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No. 1 Geisha,
This review is from: Geisha: A Life (Hardcover)
"Geisha, A Life" Mineko Iwaski's autobiography is not scandalous nor is it particularly revealing. Perhaps there is a cultural chasm or translational difficulty, but bluntly, Mineko does not come off as particularly truthful, likable, or appealing. The aspects she chooses to display show her great love of dressing up, dancing, and her almost frenetic energy.
The most interesting part of the book is her early childhood that was in a semi-rural part of Japan and was idyllic. The reader has to swallow that Mineko had an almost photographic memory from age three plus great insight into people's characters. She was an odd little girl who preferred to be alone, spent most of her time (by choice) in closets, and did not like to talk to people. She nursed (or tried to nurse) until she was almost 10 years old, long after she had left her mother. Maybe this is a Japanese custom. She left her family for good by the time she was six-years old to live permanently in the Iwasaki okiya (geisha house). She insists throughout the book that her father, an aristocrat in reduced circumstances, was not, as accused, a baby-seller; yet he did just that with three of his four daughters. His eldest never forgave him and ran away to get married before the debt to the geisha house was paid. Mineko heaps scorn upon this eldest sister throughout the book because she "dishonored" the family and caused her father grief.
Mineko was not typical because she was heiress-apparent of the house, and was always treated with a great deal of honor. To most American readers, it might seem this "honor" turned her into a spoiled, arrogant brat. She complains the other girls did not like her and were jealous of her attainments and superiority. It was likely they had more genuine reasons for their dislike. There is no doubt that Mineko worked hard and earned her number one status. Her schedule is almost unbelievable (she says she only slept a few hours a night). It is interesting the amount of celebrity she occasioned as the top geisha (geiko) in Kyoto. Crowds gathered round, autograph hunters were everywhere; she had commercial endorsements. To us, she had the life of a rock star. She retired at the height of her fame at age 29. Since that time, she has been successful in business (why does this not surprise me?), married and has one daughter.
"Geisha, A Life" is interesting and the author is very good at giving us small vignettes of her experiences with her peers. Her descriptions of her beautiful attire and the backbreaking work of making up, hairdressing, and donning the various garments to ready herself for public appearances are fascinating. I really wished I could have liked her more.