Geisha, a Life - Rande Brown, Mineko Iwasaki

I kept re-writing my comments on this bit because I feel so conflicted that I can't write a comprehensive sentence about it.


Likes: historical first person account. Original, native speaker. Detailed descriptions about unique aspects of cultural setting.


Dislikes: the general personality of the narrator as it comes across in text (although credit for her recounting everything in seemingly an honest manner) 


Anyway, as a historical resource or reference, it is quite excellent.


-- "Maiko and geiko start off their careers living and training in an establishment called an okiya, usually translated as geisha house. They follow an extremely rigorous regimen of constant classes and rehearsal, similar in intensity to that of a prima ballerina, concert pianist, or opera singer in the West." This has always been my impression even from stories that took fictional liberties such as Memoirs of a Geisha, although not how others interpreted it if I remember the media at the time.


-- "The female society of Gion Kobu is organized along the lines of nominal kinship, with seniority determined by status. Thus, regardless of age, the owners of the okiya and ochaya are referred to as mothers or aunts, while the maiko and geiko are called older sister by anyone who has begun active service after they have. In addition, every maiko and geiko is assigned a senior sponsor who is known as her particular Onesan, or Older Sister." Matriarchal social structure in application? See teacher/student archetype.

Yoneyu... was a classic beauty and men fell all over her. One her sponsors was a very important Baron who kept her on a generous retainer. He paid her a stipend so that she would be available to entertain him and his guests whenever he so desired.


This sort of arrangement is not unusual. Having a principal geiko at your beck and call is a major status symbol in Japanese society... The district attracted guests from all over, men from the highest ranks of the business world and the aristocracy. They competed with each other to help support the most popular geiko. It is somewhat similar to the patronage of, say, the opera, but instead of being on the board of the opera house, a man would choose to support his favorite diva. And in the same way that a patron of the opera house does not expect sexual favors from the diva, the Baron supported Yoneyu solely because of the artistic perfection that she embodied and the luster that she lent to his reputation.


However... You can't put talented, beautiful, elegant women together with rich and powerful men and expect nothing to happen. Romantic entanglements happen all the time, some leading to marriage and others to heartache.

This is suspiciously close to the plot of Memoirs of a Geisha, hmmm....


-- "I don't mean to imply that a geiko can't be married. Some of the most successful geiko I knew were married and lived independently from their okiya... But most of us found the idea too daunting and waited until we retired to get married. Other's enjoyed their independence so much they never gave it up." An interesting occupation for female liberation.


-- "Many noble families became impoverished after the Meiji Restoration and found livelihood for their girls in the karyukai. Here was a place where they could practice the dance and tea ceremony they had learned at home, wear the higher quality kimono they were used to, become financially independent, and have a chance at making a decent marriage." Not a social stigma as previously implied in Western sources?


-- "Frankly, it is possible for a maiko... to coast for a while on her magnificent costumes and childlike charisma, but her career can't blossom unless she capitalizes on her talent." IIRC, one of the reasons why the older a geisha is, the less white make up she wears, because by then she is so skilled at conversation and her artistic talents that she doesn't need the flashy costume. Basically, maikos can sit there and look pretty.


-- "The bottom line, though, is that the geiko has been hired to amuse the host of the ozashiki and his or her guests. She is there to make people feel good. When a geiko enters an ozashiki she is required to go over to whoever is seated in the place of honor and engage that person in conversation. No matter what she is feeling, her expression must declare: "I couldn't wait to come right over and speak to you." If her face says, "I can't stand you," she doesn't deserve to be a geiko. It is her job to find something likable about everyone." Customer service in a nutshell.


-- "The geiko of Gion Kobu make famously prized wives for rich and powerful men. One couldn't ask for a more beautiful or sophisticated hostess, especially if one travels in diplomatic or international business circles. And a geiko brings with her the cornucopia of connections she has cultivated over her career, which can be very important for a young man starting out." Dissimilarity to marrying an actress or arts performer in the West? Perhaps a modernism, take into account time periods and Japanese economic influences...