Geisha
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Geisha

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3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  2,013 ratings  ·  120 reviews
In this classic best-seller, Liza Dalby, the only non-Japanese ever to have trained as a geisha, offers an insider's look at the exclusive world of female companions to the Japanese male elite. Her new preface considers the geisha today as a vestige of tradition as Japan heads into the 21st century.
Paperback, 367 pages
Published October 1st 1998 by University of California Press (first published 1983)
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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenGeisha, a Life by Mineko IwasakiGeisha by Liza DalbyAutobiography of a Geisha by Sayo MasudaGeisha by John Gallagher
Geisha
3rd out of 42 books — 90 voters
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Best Books About Japan
17th out of 261 books — 135 voters


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Robert Beveridge
[Note: At the time I wrote this review, I had not yet read Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. And I think I may be the only person in America who still hasn't.]

Of course, it's now a full week after A&E aired _The Secret Life of Geisha_, a show nominally based on Dalby's 1983 account of her time in Kyoto as the only non-Japanese ever to train and serve as a geisha. But I kept reading anyway. The show's material came, for the most part, from the first four chapters of the book, which cover a good d...more
Maria
i read this book quite a long time ago, but was recently reminded of it today. i skipped arthur golden's memoirs of a geisha and went straight to dalby's anthropological account of living with geishas. the book is beautifully made and dalby describes geisha culture very accurately. i would guess that to this day this is probably one of the better recounts of geisha culture from a western perspective.

edit: definitely NOT for people looking for memoirs of a geisha or any such fiction.
Tocotin
Apr 23, 2012 Tocotin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in Japanese culture
I liked the author's approach to the culture and the people who agreed to help her learn more about the profession. I appreciated that she wrote not only about Kyoto. However, I found some of her conclusions too hastily drawn, for example her claim that being a wife and being a geisha is mutually exclusive. Geisha are not as homogenous as they might appear, there were and are many kinds of geisha, and STUFF HAPPENS and exceptions abound, especially in professions like this one. Japanese culture...more
Megan
I've been an enthusiast of Japan and the Japanese culture since a young age, so Geisha by Liza Dalby was perhaps unsurprisingly an incredibly engaging and illuminating read for me. I knew a lot of the information she addressed going in, but many of the technical aspects of the lifestyle and the traditions she discussed were new to me. It was also one of my first encounters with anthropological literature, which turned out to be a great mixture of raw informative and personal accounts.

Undeniably...more
Cherese
“Geisha” first published in 1983 was an extremely influential work in the study of Japanese culture and the intricacies of the lives of geiko (geisha). In it, Dalby examines the history and many aspects of geisha life such as dress, ritual practice, initiation, shamisen playing and zashiki (geisha parties). The style of the book is written in a quite a personal manner, and reads somewhat like a novel. Some could argue that this diminishes the scholarly value, but it is easy to see how well it se...more
Kelsey McKim
Like most other readers (I'm guessing), I'd read Memoirs of a Geisha before I ever heard of this book. I actually stumbled upon this in a used bookstore--there was a 2 for 1 sale, I figured that this looked interesting, and it came home with me as my free book. :)

I think this is best to read after Memoirs of a Geisha because then potential mismatches of culture in the fictional account won't bother you so much, but you will be intrigued to learn more.

Dalby does a great job of blending Japanese...more
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
Liza Dalby apparently became a geisha for a few months in about 1976, for her anthropology grad work. As an anthropological study, it is well constructed, and probably reworked for the general public--moving the statistical parts to a separate section etc. Her descriptions of life in the geisha house are vivid and well written, though I would have enjoyed a bit more background information. What drew her to Japanese language and culture in the first place? When did she first begin to study the l...more
Anna
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sammi
Feb 09, 2012 Sammi rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who is fascinated by geisha, Japan, history or other cultures.
This book was brilliant.
I loved how Liza wrote about the history of Geisha in Japan and every tiny detail of the things in their life - Kimono and how it is worn, why it is worn, the way it is worn, the colours that are worn and why.
Every detail is written about and it is definately one of the best books i've read about concerning geisha - and it was even written by a non-Japanese.
It has aspects of her time as a geisha, but it wasn't too autobiographical. It forcussed mainly on geisha arts and c...more
Talya
I loved the book Memoirs of a Geisha as a fictional account and it was my first introduction to the Geisha lifestyle. I feel that Liza Dalby's "Geisha" is a book version of a FAQ on Geisha. Everything I ever wanted to know is in this book. I think the most interesting parts are when Ms. Dalby explains the differences between a prostitute and a geisha, although, with my westernized upbringing there are still some hazy areas. It was amazing that she, as a foreign woman, was allowed to train to bec...more
Emma
A fascinating insight into Japanese culture and the world of Geisha society. Dalby's research was started as a PhD project and adapted into this book after her thesis was finished. Her knowledge of Japanese culture, both inside and outside that of the Geisha community, is extensive and comes from many years of being immersed in that culture. Although primarily a look at the various Geisha communities opperating in Japan Dalby also makes observations on other aspects of the culture as they relate...more
Bryn
This is a fascinating book giving all kinds of insight into geisha life and Japanese culture. Liza Dalby studied geisha life as an anthropologist, and by living as a geisha. There were places where I found the narrative structure/underpinnng logic hard to follow, moving between subjects. The book is neither fully detached and academic, nor purely personal account, and sometimes the mingling of the two is awkward, and frequently it left me wanting more.

That said, there was much that I enjoyed, I...more
T.J.
May 20, 2008 T.J. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: sociologists, human interest readers
I like this much, much more than Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, but ti's still a bit problematic. A 1970's sociologist studying Japan's geisha culture, Liza Dalby presents an intriguing, nuanced look at the subject. Whether discussing the finer points of tying kimono or handling tipsy customers, Dalby manages to craft an engaging, elegant read that is insightful and illuminating. Part of me had trouble shaking the feeling that this was still vaguely Orientalist in its orientation, but her...more
Jewel
Lots of great information but I didn't really like how Dalby writes. Sometimes it almost seems like she is prejudiced toward Westerners...Like many of the other reviews say, a better editor would have been beneficial because there are many, many typos throughout the book. Dalby even gets the capital of Japan wrong once in the feudal era too.

There's lots of information here about geisha but I don't think it's the BEST source. Dalby talks about geisha via her personal narrative so sometimes we lea...more
Lorna Collins
I read this book while living in Japan (before "Memoirs of a Geisha" was published). We visited Kyoto often during our 31 Months there, and Liza'a insight helped inform our experience. We were fascinted and interested in reading about other westerners' experiences adjusting to the Japanese cultural. (Visiting Japan is VERY different than living there!)

It is an interesting insight into the hidden world of the geisha. This way of life is dying since younger women aren't interested. So, records of...more
Benjamin
It seems odd to have a spoiler alert at the beginning of a discussion of a nonfiction book. Nonetheless, spoilers are ahead.

At the risk of reading too much into it, the opening chapter provides a stylistic template for the rest of the book. The slow, roundabout reveal about the identity of the dead geisha sets the tone for much that is to follow. While the work's roots are clearly as a researched, scholarly effort (namely Dalby's dissertation), this is also a personal narrative. Dalby is clearly...more
Caroline
This is a really interesting book written by an American anthropologist who went to Japan and actually become a geisha. It's a really interesting insight not just into the geisha life but its cultural context as well - the history, politics, literature, class structure. The author, known as the geisha Ichigiku, really has a great love and fascination for her subject and it really shows in this book. I found it endlessly fascinating. And it's making me want to go and read Memoirs of a Geisha agai...more
Christine
I borrowed this book from my co-worker who teaches Japanese. I love it. It's a fascinating memoir, historical document, and anthropological work. The explanations and insights into this subculture are fascinating and help clarify details of Japanese culture that I had not understood before.

A must-read for anyone interested in not only geisha, but Japanese dress, male-female relations, aspects of traditional culture, and Japanese history. Fascinating and a page-turner!
Eustacia Tan
I first heard of this book through.... well, let's just say it's a long and complicated story involving me trying to find a furisode (for Seijinshiki - link to post with pictures!) and explaining to my mom what it was. And thanks to a non-Japanese Geisha called Sayuki, my mom assumed that second-hand furisodes were very cheap.

Well....

I don't know actually. But I don't think they are.

But Sayuki, who claims to be the first "non-Japanese" geisha, intrigued me. But then again, she got kicked out of...more
Nicole
Liza Dalby does a good job of exploring the state of the geisha in early 1970s Japan, and giving enough historical context to both show the transformation the role was going through at that time and that, to a certain extent, it has always been in a state of transformation. The only thing that bothered me about the book was that at times it felt like she was taking pains to tell us what an awesome geisha she had been. A very worthwhile read.
Abigailann (Abigail)

The first thing that struck me when this book arrived through the post were the amazing pictures. They were in a sophisticated style, taking the form of large mosaic pieces, and yet still simple enough for a child to understand. The story was simple and charming, although it finished quite abruptly and I found myself wanting it to continue. A came out of reading it was a greater understanding of the saintly origins of Valentine's Day.
sherdnerdess
I enjoyed this far more than 'Geisha of Gion', as it was much more insightful about the life of a modern geisha, and covers those outside the Kansai region. Dalby also touches on Kimono etiquette and what colours or patterns are appropriate in certain seasons. This has intruiged me so much that I've also bought her specialist book all about it!

If you want to know more about these mysterious figures, this is a fantastic read.
Erin
A facinating read by Liza Dalby, the only foreigner to have ever become a geisha. Half memoir, half historical text, Geisha is a wonderful text that covers everything one needs to know about these exotic artists. I would definitely recommend this book as a reference tool for anyone writing a historical novel set in Japan, and it a definite must read for anyone interested in Asian Studies, Women Studies, or Anthropology.
Megha
Those who read Memoirs of Geisha, this book clears the questions about facts and fiction. Nice and recommended who like text-book like books.
Helen
Fascinating first-hand account of an Australian woman who did participant/observer field work in Pontocho, Kyoto. She actually became a geiko (Kyoto-ben/language for geisha). Extremely detailed anthropological account of her time there in the late 70's. So, far, I am really appreciating how hard she works to show a balanced, academic viewpoint, and not devolve into overly glorifying shlock about geisha.
BoekenTrol
Since I am interested in anything that comes from the orient, I could not walk past this book. I bought it several years ago and read it with great pleasure.
I loved being given a look behind the scenes, learn how geisha's are trained, how hard they work and also what geisha's are and what they do. It really was an interesting read.

Does qualify for re-read, but not in the near future :-)
Aya
Aug 30, 2007 Aya rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who is interested in Japan
I found this book very interesting and far far FAR better than the book, "Memoires of a Geisha", which I found to be basically a white man's fantasy. Despite being Japanese, reading this book really enlightened me on many customs which I had never known. Written from the heart but not overly soppy, I think those of you interested in the Geisha culture will enjoy it.
Tara
This book was written by the only non-Japanese person who ever became a Geisha, and the way she writes about her experiences is sensative, and very informational for a Western audience who may not explain all of the terms. For someone like me who has an interest in Eastern culture, I'd recommend this every time.
Ann
Read this 25 years ago while living in Japan. So interesting that a westerner was able to 'break' into the world of the Geisha. Again tradition ruled. And to think this was Lisa Dalby's thesis. She really investigated the life of a Geisha and made it so readable. This is one of those "keepers".
Powersamurai
A well researched book into the floating world of the willow. The reader must remember that this was researched in the 70s, so for an updated look at the geisha at the turn of the century refer to Lesley Downer's book, Women of the Pleasure Quarters. It does repeat some of what Dalby writes, though.
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2920167
With its fascinating story of characters caught up in a world they themselves don't understand, Hidden Buddhas may well be Liza Dalby's best work yet. Besides taking us on a journey through little-known corners of Japan, it offers us an engaging and believable portrait of people driven to do things they may not have imagined." --Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

According to esoteric Bu

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