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Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  436 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
Originally published in 1918, Rivalry is regarded as the masterpiece of Nagai Kafu, a Japanese novelist known for his brilliant renderings of Tokyo in the early years of modern Japan. Stephen Snyder offers the first English translation of the complete, uncensored text, which has long been celebrated as one of the most convincing and sensually rich portraits of the geisha p ...more
Hardcover, 165 pages
Published October 1st 2007 by Columbia University Press (first published 1917)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Feb 22, 2015 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: big-red-circle
When you're in Taisho period Shimbashi, it seems that revenge is a dish best served ... surreptitiously.

Bits I liked (including spoilers):
"Kikuchiyo, careful not to disturb her coiffure, indulged herself in an enormous and unattractive yawn."

"If, for example, she happened to mention the Kabukiza, it was to tell a story about a customer who had been up to something naughty in a front box while Omodakaya was playing 'Kanjincho', disrupting an entire act. (According to her, this sort of thing has a
Charlie Canning
May 30, 2013 Charlie Canning rated it it was amazing
A significant, new translation restoring the missing passages from Kafu's commercial edition of 1918

Although the novelist Nagai Kafu is not as well known as Kawabata, Mishima, or Tanizaki; Kafu certainly has his charms. Of the three, he is probably closest to Tanizaki. Both spent long periods of their lives first embracing than rejecting Westernization. Both immersed themselves in what they could find of traditional Japanese culture among all the borrowed and hybrid forms once things turned ugly
I just tried to read this book in the Tuttle edition translated by Kurt Meissner and Ralph Friedrich, and my advice is: AVOID. Try the Stephen Snyder translation. Meissner and Friedrich are too faithful to the original Japanese wording, translating idioms literally and leaving in all the little filler phrases and circumlocutions that sound normal in Japanese but repetitive and grating in English. The result is a stilted mess devoid of nuance or liveliness. I used to translate Japanese for ...more
Veronika KaoruSaionji
Nov 27, 2009 Veronika KaoruSaionji rated it it was amazing
I very love this book. It was written in 1916 and the author, Nagai, is "japanese naturalist", but I like him. I don´t like heterosexual romance and heterosexual erotic, but by Nagai it is very cute. Heroine, Komayo, is former geisha, young widow, who return into geisha busines after her husband ´s death. She found wealthy and nice young handsome patron, who wants to marry her, and she sleeps with him, but she does not love him (but she pretends that she loves him because his money). She fells ...more
Mar 10, 2012 Sae-chan rated it liked it
Shelves: japanese-writers
The geisha world is just like any corporate world. There are new skills to learn, ladder to climb, politics to play. The problem is it involves personal feeling and relationship. So it's difficult after a hard day's of work to say "Ah, let it go. Don't take it personally."

And after all, the most compassionate person was the one who didn't get involved in personal relationship. Ironic, but true. When feeling becomes commodities, they lose their very essence. Like salt without its saltiness.
Roxana-Mălina Chirilă
I have absolutely no doubt that this book reflects the actual life of geishas a lot better than, say, "Memoirs of a Geisha". I learned a bit about their lives and there are a lot of details of atmosphere which are probably worth it for someone who wants to know what it was like to be a geisha at the beginning of the 20th century.

That being said: I kept getting lost in the secondary characters, and I didn't feel much for the main one, who can go around claiming to love a man in the beginning, onl
Jan 11, 2013 Agnieszka rated it really liked it
While reading this book, I could see the world of geisha and the Tokyo of that time as clearly, as if I was watching a video or looking at an old photograph. This in itself is a great achievement, especially considering that there were no lenghty, boring descriptions in the novel.
Another thing I really liked about the novel was that the author presented the world of geisha in a very realistic manner, showing us both the beautiful, dignified side and the ugly one. That is done without judging, w
Jun 03, 2008 크리스티 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library-rental
This book tells a totally different side of the geisha. It was written in 1918 and the author actually lived in a geisha house. It puts a more of what Westerns believe as geishas being paid entertainment in a bad way. It takes the "quiet, good natured, entertainer" to a woman who is bouncing between 3 different men in a love triangle (to put it nicely) and how she copes when things go from being happy to having everything go bad to her. The novel is an easy read and there is not much explained ...more
Nov 17, 2016 Annie rated it liked it
Shelves: japanese-lit
Komayo goes back to life as a geisha after marrying a man from the country. She is not prepared for the cattiness she encounters in her new life as a geisha.

A slow paced, laid back read.
Nicoleta Vasile
Oct 20, 2016 Nicoleta Vasile rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story to enjoy, easy to read, that not only offers the opportunity to look into a geisha's life, but also builds a colorful and vivid portrait of the Japanese artistic and cultural life back then.
Wayward Child
It took me almost a month to finish a 200 page novel and the reason is probably that it is one of the most depressing books I've ever read. So few options, such limited opportunities and I feel like I can't even blame the characters. It sounds cheesy, but I can only really blame the society of the time which offered very little to women. Usually, when a character's life goes downhill, I tend to blame them, but I can't bring myself to blame Komayo. She had to make an impossible choice, a choice ...more
Loran (Algonquiins)
Oct 27, 2014 Loran (Algonquiins) rated it really liked it
Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale was a very good period piece of Japanese literature. The translation of this edition was absolutely wonderful and really easy for English speakers to understand. I think the characters' traits really remained intact and weren't lost in translation.
As for the story it was very dramatic and typical of Japanese literature. The story revolves around Komayo the geisha, her three patrons, and the people they interact with. It was fast paced and interesting up until the conclu
Dec 01, 2014 Desireé rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Escrito en 1918, no creo que haya una mejor manera de descubrir el mundo de las geishas. Queda al descubierto su mundo, el drama de Komayo, quien probablemente no toma las mejores decisiones, y algunos personajes secundarios muy interesantes y de los cuales quisieras que se desarrollaran más sus historias.

El autor escribe extraordinariamente, y está clasificado en el género naturalista.

Tiene partes muy sensuales, aunque son las menos, como ésta:

"Ha decidido observar con toda claridad, sin descu
Feb 16, 2013 Emmett rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nagai's writing failed to inspire any kind of real interest or emotional reaction from me throughout the entire novel. I liked how the plot involved several different characters and would switch between focusing on them, but it never really seemed to go anywhere. The conclusion was satisfying, but up until then it really just felt like the story wasn't really advancing in any way. I found his writing to be rather stale and his descriptions flat.
I did enjoy reading about geisha and the specific
We read this in preparation for a trip to Japan in September 2016. We are traveling with a group and it was assigned by Dr. Fred Dickinson, Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He offered it as a background on Japanese culture and history. It is a well written book by an acclaimed master of modern Japanese literature, and while the story didn’t engage me as much as Memoirs of a Geisha, one has to realized it was written for a Japanese audience. I would recommend it fo ...more
Juan de Dios Reyes
Aug 22, 2015 Juan de Dios Reyes rated it liked it
Me pareció un libro interesante. Me permitió entender algo más de la cultura japonesa y del mundo - tan exótico para mi cultura - de las geishas. Hubo partes del libro que simplemente no entendí muy bien como encajaban, el papel que algunos de los personajes jugaban en la trama y cómo aparecían y desaparecían aparentemente sin "explicación"... En algunos sentidos parece más el contar un pedazo de la historia de diversos personajes que entran en el "juego" pero sin la introducción y ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Nazanin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm scared. terrified! stop! Stop! stop telling this story! change it! please I beg of you! I'm losing my mind! I want to scream! SCREAM-OUT-LOUD!!! I hate this book! I hate the story. I want to send a plain to Japan and grab Komayo! and take her out of there! I hate this! that trash bags are destroying her sole!! they are burning her core and throwing her to the old ages! I hate this!!! I hate men! I hate their guts! the way they treat women like toys; their food plate! which is good only ...more
Jun 27, 2013 Harperac rated it it was amazing
Shelves: japan
So good! I loved it! It was amazing!

While I adore Kafu's great aptitude for natural and urban beauty, he really shines here in his perceptive and incisive portrayal of human beings, of many types, changing as they do, and in "Rivalry".

Most of the details have escaped me now, since I read the book a year ago, but I'm left with this feeling that Kafu is a genius and Rivalry is his masterwork.

Another thing I really like is how the whole story is intimately connected with the neighbourhoods of the
Jun 01, 2011 Kanita rated it really liked it
Shelves: japanese
This book was one of the best (and accurate) geisha books I have ever read. The intensity and the drama that goes on behind the closed curtains of this story is jaw-dropping. I had a mini Japanese drama playing in my head when I was reading this. The only part that got me was the fact that it got confusing at some parts and I had to reread certain passages. But other than that, I give this four stars.
Nov 13, 2007 Rick rated it really liked it
Originally written starting in 1916 and set in Tokyo’s Shimbashi geisha district, Rivalry gives us some insight into the at times bruising world of geisha, courtesans and dancers in the period just before World War One. Well worth reading by anyone with an interest in Japanese history, literature and culture.
Sean Mills
Feb 26, 2014 Sean Mills rated it it was ok
I found I didn't like the main character that much. She made quite a few poor choices mainly because she was blinded by infatuation. In a sense I can understand how she feels, but the same time I personally felt she should have thought things through logically.
Roxana Ene
Sep 14, 2014 Roxana Ene rated it liked it
Short pleasant book. Being my first book about geishas, it was ok, but I guess I have lots of things of learning about geisha way of living which was not covered in this book. My expectations were more about their life style, habits, culture, etc.
Personally I just didn't gel with the style of narration, and since I was only really interested in the lives of the geisha I didn't much care for the forrays into the history and motivations of the surrounding characters.
Feb 10, 2013 Pam rated it it was amazing
Very interesting look at what life was really like for Geishas: how the different houses functioned, what challenges and responsibilities they faced, what they had to do to survive and be successful. Written during those times (1918), not a historical recollection.
Oct 06, 2015 Patricia rated it liked it
It gives a different perspective of Geisha than the one I'd been led to believe but this is set earlier in the twentieth Century so...I find this book reinforces the idea that human behaviour is the same, anywhere at anytime.
Very different from the other two geisha books I've read. . . Apparently Kafu became obsessed with geisha and studied them all the time so it makes me wonder just how accurate this little novel is. Very interesting.
Anna Wooliver
Nov 13, 2014 Anna Wooliver marked it as didn-t-finish-maybe-next-time  ·  review of another edition
I love books set in Japan...just couldn't grasp this one though. Perhaps I'll try it again in a year or so.
May 23, 2008 Angie rated it really liked it
Published in 1918, this story is almost indistinguishable from Geisha tales written today, except that this one is extremely well-written, sensual, and truly, passionately heart-breaking.
Malcolm Muscat Rodo
Nov 30, 2015 Malcolm Muscat Rodo rated it it was ok
Not very grasping. 10 pages every sitting felt like a chore by the end despite my interest on Japanese culture. As much as I wanted to like this, I didn't.
Carolyn Bruce
Nice to read from a male patron perspective. Doesn't have much character development. But it is true to the politics and scheming of the pleasure quarters.
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Kafū Nagai (永井 荷風 Nagai Kafū, December 3, 1879 - April 30, 1959) is the pen name of Japanese author, playwright, essayist, and diarist Nagai Sōkichi (永井 壮吉). His works are noted for their depictions of life in early 20th-century Tokyo, especially among geisha, prostitutes, cabaret dancers, and other denizens of the city's lively entertainment districts.

(from Wikipedia)
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