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.
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.
You can purchase Geisha: A Life from Amazon here: Geisha: A Life.