Sunday, 23 September 2012

Geisha: the Real Memoirs

Ready for more books?
To break away from my usual habit of writing solely about one author, this post focuses on one topic: geisha.

Everybody has heard about Memoirs of a Geisha, right? Whether it’s the book, the film, or both, it’s a work that had a pretty high profile!

Well, I’m not writing about that one. Instead, this post focuses on these:

Geisha of Gion – Mineko Iwasaki
This is the real memoirs of a geisha. I read Geisha of Gion some time after reading Memoirs of a Geisha and found the storylines of the two books were incredibly similar (with the latter being somewhat more dramatic). Then I found out why: Memoirs was inspired by Mineko Iwasaki’s life.
The book follows Iwasaki’s story, from the time she is taken as a young girl to be tutored as a maiko (apprentice geisha) into her life as a geiko (geisha). (Apologies if I make any mistakes in the terminology; I’m writing this based on memory of a book I read a couple of years ago!)
As with any life story, there is drama and action, but explains a lot of things slightly misinterpreted in Arthur Golden’s fictitious tale. Between the two, I prefer this one, simply because it’s autobiographical and more realistic.

Geisha – Liza Dalby
When I saw this book for the first time, I was a little cynical as to whether it could accurately portray the training, work and lifestyle of geisha. I thought it would be a typical case of Foreigner Goes To Japan And Makes Lots of Misconceptions Based On What They See.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
Geisha is the product of the author’s study into the Geisha lifestyle--a study so deep that she travelled to Japan to train as a geisha herself. The book covers the history of geisha and looks at how they have changed over time.
Whilst a little academic in places (it was written for a thesis, if I recall correctly!) it presents the facts in an interesting and respectful manner.
For me, the respect towards this part of Japanese culture was as equally important as the information presented.

If you only read one of these books, read: Both books have their merits. If you’re interested in the history of geisha and like factual books, check out Liza Dalby’s book. If you prefer your facts to be in the form of autobiography, try Mineko Iwasaki.


  1. Hi!
    I saw the movie and I was always attracted by Japanese culture, so probably I would buy the Liza Dalby's one :)
    [after reading the amount of book which wait for me ahahah]
    kisses! :)

  2. I loved that book - now I have some others to read! THanks!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I read them both years ago- Liza Dalby first, then Mineko Iwasaki. Oh, how I loved Geisha of Gion! In fact, I ought to read it again. Not saying Geisha wasn't a good read, but the real deal was a lot more fascinating!


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