Geisha, a Life

It’s sort of funny to me that I go through four or five books at a time before I realize that I haven’t mentioned a new book on the site in a while. Same for the music section. What happens is that I end up with a quiet morning on the train and as I’m about to open a book it pops into my head that I need to update the site. I then spend a while trying to remember what I was reading last; in this case it was called Fraud but I can’t tell you who wrote it. It wasn’t one of my “regular” authors, so I don’t really remember. Decent book though. Given that I can’t remember what I last read, let me tell you about what I’m currently reading: Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki.

Right there, I figure I lost 1/3 of the women – because they have no interest in Japan – and about 1/2 the guys – only half because the half that stayed think a geisha – which translates to entertainer – also known as a geiko, is the same thing as an oiran or courtisan. The most definitely are not the same thing; that’s a western interpretation and it’s completely incorrect. Given that an ozashiki – consider this a dinner party – at an ochaya – a traditional “tea house” where geisha entertain dinner parties – can run well over $2000, and that each of the geisha can wear kimono that easily costs over $10K… well I’m thinking that you might be getting screwed, but it’s more of a monetary copulation than a sexual one. Oops, there goes all the guys now. Ah, well – we all have different interests! I’ve always had a bit of interest in Japan – in it’s culture, cartoons, and women (always honest on this web site!) – so when I found Memoirs of a Geisha a few years ago, I picked it up and gave it a read. It gave a fairly detailed view of the lifestyle, since it started with a young girl and her lifetime of being a geisha in a Japanese city, ending a few years after World War II. Geisha, a Life, has a bit less of the female-sparked drama – so far anyway! – but it takes a much deeper look into the life of a geisha and mostly after World War II so it’s got a bit of a different “world” view as well. More importantly, it tells a good deal about the life of a geiko; a geisha working and living Kyoto’s pleasure quarter of Gion Kobu, which is the pinnacle of the geisha world.

The story follows the career of Ms. Iwasaki through her childhood, teenage, and adult life, as it wound its way throughout the quarter and up until her retirement, which she believes was at the height of her career. I’m a bit more than half way through it now and it hasn’t left me snooze on the train yet, which is the mark of a good book – all of what I’ve mentioned comes from the book’s cover, so I haven’t given anything away. There are also two sets of pictures included in the hardcover edition; how these 90 pound women wore 40 pounds of clothing as a meiko completely boggles my mind – it destroys the limited faith I had in physics at anyrate. If you have any interest in Japanese culture, this is a pretty good book for you to pick up, if only to read about the only geiko to break the omerta of silence that the geisha have has since their creation. No other geisha has ever told her own story in her own words and Mineko-san was the best of her generation; she’s got quite a story to tell.

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