwhelming competitiveness among the geikos, it seems sometimes that the only real connections that a geiko or maiko can feel is with her customers. Do you think this is a product of the business itself, or of the innate competitiveness of human nature? What place does sisterhood have in the walls of Gion Kobu?

6) Do you consider the geiko tradition to be a sexist one? Although the geiko and maiko are obviously restricted and shaped completely by the expectations of their lives in the Gion, they also make their own money and are not confined to the kitchen or the home. Does this affect your opinion at all? Do you think the geiko tradition has any place in the modern world?

7) After reading this memoir, what do you think are the most profitable skills for a geiko or maiko to have? Were you surprised at how shrewd, smart and cunning Mineko, and the other women, had to be in order to succeed in their business? Why do you think Mineko, above all the other women in Gion Kobu, met with such success, holding the number one spot for six years and becoming the favorite of countless customers? What do you think Madame Oima saw in her at such a young age that convinced her that she was the future of Gion Kobu?

8) At heart, what do you think the geiko and maiko represent for their customers? Why are the men and women who frequent the Gion Kobu willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for time and attention from these women? Do we have any similar institutions or traditions in our culture? What aspects of Japanese culture make the presence of geikos possible?

9) At one point, ruminating on why she was so hard on herself from early childhood on, Mineko explains, "I believed that self-discipline was the key to beauty" (203). Do you agree with this idea? Do you think, by the end of her time as a geiko, that Mineko herself would agree with this?

10) Discuss the role that material possessions have in this book and in Japanese culture in general. What are the beautiful and delicate kimonos representative of for both the people who wear them and the people who admire them?

11) Mineko's father often reminded her as a child that "the samurai betrays no weakness, even when starving. Pride above all." What is it about Japanese culture that demands pride must come first, no matter what the situation? How do concepts like these translate into everyday interactions for the people in this book? Which people in Mineko's life subscribe to this idea and which ones don't? Does this affect whether or not they are successful in the long run?

12) What role does family play — specifically blood relations — in the world of Gion Kobu? Like Yaeko, do you blame Mineko's parents for allowing Mineko and her sisters to enter into the Gion at such a young age or are they fully free from blame? To what degree does familial responsibility trump monetary or business responsibility?

13) What do you consider to be the basic differences between the Western world and the culture of Japan? How does Japanese culture view the individual and his or her needs, wants and desires? What value do they place on the idea of the group? Why do people in Japanese culture struggle so hard to do what is proper over what might be fair or just?

14) Mineko is a truly fascinating, amazingly talented woman whose unique experiences would rival any celebrity or politician's. Look at Mineko's growth from a scared young girl to an international symbol of Japanese culture. What kinds of life lessons do you think Mineko learned from her years as a geiko? What did you think of her decision to close the Gion Kobu in her pursuit of family and other interests? Simon & Schuster

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  • Posted May 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Imaginations Review of Geisha: A Life

    Okay, so I'm going to be very blunt and honest in this review and probably in the rest of my future reviews. I'm always honest, but sometimes I hold my opinions back a little bit for fear of offending someone. I just can't do it anymore. And when it comes to this review, I have some very strong opinions. First of all, I would venture to say that anyone that reads/read this book has already read Memoirs of a Geisha. This memoir is supposedly the real story of the geisha that Memoirs was based upon. It was written by Mineko Iwasaki herself with the help of an English translator. Now I can say that I have read both books, and Memoirs of a Geisha beats the pants off of this very informative, but slightly dry attempt at the same. Listen. I know parts of Memoirs of a Geisha are fictional. But some of the things that Mineko said about the book I find slightly offensive. She has said that Memoirs of a Geisha made the Geisha appear to be a high-classed prostitute. I never had that opinion after reading it. At all. In fact, quite often the author made the distinction between traditional courtesan and Geisha. Also, I want to talk about the Mizuage tradition. Mineko has stated that it was never a ceremony where a maiko's virginity was auctioned off to the highest bidder. As gross as this is, Mineko is being very misleading and she is/was not speaking the truth. During the time that Mineko was a Geiko, the practice had been outlawed, but before the 60's, it was commonplace. It was officially outlawed in 1959, but carried on for awhile after that. Now notice for a second the setting for Memoirs of a Geisha. Most of the book was set before World War 2. The whole virginity aspect was still very much a part of Geiko culture then. So like I said, Mineko was being very misleading in her book. I could go on and on about the disagreements I have with the things Mineko has said, but I think by now you get the point. I didn't dislike reading it, I found it to be very informative. But I also found it kind of dry and written with an air of condescension. Mineko thinks very highly of herself.I'm not saying that she shouldn't be, but I felt I was being talked down to for a good portion of the story. I gave it four stars, because it was a well-written piece of non-fiction, and I happen to be very interested in Asian culture, especially the Gaiko/Maiko culture. There is not a lot of information out there, and I will read whatever I can get my hands on. That being said though, I will probably never re-read this, but I will re-read Memoirs of a Geisha. There's actually a story there and quite a few facts. I would recommend reading this if you are interested in Japan or Geisha culture. Otherwise, it could go either way.

    6 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 2, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A Treasure

    Whether you have read Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" or not, I highly recommend this book as a true reference to what this ancient clandestine lifestyle of the geiko (woman of art) is truly about. Mineko Iwasaki graciously lifts the veil on this 300 year history, and takes great care in dispelling much of the western misconceptions regarding this practice of Japanese entertainment. Details of customs, costume, protocol and more of this fading culture lie within her pages. Immerse yourself in this 'flower and willow world'.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2007

    Wonderful Autobiography

    This book was a wonderful true story, and I thought it was interesting to know that the author also helped Arthur Golden with Memoirs of a Geisha--that is, she told him what it was like to be a geisha. I haven't read Memoirs, but if it's as interesting as this, I'd say it's worth reading.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2005

    Absolutely Amazing

    Mineko Iwasaki's story was something unbelievable. It cleared up the mystery and stories behind the Japanese geisha like none other. It completely sucked me in, and I've read it many times since. Compared to any other books about the Japanese geisha out there, this one is definitely the best. It's full of honesty, heartbreak, and most importantly, the true meaning of the geisha.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2007

    Geisha, A Life

    A great cultural insight into the life of the forbidden Geisha. Dispelling western misconceptions of Geishas, 'Geisha, A Life' is one woman's great journey as a Geisha. A definate read to those who prize culture,I highly reccomend it to anyone who has already read 'Memoirs of a Geisha'.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2007

    A True Memoir...

    I really recommend this biography. It shows the truth. I think everyone who's read or watched Memoirs of a Geisha should read this book, so they can see how it really is. Although it may seem boring to some in comparison to Memoirs of a Geisha, at least it's honest. Besides, fiction is supposed to be more dramatic and colorful than real life, I guess some people can't accept that. I really enjoyed this book, and think that it should have been made into a movie instead of Memoirs of a Geisha.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2006

    Hmmmm.......

    I thought that this book was kind of a let down after reading Memoirs of a Geisha. This book was just a little bit boring... it didn't hold my attention as much as I thought it would. There were also so many people that were involved in the story, and their names kept changing, so I got really confused. But overall, it was an interesting read. It was a glimpse into a world in which hardly no one knows about. Yes, it may not be better that Memoirs of a Geisha (in my opinion) but I still enjoyed it, none the less.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2013

    Geisha, A Life

    This is one of the most romantic yet descriptive geisha books I have ever personally read. I have read many! Top of my recommendation list for anyone who wants to take a trip back in time to the Real Japan and the Real Geisha Girls! You won't be disappointed! Enjoy and have a safe journey. :-)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2012

    What

    Well ill be true i dont think its the best book

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2012

    Highly Recommended.. Much better than Memoirs of a Gesha.. She is the real thing!

    VERY GOOD

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2011

    Very informative

    Gives you an actual accounting and behinds the scene look at geishas as they really are and not as the media and public would have you think. The geisha who narrates the book is a very proud and comes across as arrogant sometimes but I would recommend book for those interested in geishas.

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  • Posted July 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read

    I thought this was such a great book. I learned so much about the life of a Geisha..from the time they start all the way til the end of their career. The story of Mineko Iwasaki is amazing. This book is def worth buying!

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  • Posted May 26, 2010

    Entertaining-

    This is a good story and really unbelievable how this culture lives and what they go through. Things that are important in one place may not mean anything in a different culture. This story really was fascinating. This is the story of a famous geisha and she tells her life story from her birth all the way through her retirement. It is an interesting story and it is such a different life that it is so neat to hear about a different culture, a different way that women live around the world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2008

    I Loved This Book!!!!

    After reading Memoirs of a Geisha witch I loved a friend of mine told me about this book.I was very interested to read about a real person and what she had to go through.It was a very well written book I was very happy with it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 17, 2008

    Is it really the full story?

    An unusual book. I appreciated the glimpse into Japanese geisha culture. However --despite the fact that this is an autobiography --I had the sense that the main character, Mineko Iwasaki, was very one-dimensional. Perhaps the unusual upbringing in the okiya creates this type of one-dimensional personality. Or perhaps there are parts of the story that are not fully told.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2007

    A reviewer

    This book had points where the mere thought of putting it down was horrifying and then parts that helped lull me to sleep. It was a very well written book but the writers over protection and defensive description of the 'geisha' was exasperating.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2007

    Really Good Book

    I thought this book was REALLY good. It was amazing, and kept me reading, but the beginning was a bit boring, and names were confusing. If you liked 'Memoirs of a Geisha', you'll probably enjoy this book, as well.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2007

    Loved it!

    I personally loved this book. I loved how it told a true story about what it was really like to be a Geisha. I loved how it dispelled every western misconception of what a Geisha really is.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2006

    Better than Memoirs of a Geisha

    The book was really good, it's about a real life Geisha from Japan. It talks about what's its like to be a Geisha and the life it like.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2006

    An excellent read.

    I loved every page of this book. I found her life to be very interesting, provocative, exciting and unimaginable. I found myself slowly reading each word not wanting the book to end. I wouldn¿t recommend it to just anyone, only those interested in other cultures, countries, etc.

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