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Geisha

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3.99  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,570 Ratings  ·  146 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 28 books — 115 voters
Shōgun by James ClavellMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenNorwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiTokyo Vice by Jake AdelsteinThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Best Books About Japan
16th out of 357 books — 206 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
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Tocotin
Jul 26, 2015 Tocotin rated it liked it  ·  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
Feb 09, 2011 Megan rated it it was amazing
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
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Sammi
Feb 09, 2012 Sammi rated it really liked it  ·  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
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Cherese
May 30, 2012 Cherese rated it really liked it
“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
Apr 19, 2014 Kelsey McKim rated it really liked it
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
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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
Ashley
May 14, 2016 Ashley rated it it was amazing
Magnificent! Dalby has written a VERY thorough book covering all aspect of geisha life, yet it's never dry or boring. It strikes the perfect balance between travelogue and dissertation--yes, there is plenty of fact and history and pondering of culture, but also plenty of humor, tragedy, and personal experience which serves to lighten the whole piece.

I have long admired geisha as "living museums" of traditional Japan, a tradition I will never see except through such deliberate cultivations. I've
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Angigames
Jan 13, 2016 Angigames rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ma-anche-no
Avevo aspettative enormi per questo libro... aspettative che sono andate a rotoli!
Ho chiuso il libro con una sensazione amara. Lo stile della Dalby è così freddo da gelare un inverno intero! Mi aspettavo una descrizione precisa e dettagliata della vita delle Geishe, invece, l'autrice non si è sprecata più di tanto. Descrizioni approssimate, importanti cerimonie e riti solo accennati...
Delusione totale!
Anna
Jan 23, 2016 Anna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Akemi
Oct 07, 2014 Akemi rated it it was amazing
I read it a few (well a lot of) years ago and it was quite an study of a culture that here in this part of the planet we can not understand at all, how can a woman can sell just time to a mn without sex? what do they do then? are Geisha prostitutes?

If you want just destroy that myth, this is the book to read
Talya
Jan 16, 2009 Talya rated it really liked it
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
Jul 27, 2011 Emma rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2010 Bryn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Jen B
May 20, 2015 Jen B rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A break from my usual reading, this was a very enjoyable and fairly intimate look into the world of Pontocho's geisha. It's a world about which there are many rumours and misunderstandings, and Dalby does a good job of sorting these things out. I especially enjoyed learning more about Japan and its culture, which has always intrigued me, and the chapter on the kimono was a pleasantly engrossing surprise (yes, I sew, and therefore should have expected to be so interested, but I digress). Most of ...more
T.J.
May 20, 2008 T.J. rated it really liked it
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
Jul 10, 2013 Jewel rated it liked it
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
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Lorna Collins
Jun 03, 2010 Lorna Collins rated it really liked it
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
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Conor Warren
Nov 10, 2014 Conor Warren rated it it was amazing
Great work.
Ernest Schaal
Sep 26, 2014 Ernest Schaal rated it it was amazing
I read this book decades ago, and am rereading it now (almost done).

Liza Dalby wrote this book in 1983, at a time when the Geisha world was already facing competition from snack bars and hostess bars. Now they are part of a cherished tradition that is mostly a tourist attraction of Kyoto and the hostesses of parties of the very rich. She gives a great explanation of what caused that change.

She tells of a much earlier time (way before the book was written) when men used to buy postcards of their
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Benjamin
Apr 21, 2014 Benjamin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Caroline
Mar 23, 2011 Caroline rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 09, 2010 Christine rated it it was amazing
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!
Ona Salvat
Jan 10, 2016 Ona Salvat rated it liked it
Shelves: my-books
I read this very much out of curiosity after having read Memoirs of a Geisha and I must admit I loved it just as much, if not more. It's a very informative book and it has the study-feel to it but I personally enjoyed that a lot because in reading it you feel like you're being properly introduced to a culture and tradition that (in my case) you actually know very little about without any plot distractions. Still, it has an incredible tenderness to it and I think the balance of informative and ed ...more
Eustacia Tan
Feb 01, 2014 Eustacia Tan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Nicole
Jul 04, 2012 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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)
Feb 22, 2011 Abigailann (Abigail) rated it really liked it

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
Feb 21, 2013 Erin rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 30, 2014 Megha rated it really liked it
Those who read Memoirs of Geisha, this book clears the questions about facts and fiction. Nice and recommended who like text-book like books.
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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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