Geisha : The Secret History of a Vanishing World

3.82 (1,098 ratings by Goodreads)
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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 more

Product details

  • Paperback | 448 pages
  • 130 x 194 x 34mm | 340.2g
  • Headline Publishing Group
  • Headline Book Publishing
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 8 illustrations, 8pp colour photos
  • 0747264260
  • 9780747264262
  • 793,598

About Lesley Downer

Lesley Downer lived in Japan for more than ten years and speaks fluent Japanese. As well as contributing a weekly column to The Scotsman she writes features for the Independent, the Financial Times and The Sunday more

Rating details

1,098 ratings
3.82 out of 5 stars
5 24% (262)
4 43% (469)
3 27% (295)
2 5% (58)
1 1% (14)

Our customer reviews

In this book, Ms Downer has sought to provide a view of the geisha world for an interested western audience. Indeed, it does seem that many of us are fascinated by a world about which we know little except what we've read in novels such as Arthur Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha' or assumed, perhaps, from viewing a production of 'Madame Butterfly' by Giacomo Puccini. But what is the reality of life for those who become geisha? Who becomes geisha, and why? How has this ancient world with its own customs and practices been impacted by changes in modern Japanese society? What is the cultural significance of the geisha world? Ms Downer writes that: 'Even in modern Japan, a Japanese man took it for granted that he had two different spaces in which to operate. Both contained women with whom he had relationships.' Yet, Japanese society is itself changing and the family-based wealth which once supported the patronage of geisha society is being replaced by corporation-based wealth which is far less likely to do so. I enjoyed reading this book and obtaining some glimpses into the geisha world. I very much doubt that any westerner could ever write a comprehensive history of this world or that any Japanese would do so in a way in which was fully comprehensible to non Japanese. That's okay: part of the charm of the geisha world is the mystery that surrounds it. What Ms Downer's book offers is a look at aspects of the lives of those who become geisha and the training required, and some appreciation of the cultural significance of this world. 'The wonder was not that the geisha were disappearing but rather that they had managed to survive for so long.' Jennifer Cameron-Smithshow more
by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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