12 July 2008

200 word review: 'Geisha of Gion' by Mineko Iwasaki

I added this book to my Amazon wish list after reading ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ – I was intrigued about geisha culture and wanted to find out more. While I’m aware that Mineko Iwasaki, as the most successful geisha of her time, was probably an exception to the rule, I couldn’t believe how differently she portrayed life as a geisha to Arthur Golden’s novel. In many ways it is a much kinder picture, but still communicates how tough it is to live that lifestyle.

I found Iwasaki’s telling of her life story very fascinating. She brings in a lot of details about Japanese culture in general but also gives an evocative picture of life in the karyukai (districts where geisha operate, literally ‘flower and willow world’). There are also amusing anecdotes involving Gucci, Prince Charles and even the Queen – unusually making a gaffe greater than Prince Philip! However, the book did leave me wanting more. She spends a lot of time on her childhood and training, but only hints at her efforts to reform the industry to give geisha more rights, which I was interested to know more about. Still, it’s a great read especially if you’re interested in Japanese culture.

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