Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Book Finds: Geishas of Japan

I'll admit that, like many people, I've always been fascinated by the world of the geisha. Striking costumes, traditional song and dance and a dash of that mysterious allure make reading about geishas nearly irresistible. The following are some interesting books about geishas which I think will satisfy any lover of history or traditional Japanese arts.

The following descriptions are all from Amazon.com

Geisha: 25th Anniversary Edition by Liza Dalby [December 10th, 2008]

In this classic best seller, Liza Dalby, the first non-Japanese ever to have trained as a geisha, offers an insider's look at the exclusive world of female companions to the Japanese male elite. A new preface examines how geisha have been profoundly affected by the changes of the past quarter century yet--especially in Kyoto--have managed to take advantage of modern developments to maintain their social position with flair.

Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda [May 25, 2005]

Sayo Masuda has written the first full-length autobiography of a former hot-springs-resort geisha. Masuda was sent to work as a nursemaid at the age of six and then was sold to a geisha house at the age of twelve. In keeping with tradition, she first worked as a servant while training in the arts of dance, song, shamisen, and drum. In 1940, aged sixteen, she made her debut as a geisha. ... Masuda also tells of her life after leaving the geisha house, painting a vivid panorama of the grinding poverty of the rural poor in wartime Japan. As she eked out an existence on the margins of Japanese society, earning money in odd jobs and hard labor -- even falling in with Korean gangsters -- Masuda experienced first hand the anguish and the fortitude of prostitutes, gangster mistresses, black-market traders, and abandoned mothers struggling to survive in postwar Japan.

A Geisha's Journey: My Life As a Kyoto Apprentice by Komomo [May 1, 2008]

This is the story of a contemporary Japanese teenager who, in a search for an identity, became fascinated with the world of geisha, and discovered in herself the will and the commitment to embark on the many years of apprenticeship necessary to become one. It is also the story of a young Japanese photographer who grew up overseas, and who also was captivated by the traditional lives of these women who choose to dedicate themselves to their art. He began following and documenting the life of teenager Komomo as she studied and grew into her role. Naoyuki Oginos photographs follow Komomos entire journey, from her first tentative visits after finding the geisha house on the internet through her commitment to the hard schedule of an apprentice, learning arts that go back centuries, all the way to the ceremony where she officially became a geiko, as Kyotos geisha are known and beyond.

Geisha by Lesley Downer [June 14, 2011]

Ever since Westerners arrived in Japan, we have been intrigued by geisha. This fascination has spawned a wealth of fictional creations from Madame Butterfly to Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha". The reality of the geisha's existence has rarely been described. Contrary to popular opinion, geisha are not prostitutes but literally "arts people". Their accomplishments might include singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument but, above all, they are masters of the art of conversation, soothing worries of highly paid businessmen who can afford their attentions. The real secret history of the geisha is explored here.

The Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo by J.E. de Becker [September 19, 2007]

Written over a century ago, this pioneer study was the first to venture behind the teahouse doors of the Yoshiwara quarter, Tokyo's red-light district. It remains unsurpassed as the definitive survey of geisha and courtesan life, with meticulous descriptions of traditional training, dress, social hierarchy, and erotic practices. 49 black-and-white illustrations; 2 maps.

Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile by the Peabody Essex Museum [September 2004]

Renowned throughout the world as purveyors of beauty, mystery, and allure, geisha have come to represent the epitome of Japanese elegance and chic. The rich 250-year history of these performance artists is vividly presented in this volume, taking the reader behind the mask-like makeup and into the studios where they train and rehearse and into the teahouses where they entertain. Geisha have altered definitions of feminine beauty and identity and are the prevailing icons of Japanese womanhood. Their influence on Japan's decorative arts is documented by their beautiful kimono and hair ornaments and by the musical instruments and fans they use in their performances. Illustrated with woodblock prints and paintings as well as historical and contemporary photographs, this groundbreaking study also explores the dynamic tension between image and reality in the art of these exquisite entertainers. Geisha: Beyond the Painted Smile is a comprehensive presentation of geisha culture from its origins nearly three centuries ago to contemporary Japan

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