Overview[ edit ] Born as Masako Tanaka, she left home at the age of four to begin studying traditional Japanese dance at the Iwasaki okiya geisha house in the Gion district of Kyoto. Iwasaki became a maiko apprentice geiko at age She also received the name Mineko, as prescribed by a Japanese fortune-teller. According to her autobiography, Iwasaki worked herself to her physical and mental limits. She developed a near-fatal kidney condition but recovered.
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Shelves: memoir "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. I want you to know what it is really like to live the life of a geisha, a life filled with extraordinary professional demands and richly glorious rewards.
Many say I was the best geisha of my generation; I was certainly "No woman in the three-hundred year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. Many say I was the best geisha of my generation; I was certainly the most successful. And yet, it was a life that I found too constrictive to continue.
And one that I ultimately had to leave. It is a story I have long wanted to tell. You know, that book where a white American dude decided that he was the best candidate for writing a story about the secretive, all-female world of the Japanese geisha?
Remember how well that worked out? For his book, Arthur Golden conducted a lot of interviews with a retired geisha, which formed the basis for the story. When the book came out, this geisha was so horrified at the way Golden had twisted her words to fit his Western worldview of the geisha that she wrote her own memoir in response.
That geisha, as you can guess, was Mineko Iwasaki, and this book is the real Memoirs of a Geisha. No fetishization, no male gaze, no bullshit. She retired at the age of twenty-nine because, as she says in her introduction, the lifestyle eventually grew too restrictive and her efforts to implement change were ignored.
The book starts with her childhood, when she was three years old and the owner of an okiya first started trying to recruit her. Iwasaki spent her childhood living in the okiya as a sort of boarding school it was a super weird situation, honestly, because her parents were allowed to visit but barely saw her, and also she was five before she ultimately made the decision to be adopted by the okiya owner and live there full-time at the age of seven.
From then on, Iwasaki worked full-time training to be a geiko before making her debut at age fifteen. They write the tallies down on slips of paper that they place in a box in the entryway of the ochaya. The next morning a representative of the kenban, or financial affairs office, makes the rounds of the ochaya to collect all the slips from the night before.
These are tallied and reported to the Kabukai. The kenban is an independent organization that performs this service on behalf of the geiko association. A young oiran also underwent a ritual called a "mizuage" but hers consisted of being ceremoniously deflowered by a patron who had paid handsomely for the privilege. My only big complaint about this book is the writing itself. Iwasaki will be describing a dance class, and then in the next paragraph will have moved on to a completely different subject with no warning or explanation, and it was irritating.
But these are minor quibbles.
Geisha of Gion
Geisha, a Life