Thursday, 24 November 2011

Thoughts: Geisha of Gion by Mineko Iwasaki

This is the memoir of Mineko Iwasaki, one of Gion's most famous Geishas. She introduces us to her story starting at the very beginning of her childhood, still living with her parents and siblings. Soon she learns that some of her sisters have been adopted by an okiya, a Geisha house, because her parents were not able to feed so many hungry mouths.
But Mineko decides to follow her sisters into the okiya, because she is spellbound by this secretive world, which is inhabited and ruled by women only. She is to become first a maiko, an apprentice Geisha, and then a real geiko, which is the name of a Geisha in Gion, the best known Geisha district not only in Kyoto but Japan.

I have read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden and this book was in many ways similar to Golden's book. But there are differences especially in the way the story is told. Though Iwasaki claims to be the first Geisha to tell her story, I felt like she was holding back, I felt like she wasn't giving me the whole thing. That is because she tells the reader all the training was hard, or she decides to be adopted by the okiya and leave her family, or that all the other girls were jealous as she became a well-known geisha but she never tells what it felt like, she never says she was sad, lonely or exhausted.
On the other hand I am fascinated. Geishas are exotic strangers who are paid to be perfect entertainers with skills in music, dancing, singing and conversation. They live in a secretive world full of intrigue and jealousy, which makes it all the more interesting to read about.

If you are interested in the training of a Geisha in our modern times, I recommend the BBC documentary Geisha Girl, following 15-year-old Yukina as she leaves home and moves to Kyoto to embark on the arduous training needed to become a geisha. Here is a link to the first part on youtube:

If you can't get enough of the Geisha world read this book.

I read this book for the JLC5.


  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I have read Memoirs of a Geisha and it is one of my very favourite books. When I first read it I didn't realise it was fictional, which was a surprise at the end (although in hinsight it shouldn't have been). I would love to read a memoir frmo a real geisha as something to compare it to, and so I will look out for this book.

  2. I wonder if that holding back in the telling of how one really feels is in part due to being Japanese. I know I would like to know more of her soul, too, though. I thought Memoirs of A Geisha was wonderful, but when I realized it was a.) fiction and b.) told by a man, I was a bit disappointed. This book appeals to me because it's so honest, and I am interested in knowing more about all it entails to be a geisha. Thanks for the great review. (Also, I'm glad you're in for the Venice in February Challenge!)

  3. Oh I read this aaaages ago! I went through a bit of a geisha phase (with everybody else) after Memoirs of a Geisha and this was one of my favourites.

    Like Bellezza said, I was disappointed when I realised Memoirs of a Geisha was fictional and written by a man. I hadn't realised on my first reading so it makes this one a little better that it's true.

  4. I've read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, but not this, I think Bellezza maybe right and it's reticence that may be the deciding factor.