Geisha: A Life

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GEISHA, A LIFE
"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."
Celebrated as the most successful geisha of her generation, Mineko Iwasaki was only five years old when she left her parents' home for the world of the geisha. For the next twenty-five years, she would live a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and rich rewards. She would learn the formal customs and language of the geisha, and study the ancient arts of Japanese dance and music. She would enchant kings and princes, captains of industry, and titans of the entertainment world, some of whom would become her dearest friends. Through great pride and determination, she would be hailed as one of the most prized geishas in Japan's history, and one of the last great practitioners of this now fading art form.
In Geisha, a Life, Mineko Iwasaki tells her story, from her warm early childhood, to her intense yet privileged upbringing in the Iwasaki okiya (household), to her years as a renowned geisha, and finally, to her decision at the age of twenty-nine to retire and marry, a move that would mirror the demise of geisha culture. Mineko brings to life the beauty and wonder of Gion Kobu, a place that "existed in a world apart, a special realm whose mission and identity depended on preserving the time-honored traditions of the past." She illustrates how it coexisted within post-World War II Japan at a time when the country was undergoing its radical transformation from a post-feudal society to a modern one.
"There is much mystery and misunderstanding about what it means to be a geisha. I hope this story will help explain what it is really like and also serve as a record of this unique component of Japan's cultural history," writes Mineko Iwasaki. Geisha, a Life is the first of its kind, as it delicately unfolds the fabric of a geisha's development. Told with great wisdom and sensitivity, it is a true story of beauty and heroism, and of a time and culture rarely revealed to the Western world.
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About the author

Mineko Iwasaki, now fifty-two years old, is the mother of two daughters. She lives with her husband in a suburb of Kyoto, Japan.

Rande Brown is an internationally acclaimed translator of books in Japanese culture and philosophy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Simon and Schuster
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Published on
Oct 15, 2002
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Pages
320
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ISBN
9780743453042
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Language
English
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Genres
Biography & Autobiography / Women
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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From critically acclaimed author and Japanese scholar Lesley Downer, an enchanting portrait of the mysterious world of the geisha.

Ever since Westerners arrived in Japan, they have been intrigued by Japanese womanhood and, above all, by geisha. This fascination has spawned a wealth of extraordinary fictional creations, from Puccini's Madama Butterfly to Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. The reality of the geisha's existence, though, whether today or in history, has rarely been addressed.

Contrary to popular opinion, geisha are not prostitutes but, literally, "arts people." Their accomplishments include singing, dancing, playing a musical instruments; but above all, they are masters of the art of conversation, soothing the worries and stroking the egos of the wealthy businessmen who can afford their attentions. It is this which imbues the geisha with such power—and which makes absolute secrecy such a crucial aspect of their work.

As denizens of a world defined by silence and mystery, geisha are notoriously difficult to meet and even to find. Lesley Downer, an award- winning writer, Japanese scholar, and consummate storyteller, gained more access into this world than almost any other Westerner ever has and spent several months living among them. In Women of the Pleasure Quarters, she weaves together intimate portraits of modern geisha with the romantic legends and colorful historical tales of geisha of the past.

From Sadda Yakko, who dined with American presidents and had her portrait painted by Picasso, to Koito, a modern-day geisha who maintains her own website, geisha throughout history step out of the pages of Women of the Pleasure Quarters to become living, breathing creatures. Looking into such traditions as mizuage, the ritual deflowering which was once a rite of passage for all geisha, and providing colorful depictions of the geisha's dress, training, and homes, Downer, with grace, elegance, and respect, transforms their reality in a captivating narrative that both informs and entertains.

At once a symbol of a bygone age and an institution more quintessentially Japanese than any other, geisha are a society at a crossroads, struggling to reinvent their place in the new millennium while honoring the traditions of the past. Both instructive and evocative, Women of the Pleasure Quarters is an enthralling portrait of a world unlike any other.


From the Hardcover edition.
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