“Geisha by Liza Dalby
This book may not be strictly science as there is not a strict division between observer and participant in this ethnographic study of geisha. That being said, her experience of going through geisha training makes this book so much richer. This is not only a story about geisha but of Japanese culture in general. As she explains in the preface, you cannot explain geisha without knowledge of Japanese culture.
This book is written by Westerner, but comes without the prejudice of judging another culture from one’s own perspective. Dalby studied shamisen in high school while on an exchange program in Japan. She came to become fluent in Japanese, too. These two things helped her get into the culture as more of an insider, than ‘outsider’. Throughout the book she never makes her own value judgment if geisha are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. She interviewed many people, even did surveys to illustrate the feelings, and attitudes of current and retired geisha. She primarily focused on the Tokyo and Kyoto area.
This is book is a lovely object to hold in your hands. The beautiful illustrations along with pictures from her time as a geisha add a richness to the text. The large margins let the text breathe on each page. Each chapter starts with a quote, or a Japanese poem. She has extensive footnotes, Japanese terms, and bibliography at the back of the book for those interested in further reading.
After reading this book, I personally think geisha are yes outdated, but a wonderful connection to Japan’s past. They are part of Japan’s living history. It would be very sad to lose part of their history if there were no more geisha’s.
Though travel is curtailed by the coronavirus right now, I am now eyeing a trip to Kyoto. It feels like I’ve already strolled the street of Pontocho in Kyoto by reading this book. I wonder if my real experience would live up to the trip I’ve already taken in this book. Probably not, but that won’t stop me from wanting to go.
This book is required for anyone looking to understand Japanese culture.
Rating: ★★★★★ Book #40 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #LizaDalby #geisha #japan #anthropology #asia #kyoto”,