Geisha by Mineko Iwasaki
A Life

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"No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling...But I feel it is time to speak out."
Celebrated as the most successful geisha of her generation, Mineko Iwasaki was only five years old when she left her parents' home for the world of the geisha. For the next twenty-five years, she would live a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and rich rewards. She would learn the formal customs and language of the geisha, and study the ancient arts of Japanese dance and music. She would enchant kings and princes, captains of industry, and titans of the entertainment world, some of whom would become her dearest friends. Through great pride and determination, she would be hailed as one of the most prized geishas in Japan's history, and one of the last great practitioners of this now fading art form.
In Geisha, a Life, Mineko Iwasaki tells her story, from her warm early childhood, to her intense yet privileged upbringing in the Iwasaki okiya (household), to her years as a renowned geisha, and finally, to her decision at the age of twenty-nine to retire and marry, a move that would mirror the demise of geisha culture. Mineko brings to life the beauty and wonder of Gion Kobu, a place that "existed in a world apart, a special realm whose mission and identity depended on preserving the time-honored traditions of the past." She illustrates how it coexisted within post-World War II Japan at a time when the country was undergoing its radical transformation from a post-feudal society to a modern one.
"There is much mystery and misunderstanding about what it means to be a geisha. I hope this story will help explain what it is really like and also serve as a record of this unique component of Japan's cultural history," writes Mineko Iwasaki. Geisha, a Life is the first of its kind, as it delicately unfolds the fabric of a geisha's development. Told with great wisdom and sensitivity, it is a true story of beauty and heroism, and of a time and culture rarely revealed to the Western world.

About Mineko Iwasaki

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Born in 1949, Mineko Iwasaki began training in the arts of dance and etiquette when she was five years old. Soon after becoming a full-fledged geisha, Mineko was lauded as the star geisha of the Gion Kobu of Kyoto. She held that position until retirement at the age of twenty-nine. Now fifty-two, Mineko has one daughter and lives with her husband in a Kyoto suburb.
Published October 15, 2002 by Atria Books. 320 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Humor & Entertainment. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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and cultivating the friendship of the otokosh (dressers), who assure that all is well in the kimono and obi department while acting as “the standard brokers of various relationships within the karyukai.” This account, the first of its kind from a contemporary Japanese woman, does a good job of sp...

Oct 01 2002 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

Publishers Weekly

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From age five, Iwasaki trained to be a geisha (or, as it was called in her Kyoto district, a geiko), learning the intricacies of a world that is nearly gone.

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BC Books

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We don't hear why Kyoto women reject that lifestyle, we only hear why women have decided to train.

Jun 30 2008 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

BC Books

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Golden, like Sohara, focuses on Kyoto geisha, but Sohara's documentary concentrates on modern geisha, as the title implies.

Jun 30 2008 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

Entertainment Weekly

The true-life memoir of one of Japan's most popular geishas promises at its outset to provide a fascinating look at a tradition as misunderstood as it is captivating.

Nov 15 2002 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

Suite 101

And that led me to write a novel about a geisha.” However, it wasn’t until after writing two different rough drafts that Golden had the breakthrough that allowed him to write the novel as it was published.

Apr 02 2011 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

Suite 101

And one that I ultimately had to leave.” Geisha of Gion Overview Iwasaki's memoir Geisha of Gion was written in answer to Arthur Golden's best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha (1997), which contributed to a misconception that geisha are basically high-class courtesans catering to the rich and ...

Jul 10 2012 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

Large Print Reviews

Geisha, A Life is Mineko's extraordinary recounting of her life during the twenty-five years that she spent in the Iwasaki Geisha House in Kyoto Japan.

May 25 2003 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life


If you’ve ever seen a Japanese woodblock painting or ink drawing, you’ve probably seen pictures of geisha (meaning “artist”) girls.

Jun 01 2008 | Read Full Review of Geisha : A Life

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