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Readers` Reviews

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
daniel moreto
As it seems w everyone else, I too came across this book after reading "Memoirs of a geisha". While the book was interesting w technicalities and structure of the "geiko" culture, Mineko did not capture me. I will never understand how readers connect more to a fictional character than a real person. I'm still waiting to receive mineko's other book, I'm hoping it will be better than this one. If you fell in love w chiyo completely, at least attempt to find this book at your local library. This is the type of book you'll want to read only once.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
jealinda
I found myself annoyed with Mineko about a quarter way through her book and my aggravation with her only increased as I continued to hear more and more from her. This book is an accurate account of what geisha life was like in the 60's for Mineko, but Mineko's resounding ignorance of geisha life in prior times made me feel sorely tempted to fling the book across the room on multiple occasions.

I'm far from an expert of geisha history or customs, however I think I have done enough reading on the subject to say that I personally found Mineko to be the most unpleasant figure I have come across. Her alternating ignorance and then conceited assertion of being "in the know" were often baffling. When she relates her decision to retire as geisha in the hopes of pressuring the Kabukai into changing their traditional ways, I was practically trembling with frustration at her behavior.

She spends a large part of her book whining about how a geiko are trapped and incapable of becoming financially independent (although money is apparently no barrier when she begins drawing up plans to have her okiya torn down and a five story building with a club, restaurant, beauty salon, and apartment put in its place). She blames everything on the Kabukai, who she found terribly behind in the times. In particular she complains about how they didn't provide any lessons to geiko but dancing and music, even when she admits that she was perfectly free to go and study other subjects on her own. Her naivety coupled with her ignorance of her own proffession's history would have been laughable if they were not so irritating.

If Mineko were at all familiar with the history of her own profession she would know that it used to be a requirement for all geisha to attend classes and learn another profession such as spinning, weaving, accounting, dancing, and singing. This was done due to the assertion that geisha were only geisha because they did not have other skills that they could use, and that they were trapped and incapable of becoming finanacially independent. However, the classes proved so very unpopular that as soon as the government adjusted the laws to make the classes optional rather than compulsory the geisha promptly quit all of them but dancing and singing.

She asserts that mizuage in the geisha world is purely a graduation from maiko to geiko and has nothing to do with sex, clearly unaware that it most certainly did involve sex until 1958 when the prostitution laws came into place. She would have been nine at that time and the change of geisha ceremony may have escaped her notice, particularly considering how much time she apparently liked spending inside of closets.

However, the thing that both amused and baffled me most was actually due to an interview I watched, in which Mineko claimed that Memoirs of a Geisha was actually a sensationalized version of her own life. The assertion is laughable. Sayuri is likable, Mineko is not. Mineko would probably have been wiser not to disillusion us all.

In conclusion, Mineko's account of her life as a geiko is worth perusing if you are seriously interested in geisha during the post-1958 period and if you only want one woman's account. However, any historical information she tries to provide should be taken with a large pinch of salt; her personal memories are good but history was clearly not a subject she studied following retirement. My conclusion after reading a wide variety of different books on geisha is that their history and experiences have as much variety as any other profession, there is no cookie cutter experience. That said, Liza Dalby or Lesley Downer's works would be a far better use of your time.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jessica simone
This book was a solid 4 star read for me. Whereas Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha was meant to entertain, Mineko Isawaki's Geisha, a Life was meant to inform.

Mineko Isawaki is most notable for being one of, if not THE most famous Geisha in Japan's history. This autobiography is told from her own view of the traditions and trails that she faced.

Mineko does a brilliant job of taking the reader through the grueling daily schedule she had from a young age as well as giving a lot of historical background to her life and the life of a Geiko (female artist). She dispels much of the rumors of geishas being little more than pleasure companions. I love the detail she gives on traditions of a geiko as well as the intricacies associated with each year and season and the symbolism and immense cost of each important occasion and dress of a geisha's career.

This book is drastically different from memoirs of a Geisha and makes you wonder how both of these stories are about the same thing. This is definitely not a re-read of Memoirs of a Geisha and stands on its own If you are interested in learning more about geisha, and as known in Kyoto as geiko, I highly recommend giving this book a read.
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★ ★ ★ ★ ★
salathiel
Great book. I bought "Geisha, A Life" book along with this book thinking they were different books. They are both the same book just a different cover and title. I have read Memoirs of a Geisha. Although both books are about the flower and willow world, they differ quite a bit as for the meaning of terms. The more I try to understand this world of Geisha, the more complex it becomes. This book are worth the buy but Memiors of a Geisha , although fictional, is still my favorite.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
nick chen
I got this book in a bookshop in Japan, having never heard of Mineko Iwasaki's story before, after having chased down Geishas in Tokyo and Kyoto, and having always being fascinated by their refinement.

The book is a Memoir, lets remember that. It is an honest memoir, though. Mineko Iwasaki tells us her story the way she lived it but without masking her self, her opinions or way of being, without artificially sweetening anything, not even herself. She does not pretend to be better than she is, and shows her strong character and temper; in fact, she does not hold her tongue when expressing her opinions on some famous Western people who visited her. One has to admire her for being so frank. However, what the reader will find more fascinating is the world she describes: the world of a high-end Geisha, of which she was part of from a very early age. Through her memoir, we learn what Geishas are, how they are educated and instructed, the values they stand for, the ways they act, the pass-over ceremonies and rituals, the difficulties and personal relationships, and the nitty-gritty of selling their services.

This Memoir was written as a Mineko's reaction to the publication of Memoirs of a Geisha. Mineko had been been the main informant, revealing some secret information under the promise of her name being never revealed. When the novel came out, her name was mentioned, and many facts related to the Geisha life were just distorted and changed. Mineko's reputation was damaged. She decided to write her memoir, and the real story, the way she had lived it.

Mineko tells us her story from her introduction into a Geisha house when she was still a kid and until her retirement. The world that Mineko describes is just amazing.

I found the book really fascinating and absorbing. The book is simply written, so it is not a literary delicacy, but it is an unforgettable memoir.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hraddha nayak
This book has been on my “to read” list since I read Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel a few years ago. I found Memoirs to be utterly fascinating, but couldn’t help but wonder how much artistic license Golden took in order to create a more compelling story. Iwasaki’s memoir proves that Golden’s account is pretty accurate. She provides an intriguing look into the world of the geisha as it’s been for centuries, with a nod to the fact that many of the old traditions--such as geishas leaving school after junior high to pursue their careers--may not survive in today’s world.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
tatemae
I read this book several years ago and was absolutely absorbed into it. I had already read Memoirs of a Geisha and was intrigued by the idea of reading the true story and not a hyped up novel with incorrect sensationalism. Mineko Iwasaki's life reads like a novel as you would never guess that a little girl could do what Mineko did. I had a hard time putting the book down between reading opportunities. Generates a whole new world of respect. Mineko is the same age as I am so I was looking to see the parallels and found that I would not have the strength or bravado that she had. I love where she took her life and the life she gave to all Japanese, to all women, to live their dream and the work entailed in succeeding.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
overl0rd
Having read and enjoyed Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, I was very excited to pick up the real life account of Mineko Iwasaki. All controversy aside, I enjoyed reading and learning the fine details and almost labyrinthine culture of what it meant to be a Maiko/Geiko in Japan post WWll. Unfortunately, Mineko herself was difficult to empathize with. She comes across as extremely arrogant (some may say rightfully so) but her book seemed incredibly self indulgent, repeatedly reminding the reader of what a perfectionist she was and how she was adored by everyone and consistently outshined everyone around her and dazzled her clients with her wit and brilliance. Some of the events she describes - having a friend "respectfully" scratch her foot on demand, purposefully trying to make the Queen of England jealous by flirting with her husband and having an affair with a married man and ultimately destroying a bunch of his wife's belongings in a hotel room just left a bad taste in my mouth and as much as I wanted to enjoy Geisha, A Life, it was a little off-putting.

The rich culture and history was enjoyable and I would still encourage people to give this book a try as it is a very candid look into the elusive life of a geisha and overall a good read for anyone interested in the glamorous and sometimes not-so- glamorous life of a geisha.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hazel letran
Enjoyable and interesting, this book is far better than the fictionalized MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, and puts to rest the false notion that geisha are high-class call girls. (They're not.) Anyone with an interest in Japan, Japanese culture, geisha, or the arts would appreciate this work. Ms. Iwasaki was privileged to live an extraordinary (if demanding) life, meeting the likes of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth among other dignitaries (whom she fails to honor, however) and she tells her story with good explanations throughout. One gets the feeling that she never quite understands how privileged she was; especially when, at the height of her popularity, she closes the okiya that was put into her care. Nevertheless, it's a detailed account of her experiences, especially the demanding nature of the profession, and on that account is a valuable contribution to "geisha-related" literature. My copy included pictures, some in color, which are very enlightening.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
alarra
I'm only 65% through this book right now, but I'm absolutely in love with it. It is a well-written, in-depth look at the life of one of the most popular geikos of her time, and how she got there. I can't put this book down.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kylee clifford
Excellent! At the age of five, Mineko Iwasaki was sent by her parent's to an okiya, a geisha house, as the house's atatori, that is, the intended successor. She studied dance, and became very well-known. This is a very interesting description of the life and training of geiko, as the Kyoto geisha are known.

At the age of twenty-nine, having inherited, she shut down the Iwasaki okiya. This was a rather disturbing action to me. The author describes her dissatisfaction with the way the "flower and willow world" was run, and her decision to close the house was intended to jolt the system. Of course, it did nothing of the kind. She does not say anything about what happened, following her action, to the people who were dependent on the house for their livelihood, and I found that omission disturbing.

Having also read Arthur Golden's extremely popular Memoirs of a Geisha, I was intrigued by the differences between the two descriptions. But I don't know whether the differences are attributable to the different eras about which the two were writing (Iwasaki was born in 1949, Golden's book covers the period from just before to just after WWII), or if Golden was exercising "artistic license".
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
josifin
Allright, so this book may not be presenting much historical facts on the generations of geisha, but focuses more on self-glorification and the glamour of her own successes.. with a touch of arrogance on the side, as well as a sense of pride... but cmon, admit it.. she displayed great work of being a geiko and surely earned her way to the top. For some of you to ask "WHO CARES" simply doesn't justify your interest in geisha life. Geisha life is a question of outer surface and glamour presented every single minute... not the inner-personalities inside.
Her arrogance is well justified to the point where her honesty on the cruelty of other geiko as well as hers are balanced. It's the way that geiko societies work; perhaps I could not have found a more "survival of the fittest" athmosphere than this.
Over all, this book is beautiful, the story, the plot.. the characters are not only interesting but quite surprising to the usual American mind who would stupidly mistake it for simple "Arrogant, Spoiled Brat"... that's foolishness.
Read this book with the intent of seeing it from a Geiko's perspective, not an average conscientious individual.
I most loved the situation with how she resents Prince Charle's autographing her folding fan... and how she resents the rude "i'm-not-eating-foreign-food" by the queen.. leading to a conversation witht he Duke of Edinburge and arouses jealousy between the two royal couples. Intense!
True.. it should not have ended so quickly, I'm sure there were many more details. but hey... it's satisfactory enough for a thorough read of 2 days.

and her principle was most inspiring.. "the samurai betrays NO weakness... even when starving.. Pride above all".... well!! doesnt the so-called "spoiled arrogant brat" admit it! Well done!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
allie
I am a big fan of Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" and Liza Dalby's work as a cultural anthropologist, especially with her book "Geisha". Thanks to "Memoirs of a Geisha", I have been completely fascinated with the concept of geishas. They are definitely misunderstood by western culture as well as the Japanese. Geishas are definitely not prostitutes. Unfortunately they have always been confused with prostitutes for hundreds of years. After reading Arthur's fictional tale of love and deceit and Liza's experience as a geisha, I was hoping to read a book from a professional Japanese geisha's point of view. With the bruhaha over "Memoirs of a Geisha", one of the most famous and celebrated geishas in the past century Mineko Iwasaki satisfied my insatiable appetite on the subject by writing her autobiography. I simply loved the book from start to finish. Unlike some reviewers, I had no qualms over the fact that the author talked about herself. I was expecting that she would. Since this is book is an autobiography, I expect the author to have talked about herself and her experiences as a geisha. As I read the book, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between Mineko and Sayuri (from "Memoirs of a Geisha"), and Yaeko (Mineko's oldest sister) and Hatsumomo (the deliciously wicked older 'sister' from "Memoirs of a Geisha"). It is pretty obvious to see the similiarities between Mineko and Sayuri's lives as geishas. The inclusion of pictures was a nice added touch. I wish there was more but they did allow me to see what the people in Mineko's life looked like. I found the book overall compelling and fascinating to read.... it was nice to read a book from a (former) professional geisha's point of view.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
rebeca
I like to read about Japanese and Chinese culture, so this book was appealing to me for that reason alone. Iwasaki provides an authoritative look at the business end of being a geisha--and reveals just how much the geisha culture drove a certain part of Japan's economy, providing jobs for many people involved in making the elaborate obi and kimono worn by geisha, for instructors in the fine arts practiced by geisha, owners of tea shops, dressers, and many others. I did feel when reading the book that the author wanted to portray herself in a relatively favorable light; this is no contemporary, Western-style, tell-all confessional. There is a feeling of distance between author and reader. Among the most interesting revelations were the chapters describing the author's adoption as a young child by the geisha family, and the lengthy separation process from her birth family. Iwasaki had several sisters, some of whom also were adopted into the geisha family, though only the author had great success. It seemed to me there were more stories to be told here, but that was not the author's purpose in writing the book. I enjoyed the book and recommend it for anyone who might be interested in reading on this topic.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sally malcolm
A fascinating up-close look at what it's really like to be an extremely successful Geisha.

Some readers have expressed disappointment that Mineko's story is one of hard work and professionalism rather than sex, but you have to understand that she was the top Geisha in 60's Japan, grossing $500,000 in her time. She was sold to the house by her own parents at the age of five, and groomed to be Atatori (next star Geisha) since she was three. These are the reasons for her seemingly distant (to some readers) personality, her incredible work ethic, and the jealousy and politics she suffered from other dancers.

As a performer myself, I found her story to ring true: 50% of it is practice, 48% is politics/networking, and 2% is actually the enjoyable part, performing. True to form, Mineko's description of her days sound accurate: she spends her mornings rehearsing & learning new dances, her afternoons thanking clients she previously danced for and greeting new clients the house hopes to dance for. Finally, in the evenings, she spends a few hours getting dressed in an elaborate costume and makeup, before being escorted to many ozashiki (parties or banquets), where she will dance or appear for a few minutes each, for a large fee.

I was very shocked at her decision to raze the House where she Geisha. I thought it was shameful, and perhaps, in a way she was not psychologically aware of, an act of revenge against being ripped from her parents and sold into the system, along with three of her sisters. Perhaps it was her way of demonstrating her power.

When she appeared in court at 15 to declare emancipation from her parents so she could work as Geisha, she told her father "I have died," tears streaming down her face. She was very close to him.

A really incredible book. You feel the author's mixed feelings; she both loves to dance, but misses her family, loves her Geisha family, but feels incredible financial responsibility to support both her biological family and the House from the time she is about five and realizes her parents need her to go away in order to survive financially.

Her frantic need to work only deepens as she becomes Atotori at fifteen and realizes she is the Atotori. The other girls are jealous of her and she just has to keep working and actually invents a system to help the lesser-employed girls get more work.

It's really a fascinating mind-trip of a book!

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
calafia
I've had this book since it came out, and I frequently re-read it (or parts of it). It's a very unique and priveleged insight into a hidden world.

I found Mineko Iwasaki and Rande Brown's words to be at least honest, despite what anyone thinks of Mineko as a person. Personally, nothing in her book bothered me except a line about when Queen Elizabeth II and Philip are attending an ozashiki and Mineko says something along the lines of "in my opinion, there is never an excuse for bad behavior." This is commendable, and I'm sure she meant it, but as the years went on she was the one who cut up her married boyfriend's wife's clothing and photographs. That always stuck out to me. Also, that she prided herself on being amicable to all people, but she didn't seem that understanding of other cultures... at least, in a way not to be offended (for example, when Prince Charles signs her fan and she goes on about how he defaced something precious. How would he have known?). She has much pride, which is good, but she still had flaws, even if she didn't explicitly point them all out. Although all the vignettes about her trying to live on her own were amusing (and a bit appalling)!

Also, her stance that geisha were not sexual: certainly true when she was one and presently, but originally sex was definitely involved. She is trying to save face for her former profession, which I can understand, but she shouldn't lie about it.

All in all a very interesting and informative read. Beautiful pictures. I would love to meet her! I recommend this book to anyone.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lance morcan
One of the reasons Mineko "came out" and decided to write this book was to set the misrepresentation of Geisha culture by Arthur Golden, whom she sued for the publishing of Memoirs of A Geisha (and settled out of court).

The biggest items in contest were the facts that the concept of the Mizuage as a fee for a deflowering ceremony of a girl only applies to the oiran and tayu (prostitutes), not Geishas (where the word stands for the amount of money made by appearances over a period of time) and the notion that Geishas don't provide sex, only company. These were two items that was misrepresented by Golden.

If by definition, an autobiography is to be a revealing self-portrait, then Geisha, A Life succeeds brilliantly. As readers, it is human nature, I think, to seek common ground and find people we can identify with when we pick up a book, especially a biography. However, if one can accept that the act of reading can also serve as an insight to individuals whom he or she will never cross paths with, then the absence of common ground no longer becomes an issue.

Like many others here, I found this book through the controversial source for Golden's Memoirs of A Geisha. I was hoping to read about the witty conversations Geishas are reknown for. Certainly, Iwakasi- who never lets up from constantly reminding us, until the very final page- portraying herself as the greatest legend in the Geisha culture in the last hundred years, would be positively emanating with wit in every page.

There was none.

Instead, we are treated to a 300-page reiteration of a narrator who continues to win in almost every situation. She is No.1, inspiring jealousy in her colleagues; she excels in her dance, she instills mass hysteria and adoration from her numerous fan clubs; she is highly in demand in the Gion kobu; people sneak photos and out-takes of her into posters, commercials, and annual events, she makes so much money that she owned over three hundred kimonos worth tens of thousands of dollars, she comes from an aristocratic family (and yet, curiously, she had to "chose" a hard life of work at the age of five, separating from her family which she points out, was the only time she was truly happy in life).

Even when she was at the point of retiring, not only does a good-looking younger man ask for her hand in marriage, but she keeps all her appointments, have an affair with a married superstar, and manages to make the Queen of England jealous enough to send the Duke of Edinburgh to the doghouse for paying too much attention to our heroine.

She openly admits she doesn't like people. She is impetulant and spoiled from a young age. There is a unfortunate dearth of any humane voice in her narration. At the same time, she overworks herself because she wants to be liked by everyone.

If all of this doesn't seem to add up, it's because the root of the story lies in one line, imparted to Mineko by her father at the beginning and the end of his life. "The samurai betrays no weakness even when starving. Pride above all."

Given this filter, you begin to realize that you have to read this autobiography as if it was selectively recounted with a heavily prejudiced pen, often in the writer's favor.

The only big dramatic moment occurs on Page 159, when our author pays a visit to her Onesan (the mentoring older sister to a maiko at the Okiya) who also turns out to be her real sister. She finds their mother hunched over like a maid, cleaning something. The older sister enters and screams "This is the [...] who sold us and killed Masayuki." Our author cries and runs out of the house.

So the reader first thinks "whatever happened to making her own decision at five years old to lead a superstar life of a Geisha? I guess I'll find out in the next chapter."

We never do.

It immediately jumps back to the busy schedule of our triumphant heroine. All we have to go by is the closing chapter line "I never went back. Some proprieties were just not worth it."

There is never a Geisha that equals Mineko in the narration. We are told there is a graceful beauty who was an exquisite dancer in the Gion district. Her name is Satoharu, but she is only alluded to in passing. Why? We get a glimpse of the reason on pg 232, as Mineko pleads with her Okiya mother Masako to dress down when they go meet Mineko's love interest. Here is a 21 year old superstar Geisha at the top of her game, with men falling all over her, and she is begging a 47 year old woman to go in everyday clothes because she couldn't bear being outdone?

A person who doesn't like competition can tell a story only one way.

One of the inherent problems of a non-fiction account of Japanese culture is that the subject is known to be extremely insulated as a community. Even if they beg to differ, or they are put off by a gross misrepresentation of the facts, we, as non-Japanese people, will never know. I think this sets the stage for a free-for-all, with the prize going to the person who choses to speak.

And that's how I made it through the last hundred pages. It became more of game for me as a reader, to see how the narrator could continue to cram yet another example of self-glorification into her story.

In this, she did not disappoint.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mikayla
Lets get this out o the way: Geisha, A Life, is an actual memoir, about the actual geisha that Arthur Golden loosely based his book Memoirs of a Geisha on. Golden's book was fiction. Sensationalized, Americanized, Fictionalized.
If you enjoyed it- and it was a well written book, and a beautifully directed film, so I certainly understand why you might- you've probably ended up here. If you were motivated by your interest in the movie, and want to learn about the realities of geisha, and are capable of separating fact from fiction without getting emotional about it, then you'll enjoy this book. If you're looking for Memoirs of Geisha part two, or the prologue, or are not capable of separating your fact from fiction and still enjoying them both, then you won't like this book. If you only moderately liked Memoirs of a Geisha, but have no real interest in learning more about the art, you probably won't like the book either.

There is a lot of back story and history to this book, and Mineko goes into great detail about the daily lives and education of Geiko, which may not be for everyone. She belongs to a particular group of Geisha, from the Kyoto district, known as Geiko, who have distinct cultural differences that include their own language (or rather, lingo) and are sometimes considered a higher caliber of the artistic profession. If you are not familiar with the water trade, you might want to pick up a few books that can familiarize you with the different manifestations of the arts over the centuries, from Tayu to Orion, to the modern concept of maiko and geisha. There is also an excellent online forum called Immortal Geisha that breaks down the differences and would make an excellent reference point for anyone reading this book, and having trouble keeping it all straight. It took me a long time to familiarize myself with it all, and the language differences can make it even harder, but the subject matter is truly fascinating stuff if you give it a go.

Mineko Iwasaki was a classically trained Geiko; a very established and well-known one, and her life story is nothing short of fascinating. Some people seem turned off by her personality, and I suspect that is because of the cultural differences that are lost in translation, because the most common complaint- that she has a huge ego- is the furthest thing from the truth. Mineko did some pretty amazing things in her time, lived a life dedicated to an incredible-but dying- niche art form, and writes about it . She talked to Arthur Golden about what had, until his book, been a relatively forgotten and mostly misunderstood art, on the condition that he not mention her name- in the hopes that it might help breathe some life back into the niche, and interest modern Japanese girls in becoming geisha themselves.
Golden repaid her kindness by mentioning her name in the book intro, which reverberated back onto Mineko when others in the industry learned she'd talked about the otherwise notoriously secretive niche.
Geisha, A Life, was written after Memoirs, and after the backlash of Golden's betrayal. Mineko wanted to set the record straight, and truly explain what her life entailed as a Geiko. She does it brilliantly, and with panache.

My fascination with the Japanese water trade started decades before Golden's memoirs, but Mineko's biography is one of the only that is actually written by a geisha who can be verified as one. The book details a life of hardship, extreme dedication, and at times, isolation- but it also sheds light on the beautiful flower and willow world, and on the last generation of a traditional Geisha who apprenticed as young girls and dedicated entire lives to the trade. Modern geisha often train for less than two to five years, and much of the old ways have evolved into a more modern system that at best, shadows the one Mineko describes.

I loved the book. If you enjoyed it, I would also recommend Sayo Masuda's Autobiography of a Geisha, which is another memoir, but about a hot springs geisha- an entirely different side to the trade, and vastly different world from the highly elegant and exclusive Kyoto district Geikos, of which Mineko belonged. Sandakan Brothel No. 8: An Episode in the History of Lower-Class Japanese Women is another excellent book about the Japanese water trade, which centers on the comfort women of colonial times.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
jammie
I found this a fascinating book, filled with glimses into the culture and customs of Japan. I knew little of Japan before I read it, but Mineko filled in many gaps and clarified many misconceptions.
She was the most successful geisha (actually "geiko") of her time--beautiful, graceful and determined. And yet, she grew tired of the life, and retired at the very early age of twenty-nine, ending the ancient Iwasaki line.
She begins her book with her early childhood and her reasons for becoming a geiko. She takes the reader through training and all it's rigours through to her enormous success. She alludes to her disillusionment with the geiko life, and to her attempts to reform the educational traditions, but does not specify any of these. I was disappointed in that, for, having watched her mature in this book, I would like to have known more about her reform attempts, to have seen her in that role.
Geisha, A Life is not the most well-written of books, which could be due to either author or translator. But then, that doesn't really matter. Let's face it. . . no one reads an autobiography for literary merit. Autobiographies are read in an attempt to KNOW the writer, and in that aspect, Mineko succeeded--I felt like I was ending a conversation with a good friend when I closed this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
crash
I loved Memoirs of a Geisha, both the movie and the book. So when I found out that the Geisha on whom the book was based on or rather inspired from has written an autobiography, I was thrilled. Apparently, Ms Mineko Iwasaki was very upset over the way Geisha's were portrayed by Arthur Golden and that he breached an understanding that her name was not to be mentioned anywhere, but he did, in the book as well as in interviews. She also got death threats from people who thought she had defaced Japanese culture. So she decided to write a book of her own.

Iwasaki's parents were distraught when she decided to become a Geisha when she was just 5 years old. How a girl so young could make such a decision and how could the parents agree to it is something beyond me, even though she has tried to explain it. She goes to stay in an Okiya (a geisha house) and she is initiated into the trainings and numerous classes when she turns six.

A woman who is training to become a Geisha has a very disciplined life. There is traditional dancing, singing, playing instruments and also studying. Would-be Geisha's are allowed to study until Junior High, in fact it's kind of a rule.

Iwasaki excels in dancing and she is introduced as a maiko when she is 15 years old. After a few years of working as a maiko she becomes a geiko at age 21, which are the same names for a Geisha, just different hierarchies. She soon becomes one of the top geisha's in Gion. In fact, today she almost has a legendary status.

What surprised me most was how systematic and well organized the world of a Geisha is. There is a list of all the girls that are going to come out as maiko's. There is a Kimono Dealers association. There is a very strict hierarchy which if broken can result in serious consequences. The earnings of all the geisha's are reported to the Geisha Committee (I think that's whats it is), so everyone knows who the highest earning geisha for a particular year is.

The Geisha world itself is so complicated or may be I felt that way because I had not heard a lot about it. There is a rule of what kind of and what design a Kimono can have depending on seasons. Same goes for hairstyles and ornaments. It was exhausting just reading about it.

It is very clear that Ms Iwasaki loved and respected what she did and she has tried to dispel all the myth's regarding geisha's. She often sounds a bit egoistic and someone that could do no wrong. But we also need to understand the world she lived in, a world when no one, including one's sister cannot be trusted. She lived by the motto: The Samurai betrays no weakness, even when starving. Pride above all. I can understand how easily pride can be mistaken for ego in the geisha world.

There are lots of minute details on a lot of things like the music school, the dance school, the different kinds of geisha's, the customs and traditions. There are also descriptions on Kimono designs, hair ornaments and the kind. For e.g take this:
My Kimono was made out of figured satin in variegated turquoise. The heavy hem of the train was dyed in shades of burnt orange, against which floated a drift of pine needles, maple leaves, cherry blossoms and chrysanthemum petals. My obi was made of black damask decorated with swallowtail butterflies. I wore a matching obi clasp of a swallowtail butterfly fashioned out of silver.

There are many passages like these which some people may find dry and boring. But I loved them, it helped me immerse myself in the book more. In fact 2 days after finishing this book I struggled with picking up another that was as engrossing as this one.

If I have to compare this book with Memoirs of a Geisha, I would say both are very different from each other. In Memoirs of a Geisha, we get a young, naive and endearing Sayuri, where as here we get a strong willed, dedicated Mineko. Arthur Golden seems to have picked the main storyline from one of the minor characters and mixed it with Iwasaki's story to make it more dramatic. If you are looking for a "Memoirs of a Geisha" kind of book, you will be disappointed. But both are brilliant in their own way, one as page turning fiction and one as a real look into the Japanese culture. The simple fact that Geisha, A Life is a true story gives it a different feel altogether.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
akmalkhon
Most people outside of Japan do not realize just how exclusive and secret the world of the Geishas is. Connections and wealth buy a seat in an Ochaya, and on the streets of Gion in Kyoto catching a glimpse of a Geiko (Geisha in the Kyoto dialect) is as rare as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Geiko move fast down the streets and alleyways, and a sighting is something to tell your friends about.
With "Geisha : A Life," Mineko Iwasaki lifts some of the veils of this fantasy world and shows that, underneath the make-up and fancy hairstyles, Geiko are just women, with the same thoughts and feelings and pride and emotion as everyone else. In some ways, this destroys the fantasy, being able to see "behind-the-scenes." The life of a Geiko is very difficult and somewhat...boring. Like a dedicated ballet dancer, the bulk of their life is training and practice, trying to achieve a near-impossible idea of body and movement.
"Geisha: A Life" is not compellingly written, nor as fascinating as the sexualized and fictional account "Memoirs of a Geisha." It is not as academically insightful and full of details as Liza Dalby's "Geisha." But it is honest and real. Mineko's account of her life is straightforward, without much decoration. After reading it, you will know what it is like to be a Geiko.
Woven into this account, perhaps unintentionally, is the loss of Japan's disappearing past. Mineko doesn't bat an eye when telling the story of how she leveled their 100-year old Geisha residence, in order to build a modern night club and hair salon because she thought it would make more money. She talks with hope of her artist husband someday becoming one of Japan's legendary Living Treasures, but doesn't see how she should belong in the same category. She feels loss for the fading world of the traditional Japanese arts, but keeps destroying them along with everyone else.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
james vickers
This is a beautiful story about a little girl who became one of the most famous geisha in Japan. Mineko, which is her adopted geisha name not her birth name, moved into the Iwasaki geisha house when she was only five years old. She started her artistic training when she was merely six. At a time when most five and six year olds in America are starting kindergarden, playing video games and sports, Mineko was already "working." Her passion and greatest devotion became the dance.

This biography came out in 2002 which may or may not have been around the time Memoirs of a Geisha published as well. Both novels are strikingly similar I noticed, especially when it dealt with World War II. But this novel, as opposed to Memoirs, is an actual biography.

The Japanese terminology is so fascinating to learn and explained very well. I learned that geisha in training were called maiko, or "women of dance," and geisha or geiko actually means "women of art." For a period of twenty five years (from age five until twenty-nine), Mineko practiced all the traditional and ancient customs including dance forms, music, and tea ceremonies (ochaya). Maiko is simply amazing. Despite learning traditional customs she is also an incredibly skilled business woman. She worked 7 days a week, 365 days a year, from the time she was fifteen until she was twenty-one. In the Iwasaki okiya she was the hardest working and most devoted geisha.

Her experience with love was also very humorous. Because she worked so intently she viewed most men as business transactions and nothing more. One man, by the name of Toshio, eventually changed her views. After visiting her multiple times he finally expressed his love for her, which she just scolded him as a young child (despite him being twice as old) and he was also married! Toshio explained they were both in a loveless marriage, but Maiko didn't want to hear of it; she refused him completely. Finally she told him, after his countless advances, if he came to the Gion Kobu every day for three years then maybe she would consider it. She pretty much figured that was that.

He came every single day for three years. But despite this their romance became rocky and unstable. He never left his wife. She later met a young painter, Jin, that won her over.

When Mineko decided to retire at the "old age" of twenty-nine, she was sent thousands of letters from her adoring fans. She met kings and queens, royalty, presidents, diplomats, politicians, and celebrities from everywhere in the world. Her assets were in the millions. She opened up her own club, then later sold it. She decided to get her art license and became an art dealer.

The beauty of this novel is how truthful and painful it was for her to grow up. I didn't really feel that she ever had a childhood, she always worked and trained every day. Her training did pay off because she was so incredibly popular, but there was still a hint of sadness in my opinion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
melanie
Mineko Iwasaki tells the story of her life as one of the most renowned geisha in recent history. She was inspired to tell her story because she found offensive the common misconceptions about geisha that many people hold. She felt the only way to clear up the false ideas and impressions was to open the doors on the world of geisha and shine a light on her story, through her experience and her thoughts.
Her story begins with her requesting to leave home at an early age to begin training with a Geisha at the age of five. The training is at best difficult and demanding both mentally and physically, but the emotional toll seems extremely severe. She perseveres through it all and her success is unprecedented. Her reflections on the demanding style of life lead her to a decision to retire at the age of 29 and to begin what she perceives to be a normal life.
The cultural differences are immense and at times difficult to comprehend. Mineko Iwasaki is not a sympathetic character and yet her story is a compelling memoir of an open and honest nature.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
mark castrique
It's unfair to compare this book to "Memoirs of a Geisha." Yes, Mineko Iwasaki was interviewed by Arthur Golden when he was working on his best-selling book, but "Memoirs of a Geisha" is a work of fiction. It's a fantastic book in its own right, but many of its depictions of life as a geisha are said to be very inaccurate. That's one of the reasons Iwasaki decided to write "Geisha: A Life." She wanted to set the record straight.

"Geisha: A Life" is the true story of Iwasaki's illustrious career as Japan's number one geiko. At the age of five, Iwasaki began training at an okiya in the Gion district of Kyoto. She was later adopted by the okiya's owner and named as its eventual successor. Iwasaki worked tirelessly to perfect her craft and went through a lot of difficult times. She eventually grew frustrated by the limitations of her career and retired at the age of 29 so that she could raise a family and follow her own dreams.

This book is full of many details regarding the everyday life of geishas. I can see why some fans of "Memoirs of a Geisha" are disappointed because this book is a lot more straightforward and technical than Gordon's novel. However, Iwasaki's story does not lack emotion or passion. Iwasaki is open and honest about many unpleasant experiences in her life: being separated from her parents, surviving an attempted rape by her nephew, etc. I guess those things don't even begin to compare to what the character of Sayuri endures in "Memoirs of a Geisha," but once again, Sayuri is a FICTIONAL CHARACTER! I don't understand how people can compare her and Iwasaki. Sayuri isn't real! End of story.

I've always been fascinated by the geisha tradition, and I loved this book because it sheds so much more insight into this mysterious and often misrepresented way of life. Iwasaki's story is amazing, and I'm glad she chose to share it with the world.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elsa
This autobiography gives us not only an insight into the education, the working conditions and the social status of a geisha, but also into the Japanese society as a whole.
To give a few examples: selling children for sex slavery became forbidden only in the year 1959, or, the existing extreme differences of wealth (some people could pay nearly every day extremely expensive geisha parties, while poor people were forces to abandon their children).
Besides more personal intimate confidences, the author sketches a good picture of the hardship (sometimes only one hour of sleep per night) of the education and the working conditions, the extreme jealousy and fierce competition inside the geisha guild, the sexual morals (allowance of extramarital relationships) and the colossal sums involved in the geisha business.
Not to be missed by the Japan aficionados.
I should also recommend the works of Ian Buruma, Lisa Louis and Nicholas Bornoff for a broader perspective on the Japanese entertainment culture.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gary
Mineko Iwasaki is one of the most famous modern geisha. She has met with famous people from Prince Charles to world famous film director Elia Kazan. Her life was neither simple nor without mistakes and this book tells it all. From her days as a little child to her retirement. When she was young she lived in a rather large family that had already sent away a few of their daughters to train to become geisha (or geiko). But when the leader of a geisha house sees Mineko she knows that Mineko was made to be a geisha. Over the next few years of her life she trains in dance and other arts of the geisha. Mineko seems to be taking a big risk in writing this book. Not only was the book Memoirs of a Geisha, loosely based on her life, she is so far the only geisha to ever publish her biography. You can tell from reading her book that not only is she a brave and a hard worker but she is also very proud, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. I'd recommend this book to people who want to know about what life is like as a Geisha. It clears up many of the mistakes that Arthur Golden has made in his writing about geisha.
If you're looking for an honest biography about geisha life, this book is for you.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
micaela
I read this book out of sheer curiosity about the life of a geisha and finished it by picking up tidbits of the rich culture of the Japanese.

This is the first book on this topic that I have ever read so I can't compare it to anything else but I will say that I learned a lot and it sparked an interest to read more about this in the future.

I was blown away by the incredible memory of Mineko. She remembered the smallest of details of life with her parents (whom she resided with only until the age of 5) and she was able to retain so much information in her early childhood during her training. That determination fostered a workaholic approach to her career when she became a maiko, where she set out to become Number One.

One thing that stood out for me was when Mineko pointed out that no two kimonos are alike and that the patterns on them indicates what stage a woman is in in her career.

I also learned about the turning of the collar and the differences between a red and white collar (red symbolizing a child, white an adult). At the age of 21, a woman becomes a full-fledged geiko.

There was an antagonist in the book, Yaeko. Someone needed to teach this woman (and, apparently, her sister) something called manners. This woman dumped all over Mineko, making life miserable for her during her training and deliberately embarassing her in front of customers. (Nice to see her get it in the end proving that "what goes around comes around.")

Towards the end of the book, Mineko details how much the performers give to the profession but how the profession does not give back to the people who breathe life into it (not her words). She also sadly points out that the world of the geisha is dying out.

And despite her gripes with "the system" that she tried for so long to change and couldn't, she is truly sad about its bleak future.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
dariel
Having tread the common fiction Memoirs of a Geisha to Liza Dalby's quasi-ethnography Geisha, I had hoped to find a happy medium in this book: something that provides an accurate and deep exploration of contemporary geisha (for that time period) through the eyes of one artist with a bit of narrative. Geisha, a Life delivers this, but the author is very obviously reconstructing and justifying her past choices. Whereas an excellent memoir reflects on and admits poor decisions in addition to celebrating triumphs, this reads as a rather cleaned up and ego-boosting narrative. While no doubt she worked very, very hard to stay at the top of her profession and become a truly accomplished artist, her lack of comfort with the follies of the past reduce her to two dimensions. It's still interesting and informative, but the Iwasaki does herself no favors in trying to self-aggrandize; it's utterly transparent and a bit off-putting.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
omaima
When she was only five years old, Mineko Iwasaki decided to be a geisha. She began training in the arts of dance and etiquette since then. In this book she tells her life story. She described her upbrining life at the Iwasaki okiya. I enjoy reading this book because there is no geishas in the history of Japan has the courage to come forward in public to tell her story! However I feel angry with her parents because they allowed her to be a geisha when she was only five years old. She was too young to make such decision on her own. In order to be adopted by Iwasaki okiya, she went to the court at the age of 10 and 12 to declare that she was no longer the daughter of Tanaka, her own parents. She also terminated her junior high education just because she needed to concentrate on her professional career. I feel terribly sorry for her when I read those incidents in her life. I agreed with her sister, Yaeko that her parents somewhat sold her to Iwasaki okiya for money. This book not only unveils Mineko's life but also help explain what it is really like to be a geisha. It is a wonderful book about the geisha culture.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
gerard
This book makes a wonderful counterpoint to Memoirs of a Geisha. Although the author was the main source for that book here she tells her own story which, rather than being a girl from a poor area, sold to a geisha house and forced to prove she was worth the money spent, she is a girl that the house begged for, requesting for years that her family let her come and become the heir to the house and the adopted daughter of the owner. This is not the story of a geisha that was having businesmen bid for her virginity but one who's house was so wealthy that having sex play a part in the business made no sense. In a quote from the book she estimates that in the 1960's just from attending parties as a chaming guest she was bringing in over $500,000 per year to her house and states "Why would geisha resort to sex for money when you had that type of earing power?" You get the idea that in certain parts of the book she is correcting some of the artistic liscence taking in "Memoirs" but rather than being a distraction it just makes for more interesting reading. The childhood training, her drive to be perfect, her disputes with the traditions and the surprising descisions she makes at the end bring to life that small secluded part of the world that is fast dissappearing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
lydia kopsa
I first got interested in geisha reading Arthur Golden's MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, then decided to go hunting for more information on geisha to see how accurate his account was. I started with Liza Dalby's GEISHA, and then came to read this.

Mineko delivers an absorbing account of her life and training as a very top geisha in Gion, the most exclusive of Kyoto's geisha districts. For those who are comparing her tale to Golden's, keep in mind that Golden is writing fiction, in fact, almost fairy-tale-esque fiction (complete with wicked stepsister, wicked stepmother, fairy god-mother, handsome prince, etc.) Mineko's tale is true, and archly told; Mineko herself comes across as a very strong, in some places almost domineering personality, as one would expect given her position in the family she was adopted into and her family's high-status position in Gion. The strength of her personality makes reading this book a wonderful pleasure.

However, Mineko's position within the geisha hierarchy was very atypical. She was at the very top of the heap, with all sorts of perks and privileges due to her station that many other geisha did not have (atotori so everyone respects her from day one; she gets personal access to the Big Mistress, tremendous financial and professional support in launching her career from her very-high-status okiya etc.), and it's not clear in the book that she understood this at the time, or indeed understands this now. For example, when talking about sexual matters (such as mizuage and whether a geisha's patron was entitled to sexual favors--Dalby and Golden say yes, Mineko says no), Mineko talks about her earnings, which were at the time she was working somewhere on the order of hundreds of thousands of yen a night in goshugi alone, and says something to the effect of "This is another reason why the idea of geisha selling sexual favors is so ridiculous. Given that geisha earn so much just by performing, why would they?" Well....most geisha, especially those who didn't have access to Mineko's advantages, probably *didn't* earn that much. Not that they necessarily sold sexual favors, you understand, it's just that Mineko doesn't seem to realize that her earning status was quite extraordinary and that there were probably a *great* many geisha who were a lot less fortunate.

(It may be worth pointing out here that Liza Dalby worked in Pontocho, a slightly-lower-status geisha district of Kyoto than Gion, where Mineko was located. Of course, Dalby also suggests that a great amount of the "sex" aspect of the concept of geisha may have come from the conflation of many different types of geisha and female entertainers.)

All in all, this is an entertaining book, well-written and highly readable, by turns sad and funny, as well as a great look inside the world of very-high-status geisha. In a way, this book is a tragedy as well, as by the end of it Mineko gives up her career and closes the okiya that had been entrusted to her by her adoptive family (an act that would have made Mineko look a lot less sympathetic if we hadn't seen just how hard she had been pushed as a child, even though her family cared for her.) Those reading it for information, however, should keep in mind that Mineko's account of geisha life is, while wonderfully detailed, also quite narrow in scope and that it may not be representative of all or even most geisha. For a look at a very different kind of geisha experience, I suggest AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A GEISHA, by Sayo Masuda, who was a hot-springs geisha around 1940 or so.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
shery
My brother purchased this for me after I had started reading The Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden. I decided to read it directly after I finished the fictional novel to compare how realistic Golden's work was. It is safe to say that although Memoirs of a Geisha is quite well-known, it is far from the world Mineko describes. It is true that she lived a life with certain privileges because she was a successful geisha, but at the same time, she is sincere and straightforward in her account. I found that I enjoyed learning about the culture behind the closed society of geisha, and the clarifications she gives to correct the rumors and falsehoods that spread about. Overall, I was enraptured by the small window she gave to me, and continued reading because I was curious about her story.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
carol sheets
As the previous reviewer has pointed out, this is merely an account by one geisha. It is Mineko's version of her own life as a geisha and should not be seen as a representative account of geisha in general.

I find it troubling that in discussion of a foreign culture, there is a tendency to generalize. The geisha community is quite an exclusive group and holds on to its own customs and stringent etiquettes. Nevertheless, it is not a homogenous community in that the personality, background, aptitude, and fortune of geishas differ greatly. Mineko was fortunate to have the support and care of so many people. I am sure there have also been geishas like Arthur Golden's Sayuri; perhaps there are others who are more unfortunate and has to resort to selling their body for money.

Mineko's account of her life is engaging and thoroughly enjoyable, even though it often comes across as self-aggrandizing. Unlike "Memoirs of a Geisha," which I find stiff and uninspiring, this book has a good flow to it and keeps you going.

I would really like to read a book about geisha written not by geishas, but by someone who has close contanct with them, such as their hairdresser, maid, or their patrons. Such a book would help bring a new perspective into this now anachronistic group that still fascinates many.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
carey
Geisha have always been fascinating, mostly I believe, because they are so mysterious to us Westerners. Prepare to be demystified. Golden's 'Memoirs' was like another reviewer wrote, an excellent book, but still a fairytale - a bittersweet Japanese Cinderella. This book, by contrast, was written by an actual Geisha living her own real life rags to riches story. Though we might envy her glamorous lifestyle and beautiful clothes, we sympathize with her heartbreak, rejoice in her victories, and otherwise come to care about Mineko. She is simultaneously innocent and worldly, childlike and alluring. She was the top Geiko of her era and extremely privileged. While not as dramatic as Memoirs, I enjoyed this book much more - mainly because I felt it was more accuracy and less artistic license.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
melanie davis
As many people seem to have done, I found this book after reading Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (which I loved, by the way.) I was hoping for an interesting, true look inside the world of the Kyoto geishas and got exactly that. Iwasaki provides a great deal of insight onto certain traditions as well as personal commentary and thoughts about the way the society works. She also includes many entertaining anecdotes, made all the better by virtue of being true. This is really a fabulous book, and one of the best autobiographies I've had the pleasure of reading in a long time.

I noticed someone else mentioned some surprisingly blatant editing errors, and I saw them too. They seem to be mistakes made in translation that were overlooked in the editing process. I wouldn't let them stop me from reading though.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
candcaine
I've been interested in finding something that could give insight to geisha life. I had heard from some sources that Memoirs of a Geisha was not too accurate in its portrayal of geisha life. Thus the idea of reading something similar, but hopefully more accurate, compelled me to skim through Geisha, a Life. Ultimately I went back and bought it.
To an unattentive reader, the author may come off as pretentious and self-glorifying. However, if you consider that, for all intents and purposes, she was practically an "Olympian" in her field, her comments do have merit. And what is wrong with saying the truth if it is the truth? If Olympic gold winner track star Michael Johnson says in a book, "I have talent" who is to disagree? Why is it any different with Iwasaki? Because she has no gold medal to show for her acomplishments? Consider that, unless you lived in Japan at the time, you probably do not fully grasp her star status, as I am sure I do not either.
Finally, she raises several examples from her life that show she is not some arrogant woman, who regards herself with godly esteem. In fact, some of these examples come on the very next page of "self-glory", where she clearly shows her past mistakes and naivete.
I recommend that the reader treat this book more as a personal diary, rather than some sort of historical document. It can be a very delightful and fun book. Personally, it helped clear up some misgivings I had towards geisha, due to Western misunderstanding and obfuscation. Ironically, I kept on wanting to skip all the historical data of geisha life that I had been searching for and jump back into her life stories.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
joan54
I picked up this book after rereading "Memoirs of a Geisha" and wondering how realistic it was. This book, "Geisha, A Life" is written by Mineko Iwasaki, a world-renowned Japanese Geisha during the 60's and 70's. Born into a privileged family, she chooses to train in Kyoto's Gion Kobu district. Favored from the beginning, she was groomed to be the heir of her Geisha house. She worked obsessively to perfect her dancing skills and maintain her status as the foremost Geisha of Kyoto.

The book is written with a certain detachment that prevents the reader from becoming fully engaged in Mineko's story. Perhaps because of Japanese culture and the taboo about Geisha revealing their secrets, the book comes off as dry and less than genuine.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
siyavash
I read this because I had been doing research on geisha and truly enjoyed it. I expected it to be more like Memoirs of a Geisha at first, but this is written in a much more Japanese style, almost in the way a geisha would talk. There are streamlined anecdotes that are connected fluidly, though as a whole, it is meant more as a passage in her history and not focused on anything directly like a novel would be. The book is neither better nor worse than Memoirs, because they are two different categories.
Iwasaki tries to prove how Arthur Golden had distorted the life of a geisha, but her arguments are never listed. One would imagine she objects mostly to how there is a mizuage, right to take the apprentice's virginty, auctioned off, but Golden's novel took place in an era where this was more acceptable. Iwasaki also tries to explain throughout the novel how she became fed up with the archaic and doomed system of the geisha world, though she does a poor job at explaining its flaws.
The book is fascinating as a whole, but she doesn't fully explain her two main points of inspiration on writing this book: what's wrong with Golden's Memoirs and what needs to be done with the geisha system.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
zoey
I loved her story and felt inclined to put my thoughts out here because of those who gave the book negative reviews.

These are HER accounts of HER life; yet there are many people here who rate negatively because she did not give them the typical story of a geiko. Yes, her story is atypical because she was brought into the Iwasaki household with the intentions of being heir to their line but that doesn't make her life any less real than the other autobiographies/biographies/studies available. Most geiko aren't given that privilege so her upbringing was obvious different than the majority out there.

Ironically enough, the majority of our country idolizes the lives of the rich and famous while caring little about the lives of your everyday man or woman.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anneliese
I have an interest in Japanese related things and I had already read Memoirs of a Geisha before this one. I found this to be a great read and entertaining. I'm not very picky about my reading so I had no trouble with the order or structure of the book. It was fine to me. It seemed like a regular autobiography with very helpful information into the life of Geisha...or a Geiko. The most surprising difference I found between this and the other geisha book I mentioned (yes, I realize the Memoirs is fiction) is the deifnition of the "mizuage." In Memoirs it is about paying for sex, but in this biography, there is no sex whatsoever. I trust the biography. Both books were very entertaining.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kjerstin
I read this book after reading Memoirs of a Geisha and found this one to be much more interesting and satisfying. But that's because I find real stories of real people more interesting than fiction. And I can see why Iwasaki is angry at Golden if indeed his premise that geisha auction off their virginity isn't true as she claims. Golden's work is a good read but for a fascinating look at a real life, read Geisha: A Life. I left off one star because I feel that Iwasaki could have given us even more detail and anecdotes. However I highly recommend this book.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
manisha
Geisha, A Life was just an ok book. I received it as a gift and read it because I felt obligated to. Otherwise I probably would have stopped. Not because it was a bad book, but it just wasn't good.

I didn't feel attached to Mineko at all. I guess her mission could have been to just inform about geiko life, but I don't really that informed in the end anyway. The way Mineko described herself seemed very self-centered and made me seem like she was someone I wouldn't really want to be friends with let alone know. She has a wonderful memory from her years before she was 5 years old, which makes me question the validity of those "memories". She seems pretty antisocial and disagreeable in general.

There was a lot of Japanese terminology that was defined once but difficult to remember throughout the book, which got a little old. Also, Mineko spent pages on details that were not necessarily that interesting. Endless descriptions of kimono and somewhat small pointless ideas wore on me and made me want to skip through them. Those things may have been extremely important to geisha, but I was more interested in her life choices. She spent literally half a page talking about closing the okiaya - a century+ old family institution. They adopted her into this family to continue the line and she closed the issue in less than a page. Very surprising...

Anyway, just not that interesting of a book. I know Memoirs of a Geisha is exaggerated fiction, but a least it was interesting. I would read something other than Geisha, A Life.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
celina
I'm half Japanese and grew up in Japan. In order to appreciate this book, you must have an understanding of the Japanese culture. It's not fair to compare this book to "Memoirs of a Geisha" which is completely fiction and written by an American. In the Japanese culture, a Geisha's life has always remained under a cloud of mystery and secrecy. For a Geisha to reveal any part of her life is strictly forbidden and considered taboo. Many Japanese still do not know much about a Geisha's life even though the tradtion has been around for centuries. What we know is based on assumptions or what our grandmothers have whispered to us. When Mineko Iwasaki wrote this, it became controversal in Japan and had many Kyoto Geisha houses angry with her. When the Japanese media contacted Geisha houses for interviews or comments, they were met with a wall of silence.

If you decide to read this book, look at it like you're peeking into another country's culture. Remember the Geisha has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, since the samurai days. For a tradtion to survive this long must say something about how tradtions are kept for other generations to see and not just read about in a history book.

I don't want to give out much about the book, but if you want a better understanding of a tradtion that has been kept alive for centuries and if you want a glimpse into the Japanese culture, give this book a read. The book flows and the author has a way of writing that draws the reader into her life.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
tye moody
We're fascinated by geisha in the West. We often have a lot of wrong ideas about it, and all too frequently find the reality just plain weird. I've read autobiographies of other geisha (Kiharu), the experiences of an anthropologist (Liza Dalby), and been to Japan, so while I'm by no means an expert, I can't gobble up steaming BS with a soup spoon as Ms Iwasaki clearly expects you to.
She is far too into herself - she's amazingly talented, beautiful, and too perfect to have simple bodily functions. COME ON! She is rude and obnoxious, and expects us all to weep with her when her adulterous boyfriend doesn't leave his wife for her. Hey, moron: if he doesn't take the feelings of the mother of his child into account, how could you ever expect him to care about yours?
Lastly, I am sick of the way everyone has to divorce himself from reality for this diva: if she was born November 2 1949 and retires July 25 1980, how does that make her 29 years old?!
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
jacob earl
Like many of the readers, I read Memoirs of A Geisha before reading this book. I was expecting a book that was a bit of a rebuttal to Arthur Golden's novel. Instead, I got a very nicely written autobiography.

What a lot of people fail to realize is that this is less about the life of Ms. Iwasaki and more about the life of "The Geisha" role that she played. She never really talks much about herself- and that is a point of difference between the Japanese and Westerners. When we think of an expose, we think of something that is completely revealing and juicy, with a lot of sad stories. For the most part, other than the Geisha aspect of her life, Mineko's life was pretty uneventful.

IN NO WAY IS THIS BOOK TO BE COMPARED TO MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA! One is the FICTIONAL view of a Westerner, who romanticises the culture to the point of OVERKILL. However, you have a more frank portrait of a Geisha here, and it sucks to find out that the life of a Geisha is not extremely eventful in a way that we would find it to be. Other than preparing for ceremonies and going out with clients, the Geisha don't do very much.

My only problem with this novel is that she doesn't talk more about herself, but again, this is more about "Geisha Mineko" and less about "Average Mineko." Readers and Reviewers should NOT get it twisted.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
juliel
I loved the book! I devoured it in half an afternoon (that good!). I think this is the only book I've ever read by a real geisha.
This book seems to me, an honest depiction of what Mineko Iwasaki's life was like. Not what all geishas' lives were like, but hers. She was in a special situation, as she was the heir to the geisha house. It gave me insight as to how a person in her situation with her background might think...and how different it is and is not from me and mine.
It's not a sensational story of sex and scandals. I liked it the more because it wasn't. It was about a little girl who had to pet the dog, get a flower and trade it for a treat for her Auntie every day after class. It was about a girl who wanted people to like her, not envy her. It was about a woman who found her destiny in true love. (I learned a lot of new vocabulary in this book, too, but I see it as more of a biography than a "book about geisha.")
I wish there were more pictures. The pictures in the book were all plain photos in two 8 page sections; real photos. Most of them were not glossy, primped, perfectly posed pictures, but regular pictures by regular people. I do wish the pictures had better captions, but it may be some names are omitted for privacy?
Why a 4 and not a 5? It ended too soon! It was too good, and I had waited for it for weeks, and then it was all read in an afternoon. I will read it again.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
joe lopez
Yes I am yet another who first read Memoirs of a Geisha, heard Mineko helped Golden with the novel and thus wanted to read her biography. I wish I hadn't though for the most part.

Why? It's choppy for one and just dry. The beginning was interesting, but also a little funny. I guess this is the most accurate book on Geisha, but I could not believe that at- what?- age 4 Mineko already was wanted as the one who manages the okiya. I mean how could they even tell Mineko was going to be famous when she grew up? They didn't even know her and right away it was decided she would be heir? It's no wonder she's got a high opinion of herself, I think anyone would have been if already assumed such an honored position at her age.

And that was another problem. Mineko is not exactly likeable. In some parts of the books she acts so spoiled and foul- tempered. I cannot really blame her though since from a young age she was totally allowed to be spoiled. And even though she speaks of working so terribly hard to be "number one" the truth is she didn't live quite a hard life as others had to. She always was spoken highly of, always thought of with such great optimism, etc. by everyone. She just had it a lot easier than other Geisha had to and so I was tired of her complaining how hard she had it. She wonders why so many were jealous of her when it's pretty obvious why.

Yet I am glad to hear she got her fame for the most part because of her working hard, and that she wanted to prove to everyone she could work hard and deserve the praise given to her. And there were parts in the novel that were interesting, but for the most part Minkeo does unfortunately comes off as uninteresting and not entirely too pleasant to be around. I am glad she did clear up a few details that supposedly Golden was wrong about in Memoirs of a Geisha, but overall Memoirs and Sayuri herself in the story are much more entertaining to read about than Mineko and her life. But hey that's fiction- it's meant to be geared towards entertaining.

I wouldn't recommend this though. It's not really worth the time unless you really just want to know the woman behind the popular novel of Memoirs of a Geisha. 3/5
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
cuyler mortimore
I had little or no idea of the life of a geisha other than the common rumor that they are sex slaves at times so this book was very informative. I was very impressed by the hard work, adherance to tradition and respect the author has for time bound traditions of her great country. I did however feel, like many reviewers that she was narrating it purely from her own viewpoint with little regard for others including her own elder sister. Her memories of childhood from age 3 seem completely unrealistic - she was obviously older during the time those things happened or she just invented them. Her sister was sold at a very young age by her parents and she has little regard for the anger her sister might have felt, even goes to the extent of accusing her of deserving Alzheimers. Her parents sell 4 children into geisha hood and yet she has 'great regard' for who they were and what they did. She has a huge affair with a married man before she is married herself and yet does not show any concern for his wife.
I don't know much about the geisha system, but I do believe there is something to the fact that it involves bestowing sexual favors on customers. She unwittingly admits customers have to be pleased at all cost and it is totally unrealistic to believe customers from all over the world starting from american movie producers to chinese businessmen seek out geishas to appreciate their art. In other words she does not mention what is on the other side of the art outside of hard work and genuine 'customers'. But a good introduction, regardless.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
brent goheen
This book is an easy read, and the subject matter - a geisha's life in her own words - is not only extremely fascinating but is also unavailable anywhere else; Mineko Iwasaki is the first geisha to tell her own story.
However, despite the enrapturing subject matter, this book is deeply flawed. To begin with, Iwasaki's writing is simplistic and not closely copy-edited - there are minor grammatical errors starting in the second chapter.
In addition to these annoying errors, the author's attitude is blatantly self-serving, self-righteous, and (in my opinion) the factual details of the story are highly unlikely.
For instance, Iwasaki details crystal clear memories begining before age three and credits her infant self with complex thought patterns that would be unusual in an adolescent, much less a toddler. At every possible opportunity, the author ascribes emotions to others without supporting evidence in order to make herself appear better and to blacken others, including her own sisters.
While I do not expect much more from autobiography, the sledgehammer bluntness of this self-serving process is offensive as it unfolds. Many of the conclusions she draws insult the intelligence of the reader with their obviousness and it just goes on and on and on.
My advice would be to read this book only if you are a big fan of Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" (Golden based his book loosely on Iwasaki's life and picking up on the similar points and the changes he made is enlighting for fans of the novel) or you just can't read enough about Japanese culture. But wait for it to come out in paperback - it's not worth the cash and not engrossing enough to reread. And take the "facts" of the story with a grain of salt.
If you haven't read "Memoirs of a Geisha," do so instead of reading this book, then decide. And if you are looking for something a bit more realistic and gritty, I would reccomend "Sandakan Brothel No. 8," by Yamazaki Tomako. It's an excellent memoir of one of the karayuki-san - poor rural Japanese women sold into overseas prostitution between the 1860s and the 1930s.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
zahraa
After having read Memoirs of a Geisha, it was wonderful to find another story of a geisha. While not everything in Mr. Golden's book was accurate, I still enjoyed it as a good story. If you are to read both Golden's book and Ms. Iwasaki's book, you cannot compare the two. Golden's book is a novel and reads as a romance story. Iwasaki's book is her life story and cannot be read as a piece of fiction. Many people compare them and are more taken in with Golden's style of writing, which is very poetic and again, romantic, but Iwasaki's is straight forward and does not try to cater to anyone's ideal.

The two stories are very similar because Golden used Iwasaki's story and transformed it enough to be his own, though it was not his story to tell, so even though they have many things in common, they still should not be compared on that basis. Golden's tale is a work of fiction while Iwasaki's tale is all her own. I would highly recommend this book, although it may appeal more to people who like historical books, as it is an autobiography. As in all I found that Iwasaki's tale was fascinating and engaging. While some may believe parts of it are too much to be true, I point out that we cannot begin to claim to understand all the inner workings of the Flower and Willow world. Iwasaki Mineko is a true, former geiko (Kyoto geisha), and she lived a very amazing, hard life. I believe that she has a right to be heard and let her story be known.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
christina
Ms Iwasaki reminds me of a spoiled rich kid who if anyone don't like them is mean. While she may of been a good dancer I'm surprised how popular she was given her arrogant attitude along with how she KNOWINGLY sleeps with a married man then get mad at his wife by destroying her property, being rude to him and his family because he won't divorce his wife and abandoned his child and married her.

Also given how she was raise as spoiled princess she won't realized how lucky she was that unlike her most those who were treat cruelly. Good example I recommend Autobiography of a Geshia by Sayo Masuda translated by G.G. Rowley .
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
unascertained
Were do I start... I've been fasinated by the Japanese culture for many years and when I saw this book in Hastings I immeditatly begged my mother to buy it for me. Of course it being a few months until Christmas she bought it for me and then hide it. But then Christmas morning I opened up my fourth box and was reintoduced into the wonderful erotic world of the Geisha.
This book is truly a treasure for anyone who has a thrist for true culture. It reaches a depth that most novels barly scrape and tells of the REAL expiriances of the Geisha. Not some other world where they are nothing but concubines! You see the world of one of the greatest Geisha's who ever performed. Through the drama of leaving her parents, training as an apprentice, and falling in love you tag right along feeling every pulse of her life.
However Minko-san's life is not just strutting around in a kimono and lighting men's cigatetes... she also has a mind, a sense of humor, and a sense of intergrity. There is this one scene in the book were a man comes up to her and grabs her chest... she in turn glares at him, walks gracfully over to a shrine, picks up a brick, and chaces him around the house until she finnely gets him!
This book is marvolus! Anyone can enjoy it. If not for the culture and expiriance, buy it for the pictures!! The book has wonderful photographs of Minako-san, her family, and her costumes. ;)
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
theredcentipede
The introduction chapters about her ancestors were a little confusing becasue there were too many names with long spelling. The chapters sharing her memories with her parents were sweet, but yet a little too short and not so informative. Later chapters when she shared memories of her times as a Geisha was interesting. The life of a Geisha, the clothings, the music, the dance and Geisha were well described. Short and simple. Mineko is an interesting person. Not antisocial or self center, but hard head. I enjoy reading how she defended her pride, and how she remained respectful to her oldest sister in public. Between the line, Mineko explained the meaning of family and respect. I enjoy mostly the fact that no one can injure her pride nor destroy her dignity.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
lindsay antikainen
I found this book at a used bookstore, and having been always fascinated with the Geisha culture, I found it refreshing to hear stories from one of the most renowned Geisha in history, instead of fiction.
Wonderfully written, a little one sided at times, but that is to be expected in a biography.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hakooom
"I want you to know what is really like to live the life of 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 the most successful. And yet, it was a life that I found to constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave."

The story of Mineko Iwasaki captures the glorification of the rich, aristocratic and burden behind all the fame and admiration. Reading this book has helped clears the myths and assumptions of what being a geisha is all about it. It's eloquently emphasizes that geishas are a work of art and the whole business is the exploitation of art and not bodies. Personally, I'm highly recommended this book for people who are interested in the Japanese lifestyle, culture and values. Though it also has a universal theme where one has to give up other's hopes dreams no matter how hard they work for and to live and pursue their own dreams and reclaim back their life from the people. Overall, I really couldn't put this book down, and was completely fascinated by the beautiful details of the different elements needed for a rising geisha, and a maturing woman.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
molly eness
A few years ago I read Memoirs of a Geisha and loved it. Although the book was supposed to be based on Mineko Iwasaki's life, after reading Geisha: A Life, it's clear the Memoirs author took great liberties.

Where Memoirs contained a juicy fictionalization, this title is much more straight forward and explanatory about the life of a Geisha. It clearly details the schooling and discipline necessary to become Japan's top Geisha. It would have been nice to know less about the classroom and more about the inner workings of the Okiya.

While this book is not as beautifully written as Memoirs, true Geisha enthusiasts will want to read this version. Consider it an historic account of a nearly bygone era.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
mindy worley
I first read Memoirs of a Geisha in high school and fell deeply in love with the aesthethic and mysteries of Japanese culture. When I heard it was based from Mineko Iwasaki's life story (she states this herself), I very much wanted to read her version of the story. I finished the book in about 2 days and found it cut short. Iwasaki-san is very good at giving us detail and providing reason for customs but her storytelling falls short. I tried to parallel the two stories (Memoirs & Geisha) and found them to be significantly different. Yes, they both portray a successful dancing Geisha, but events and ending are not the same. I sometimes think Iwasaki-san is holding back or censoring certain information and events for the sake of maintaining her relations with the people connected to the Geisha practice. (Since she was already shunned for revealing too much for Arthur Golden's book.) It's a good quick read if you're looking for something light and short.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
sandra scott
Like most of the readers out here, I too read "Memoirs of a Geisha" and was enthralled with it. Although technically fictional, the book still contains broad and specific strokes of information that allow us entry into the "floating world" therefore giving it credence and credibility. Mineko Iwasaki's book also allows us a view into the life of geiko but, as with most autobiographies, the story is told from the most advantageous point of the living author. In Ms. Iwasaki's case, her story is interesting but also questionable.

To begin, she has recollections of conversations between people where she wasn't even present which adds that element of embellishment. Additionally, though people accuse her of not understanding her position as atotori, I believe she fully understood what this meant but the real question is why was she supposedly chosen at such a young age. The concept of Madame Oima meeting Mineko, then aged three, and having a sudden feeling that she'd just met her atotori and therefore needing Mineko at all costs smacks of something more necessitating than honorific. I suspect highly that Mineko's family ancestry was just the required lineage of titles Madame Oima needed since Mineko tells us directly that the Iwasaki okiya was in financial trouble. She glosses over that point rather quickly.

Mineko does an excellent job in pointing out the artistry and value of the kimono. What she doesn't indicate is that the kimono is not the property of the geiko but that of the house. Only those in highest ranking positions are allowed to "own" a kimono outright and she was one of those who was allowed this ownership.

Where the story falls flat is in it's telling all around. It moves from subject to subject without real flow and much of it centers around repetitious information. Mineko wants us to understand Japanese culture but she herself appears to have been very closed about understanding other cultures. Her disgust with Prince Charles' faux pas over signing her fan without her consent indicates her inability to make allowances for the ignorance of someone else but she makes no such excuses for her own ignorance. She's vain, arrogant and ambitious making her perfectly human and therefore exactly the point of her book. Geisha is a fantasy world.

I recommend this book for a few reasons. One, it allows for an alternate perspective even if questionable. Secondly, it gives insight into the workings of the mind of someone from another culture and shows just how vast differences in perspective can be. Finally, it reveals that beneath the calm and always polite veneer of Japanese society, there exists true human nature....a thing we all possess regardless of culture.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
roma klyukin
This book was incredible. This book is a true story about the life of a Geisha. It has cleared up so many of my misconceptions. I always thought from other books I had read that these women were basically well trained prostitutes. This is not so. The Gion Kobu is a city of true art and traditional japanese culture. These women go through more training in dance and music and other art forms than I ever would have imagined. In addition it also gives you insight into the japanese world during a time of war and during times of peace. You can really learn a lot from this book. How their makeup was done, how to open a door, what they wore from head to toe and even the importance of tea! So, if you are interested in a book about sex scandals and viscious plots look elsewhere, but if you want an amazingly true story of the most recognized symbol of a fascinating culture, this book is for you. ^_^
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
catlin
I liked this book. It was a great look into the geisha world through the eyes of one of its most succesfull woman. Mineko Iwasaki, arthur goldens informant into the life of a geisha, which he used to make his book memoirs of a geisha, scorned not only her career but the entire geisha world. I believe this book is an attempt to bring back some dignity to the profession, as well as the auther heself, but I think that comes off a bit too cleary in her book. I do think golden was wrong, but i think Mineko needs to just let this pain fade and move on. If she didnt want anyone to know what she did she should have..for one..never trusted an american man who wants to sell books because of course if everyone knew he got his information from a real succesful geisha living the life that he has depicted in his novel, it will boost sales. And she should have just never opened her mouth, and let him learn the hard way...by reading other books.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
hilarymiller917
When I bought the book I wanted to learn more of the Geisha tradition and by that of Japanese culture in general.

I never had believed that such a restricted life is still possible today. Mineko Iwasaki was taken away from her family when she was a small child. With much discipline she learnt traditional dancing, singing, playing instruments and roles in theatre, always being observed by elderly ladies, who wanted to educate her, eg by humiliation via wrong accusations. The meaning of such is explained clearly, as all the other details of the life of a geisha.

A very interesting recommendatory book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kat leonard
This book is not as good as memoirs for one reason: Memoirs of a Geisha is FICTION!!!!! That means that the author can take liberties in his writing! In this story, mine-Chan is the main geiko (AKA geisha) and she tells her story as if the reader were there to see it. I never got tired of reading it. I loved Memoirs of a Geisha, and this story teaches those who want a more in depth version of memoirs. This story explains everything one can think of. I learned a lot from this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
kelly sedinger
This book gives a full picture of a geisha's life from the beginning of a career until the end and shows the ups and downs. Mineko Iwasaki tells an interesting story of an exotic life, one that is commonly misconstrued in the west. Sometimes its difficult to keep track of all the Japanese names, because they all sound and look the same to me! Otherwise, a nice book! Enjoy.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
noha wagih
A wonderful story! I couldn't wait to read this book when I found out about it, because I was anxious to read this story through the eyes of a Native Japanese woman and geisha. Being extremely interested in Japanese culture and society of course influenced my reading the book, but I would recommend this book to anyone who would be interested in learning about these extraordinary women.

Ms. Iwasaki likens the geisha movement to operatic divas in the west. I found this quite an interesting analogy. I was also impressed by how she handled the common western idea that geisha are simply high-end prostitutes. Effectively, she noted that there was indeed a difference between courteseans and geisha, and that it was common for romantic or sexual relationships to exist between a geisha and her clientele, but that the geisha were never meant to be and neither are they now "call-girls".

Rande Brown is adept at the translation and makes good use of the language differences.

All in all, this book is educational, enjoyable, humorous and tear-jerking. Anyone who thinks they are getting an "education" from reading Arthur Golden's book 'Memoirs of a Geisha' is kidding themselves. It is fiction, not a biography (as Ms. Iwasaki's book).

I recommend it!!
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
omar helal
I saw a woman reading this book on a flight from Chicago to Boston, and was intrigued. I looked it up as soon as I returned home, hoping it might be a real-life work which would serve as counterpoint to the overrated Memoirs of a Geisha,.

To my delight, it has been just that. If you're looking for more costumed cat-fighting then this book isn't for you. If you're looking to read about one real woman's experiences, and get a first-hand glimpse into this part of Japanese culture, then look no further. I found Iwasaki's writing style to be very genuine; indeed, reading Iwasaki describe events was like listening to my sensei tell me stories after class.

My only complaint is with the editing of the book -- I've found a couple of spelling/grammatical errors that surprised me. Still, it deserves 5 stars, and a more fair look than fans of Golden's frivolous book are giving it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
nicholas lochel
This is the ultimate book you should consider when trying to get a first hand account the details of a life of a Geisha.

Mineko Iwasaki is highly respected and is referred as one of the best Geisha to ever come along in her generation.

This book was interesting and exciting to read.

If you have read Memiors of a Geisha, you will know that Mineko's story greatly contributed to Golden's novel. Now see what it is really like to be a Geisha by reading Mineko's book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
didi
Mineko Iwasaki has told her story in a simple and straightforward way, like a conversation with a trusted friend. She is witty and intelligent and loyal and her account is filled with fascinating details of the Geisha's training and way of life. I no longer read for enjoyment, but once I picked up this book and began reading, I was captured until I had read the whole thing.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
william razavi
I really enjoyed this book. I first read Memoirs of a Geisha, which I loved. I knew that Memoirs of a Geisha is a work of fiction and that Geisha, a Life would probably be a bit different. Trying not to see it in the context of an American woman, I just let go and followed along with Mineko's story. If we compare it to reference our culture to their's, there will be things that we consider strange, but in that culture are totally acceptable.

Memoirs of a Geisha got me curious about the mysterious lives of geisha, and I really enjoyed reading this book as well. I now plan to read more about these mysterious women, who in the Western culture, have been portrayed as prostitutes, which they are most surely not.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ashlea bowde
Mineko is probably best known in the Western world as the geisha who sued Arthur Golden who wrote the bestseller "Memoirs of a Geisha", in which there are many inaccuracies which help to further the misconceptions long held in the western world that geisha are nothing more than ladies of the night. As a result of this Mineko decided to publish a book about her own life, it certainly is not going to provide you with all the technical information some might wish to read about geisha - but what it does provide to us is real feelings, real thoughts and a real person, and a first-hand account of the training and artistic skills taught that are required to become a geiko (geisha). Mineko's story is certainly quite fascinating to read and delivers to us a real and personal journey through the life of one of the most famous geiko to emerge from Gion. She talks about right from the beginning, when she chose to become an atotori (a heir of the house) of the Iwasaki okiya right through to her sudden and surprising retirement at the young age of 29. If you want to learn of the real lives of these `women of dance and music' read this book.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
juli
Although an interesting read, the autobiography lacks any real flow. The author jumps so often from one time period or story to another that you always wonder where you are in the time line.

Also the author seems in such a rush to put down any suggestion of sexual undertones in the society, that it becomes over done. On the other hand she admits to an affair with a married man as normal.

All through the author uses a snobbish tone and that is rather off putting. Also I think that claiming to remember in perfact clairity events from the age of two and three a bit crazy.

I would not recommend this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
ross neilson
It's funny and sad how many reviewers are comparing this book to Golden's trite example, claiming it to be less beautifully written and not as exciting. I hate to break it to you, but Golden is a middle-aged man from New England writing about a teenaged Geisha during WWII. The only thing he's got going for him is his flowery language seeing as his accounts of the Geisha are completely INNACCURATE! His fluffy book offended me. "Geisha: A Life" is at least a first hand account, and it is not necessary to pump it up due to historical accuracy. These books are in two completely different categories. To compare them would be like measuring Danielle Steele against Stephen Hawking.
"Geisha: A Life" is appropriate retribution for the damage that Golden did with his mid-century soap opera trash. I enjoyed this book because the author tells it like it is, and apologizes for nothing. Now that is courage.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
katherine straub
"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.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
maddy toft
This is a great bit of light reading for it describes in the most straightforward manner the geisha society and Japanese culture. I liked the fact that this book feeds and feeds you information on those aspects and it keeps intriguing you with every new bit of information. It is not too abstract, for it doesn't have to be. After what seemed like a lifetime of being asked to analyze "critically" everything you read in school, to dig miles deep to conjecture what the author might possibly mean by saying something ambivalent, "Geisha, A Life" struck me as a refreshing breeze. You don't have to write something that no one understands to sound smart, and Mineko Iwasaki has done just that.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
elizabeth blake
Geisha of Gion/Geisha, A Life (they're both the same book, don't get confused) is a wonderful story. Though Memoirs was more ...dramatic, these real life accounts of a real geisha is better. Mineko is a thoughtful, wonderful writer and her story draws you in. You might find yourself reading facts that discredit Memoirs and it's a shame but you'll feel better for knowing the true ways a geisha really lives.
I would recommed this to anyone intrigued by the world of Geisha.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
galmurphy
I enjoyed the story all right, but the many, many grammatical and word usage errors were so distracting that I was forcing myself to keep reading after only the first two chapters. As a Japanese translator and meticulous editor myself, I was deeply disappointed by the quality of this book; as a rabid reader, I don't think I'd ever seen such shoddy workmanship make its way to press.
I'm not sure a better translation or edit would fix the problems other reviewers mentioned, but it would have helped keep me focused on the story, rather than on its poor presentation. Shame on Ms. Brown and Ms. Bestler for not doing a better job.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
mary cecilia
I hope and pray that it's a simple misinterpretation from Japanese to English (or a number of them...per page) that make this woman appear so amazingly awful. I mean just...awful. Warning: you won't like this woman very much. Additional warning: as opposed to, say, Darth Vader or Satan, there isn't even anything interesting in her awfulness to hold you to the page. This book took me three hours to read and that's only because I couldn't stop putting it down. Its simplicity should have called for 90 casual-speed minutes at best.

Somewhere in the middle of all the name-dropping and self-petting, you come to realize that there's no way that in a profession where personality really is everything, this woman could have been number one considering the things she said and did to, for example, English royalty (oh, please)...which means, ironically, that she's lying about herself and not in a good way. Getting the Queen of England jealous? Oh good heavenly days, deliver us.

I wish she had at least been deliciously, rather than pathetically, nasty so that the book could have been an interesting read.

Two stars for the humor of hearing what passes for everyday English (calling older people "Gramps," for example) since at least *that* was entertaining. I'm very disappointed, though -- I expected at least something juicy, but amid all the self-genuflecting about how people gave her $3,000 tips and never expected to even cop a feel without being chased around with a kitchen knife, there was just really nothing interesting...except, notably, a story or two about the history of others as told to her. Now those were worth reading.

Thank God I picked this up from the library rather than paying for it.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
rhonda lipscomb
I thought this book was amazing. I love almost everything about the japanese culture and geisha seem to stand out to me the most. I have a few books on the subject, including this one. I thought the way Mineko told her story was very captivating and I personally could not put the book down. I liked hearing the discriptions of the kimono and seeing the pictures of her as a maiko and a geisha. She is a gorgeous women and her beauty as a geisha stands out among the rest. If you love anything about geisha, read this book.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
anuya
I picked up this book after reading Memoirs of a Geisha. I found it a little dull at times but otherwise enjoyable.

This book is not for someone who cares nothing about the situations of real life geisha and would rather sink into the fictional ocean that is Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
sarah korona
I saw the movie "Memoirs of a Geisha" and thought it quite melodramatic. I wanted to find out more about the actual world of the geisha and thought this book was excellent. It was wonderful to read about the life of one of the very best geishas. I only wanted to read more! A great read!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
shruti
When I bought this book, I had already read Memoirs of a Geisha, which of course a fictional account of geisha. I'm sorry to say, this book, to a certain extent mirrors Memoirs, with one major difference. Mineko Iwasaki is an extremely unlikable person, and it shows in her book.
The highest earning (and most popular, she claims) geisha of her time, Mineko comes across as rude, arrogant, and narcissistic. Her one and only wish was to be a dancer, she says. She didn't care about being a geisha, and in fact quit at what would have been the height of her career. For instance, she claims to have been so furious that Prince Charles signed one of her fans, that she returned it to him explaining she didn't want it anymore, essentially because his signature had spoiled it. She then claims to have thrown it away.
She was the most beautiful, the most popular, the highest earning geisha of all time. The other geisha were mean to her, humiliated her, picked on her, etc. She had no female friends because they were all jealous of her. Typical self absorbed person, who perhaps was treated this way, but had probably deserved it for her nastiness.
Then there are the times that she physically attacked some of her customers for insulting her. I'm sorry, but if these incidents, of which there were many, were the true way she behaved, I suspect she wouldn't have had many customers. I find her writing more than just a little stretched. I truly can't imagine a woman who acted this way to have been in any way popular. Which leads me to one of two conclusions...One, that she wasn't rude or violent like she claims, which pretty much makes her a liar, or Two, she wasn't terribly popular.
If you want a good read about geisha, Memoirs still wins out. Arthur Golden obviously did his homework, since his information as to the lifestyle, behavior, etc. is mostly confirmed here, and at least the story is fast moving, fun, and the main character is not so repugnant.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
cathee
What a disappointment. This perpetuates the myth that geishas were there just for intellectual stimulation. She writes of her debut as though it was a piano recital. A debut was the sale to the highest bidder of the young girl's virginity. The story of the geisha deserves a more accurate but empathic telling.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
kaye
That might be the only way to describe it. I felt as if Iwasaki-san was speaking right to me, telling her life's story. It was touching and a really good book overall. If you've read Memoirs of a Geisha, read this. It explains about "mizuage"... Mr. Golden was kind of off on that one. Mineko-san is a better main character than Sayuri in my opinion.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
logan
After first reading Memoirs of a Geisha, by Authur Golden, I wanted to find out how accurate it was. After reading Geisha, A life, I felt that the author Mineko Iwasaki truly represented herself. From her book you can tell that the she is an authentic Geisha wanting to dispel inaccuracies that Memoirs of a Geisha created. It is disappointing to know that society is so willing to accept inaccuracies regarding women and their accomplishments.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
normandie hincks
I read this book on a whim but was astonished to see such a powerful and independent woman in a role that I had previously equated with sex slave. Minako's grace and poise tempered with her strong convictions and love of dance propelled her to the top of her field. The intricate details of the Geisha life and customs make this is a must read.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
scottbowers
Weeellllll, the reason I read this book was because of the book Memoirs of a Geisha, which I adored. Arthur Golden, the writer for Memoirs of a Geisha, gave credit to Mineko Iwasaki as inspiration of his novel. Well, this is nowhere near Memoirs. It wasn't terrible, but not what I expected.
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
aharon
Boring is the word to describe this book. After reading Arthur Golden's Memoir of a Geisha, this book does not even begin to compare with it. Its told in a droll dry monotonous tone that's perfect if you suffer from insomnia and wish for a book to put you to sleep. Unless you relish reading your history textbook again leave this book on the shelf.
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
karen terris uszenski
This book was not as fluent as "memoirs of a geisha"...but I enjoyed it very much. The 1st hand experience of someone that had lived the Geisha life style. I really appreciateded it. I would read it again!
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
amanda dorwart
I read Memoirs of a Geisha like so many reviewers here and wanted to know more about Geihsa. This book feels more like a history book, the narration is dry and choppy no much feeling into it. The story of a little spoiled girl who was able to make her own decision when she was 5 years old. Not my favorite book.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
sean magee
While true, this book is at a distinct disadvantage if you've come to it by way of reading Memoirs of a Geisha (as I had), in of itself it is a still a poorly written book by an author who is so completed enamored with herself that it makes for a pretty nauseating read. The warning lights went off when she describes her environment in great detail when she is simply a toddler. From that point forward, she paints herself in the best light possible, while taking cheap shots at most members of her family. If this woman could think of more ways to say "I'm wonderful, incredibly talented, insightful and amazing", I'm sure she would have. She must have very long arms to continually pat herself on the back as much as she does. Save yourself the time. This book did not offer the insights into the world of maiko and geisha as promised. Frankly, after a few pages into it, I simply didn't believe a great deal of what she wrote. It felt like contrived propoganda from a former diva.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
janece
I personally liked Memoirs of a Geisha better even though this is a biography and that was fiction. I felt the author was a little narcissistic and some parts I found a little hard to believe..but hey, it's her story and she can tell it how she likes.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
sara watson
Ugh! This book is only worthwhile if you worship Ms. Iwasaki as much as she does. The woman is so taken with herself that she becomes angered when Prince Charles dares to deface (her word) her fan with his autograph.

Much of her portrayal of daily life seems hardly believable in its fairy tale like contrasts between the good Ms. Iwasaki and the evil geiko who apparently couldn't tolerate her perfection.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
alexandra
I found this book hard to believe. She remembers everthing when she was 3 yrs. old? Give me a break! She sounds like she's stuck on herself and acts holier than thou. At 18 she still thought kissing could get you pregnant?? I made it through this book but found it hard to digest with a straight face. A hundred grand a night for dancing for some guys? I dont think so. Next time, try being honest Mineko, you might have sold some more books! Or if your going to skimp on the truth, make it somewhat believable!
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
inkey
Memoirs of a Geisha was one of my favorite books of all time; So when I learned that Mineko Iwasaki wrote an autobiography of her life as a geiko I went out immediately and bought the book. I was thoroughly disappointed.
Not only is the book hard to read with all the Japanese terminology but Mineko drones on and on about the most unimportant details. For example, she spends half a page describing the proper way to open a door and enter a room including which hand to use and where to put it on the door. She focuses on the mundane while skipping over her personal relationships, funny anecdotes, and nightly experiences. Very little is mentioned about her starting her own nightclub or what went on each night as she worked without a day off for 5 years.
Mineko's main focus as a geiko was dancing. She did everything in her power to become the best dancer in Gion. She eventually succeeded in doing so but ostracized her peers, her friends, and even her biological family.
Her arrogance and ignorance can also be quite appalling and annoying to read about. Mineko openly gave away envelopes of money as tips without ever checking to see how much money they contained. She was oblivious to the world and people around her. Her sole concern was herself and becoming the best geiko and didn't care how many toes she stepped on along the way. Mineko is not particularly beautiful, can be quite rude and vindictive at times, and openly admits in the book that she was not very good at entertaining customers. Consequently, I have yet to figure out why this woman was such a legend. I personally would not have paid thousands of dollars to spend a few precious minutes in her presence.
If you are interested in learning about Japanese culture or about the lives that geisha lead, I highly recommend finding another book to read. This book was a waste of time, money, and was overall incredibly boring.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
noha wagih
Mineko Iwasaki paints herself an old soul even as a mere toddler.
As a tot she was witty and wise and insightful and sensitive... almost ethereal... need I go on? (She does!)
But Mineko also felt the need to constantly retreat to the closet.
Something just doesn't ring true.
I found her story very hard to believe. She remembers more about her life at age three than I remember about last week.
As she ages she comes across as narcissistic and shallow.
This reminds me of those Tiger-Beat type biographies written in the 70's and 80's about famous teen idols.
The book just doesn't ring true.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
emma stanger
Take a subject that fascinates western people, focus on the meaningless and insignificant details of it, put aside all the psychological depth of the characters evolving in this mysterious society, here is the recipe of a gigantic waste.
Geisha is poorly written, with cheap literary tricks at the end of each chapter, and a final feeling of not learning anything.
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
denise jenks
I read this book a few months ago and was very disappointed. I had read "Memoirs of a Geisha" several years ago, while living in Japan and really enjoyed it - I thought this book might be similar. Not only is it very poorly written, the author comes across as arrogant and ignorant at the same time. Arrogance isn't a compelling characteristic in any culture, but it's particularly undesirable in Japanese culture. I kept reading though, expecting the book to get better - it didn't.
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
aline goodman
This book as well as many others did nothing more than reaffirm the fact that 'geisha' is the Japanese equivalent to 'prostitute'.
Sure, they are 'trained' in 'art' and 'dance' etc, but all in all are the equivalent of the western world's 'high end' hookers. Nothing more. Sorry to disturb anyone's fairytale. A [***] is, in the end, a [***].
★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
kathy e
I rather read "Memoirs of a Geisha" twice. I have read "Memoirs of a Geisha" and loved it. So I picked up this book trying to find out more about Geisha life. And now, I don't want to find out more since a real Geisha life is boring enough...
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