Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Geisha, a Life” as Want to Read:
Geisha, a Life
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Geisha, a Life

3.9 of 5 stars 3.90  ·  rating details  ·  11,136 ratings  ·  710 reviews
No woman in the three-hundred-year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story -- until now.
"Many say I was the best geisha of my generation," writes Mineko Iwasaki. "And yet, it was a life that I found too constricting to continue. And one that I ultimately had to leave." Trained to become a geisha from the age of five, Iwasaki would live a...more
Paperback, 297 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Washington Square Press (first published October 1st 2002)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Geisha, a Life, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Geisha, a Life

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
2nd out of 43 books — 95 voters
Norwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiBattle Royale by Koushun TakamiHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Best Japanese Books
44th out of 390 books — 1,794 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
Petra Xtra Crunchy
The book, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden was based around interviews with Mineko Iwasaki. She was unhappy with the misuse of her words and wrote this, her autobiography. The book details her life as a geisha from childhood up until her retirement a few years ago, in her 40s.

In the West, at least, 'geisha' has always been thought of as a euphemism for a high-priced whore, but as the book shows, the women earn far more as geishas than they could ever hope to do on their backs. The world of...more
Madeline
"No woman in the three-hundred year history of the karyukai has ever come forward in public to tell her story. We have been constrained by unwritten rules not to do so, by the robes of tradition, and by the sanctity of our exclusive calling.
But I feel it is time to speak out. I want you to know what it is really like to live the life of a 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 th...more
Sachi
This woman wrote her book in a response to Memoirs of a Geisha because she felt that the book gave the wrong impression. Unfortunately for readers, this book is story after story about how great and important the author was / is. It doesn't represent life as a geisha, it represents life seeking fame.
Kara
This is Iwasaki's response to Memoirs of a Geisha which I both read and enjoyed. I picked this up because I thought it'd be great to get the truth behind the story. This fell flat.

The book couldn't decide if it was a memoir or a history of geisha in post-war Kyoto. If a history, it lacked description, and the author inserted too much of her annoying self (more on this later) into the story. If a memoir, the author didn't talk enough about her emotions. For example, she tries to kill herself as...more
Kim-Lost-In-A-Book
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir. I think it's a very real glimpse into a world many know very little about (but like to think they know more than they do). I liked the insight to traditional Japanese culture, something I've been interested in since my youth. Mineko lead a life that most women can not comprehend, and many would probably find appalling or undesirable, but Mineko lived it well, I think. While she was naïve in many ways, in others she was quite strong and mindful of how best to han...more
Cheryl
I started reading this as a memoir and realized my mistake because I was yearning for more emotion, more of an understanding of the narrator. I should have been reading it as autobiography instead though, because it certainly reads like traditional autobiography (rumors are, it was ghost-written). Though there is a lot here about the Japanese culture and the pictures really help you place the descriptions.

Mineko Iwasaki tells the story of her life as a geisha in Japan. Written after the famous "...more
Tracey
I'd vaguely remembered hearing/reading something (maybe on NPR or 50bookchallenge posts) about Mineko Iwasaki, the prime source & inspiration for Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha: A Novel, being disappointed with the portrayal of the geisha life in that novel, and therefore, she had written her own memoirs. So I checked this book out from the library and I now see where her concerns lie.

Mineko (born Masako Tanaka) joined the Iwasaki okiya as a child, due to some family issues. She was fa...more
Maria M. Elmvang
Ever since I read "Memoirs of a Geisha" I've wanted to read this one, as Arthur Golden mentions this book as being one of his inspirations. On my way to Italy I found it at the airport, and immediately bought it. It did not disappoint. Where MoaG takes place around World War 2, this one describes the life of a Geisha in the 60s and 70s. You get to read about how Mineko meets Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth and several other celebrities that we 'know'. Fascinating book.
Jensownzoo
I enjoyed this peek into a fascinating culture. I read the fictional Memoirs of a Geisha by Golden first (which is based on Iwasaki's life) so was looking for some additional background reading when I found this autobiography. Definitely seemed much more like real life than the novel!
Katy
This was a pretty good book, but it was a little dry, probably due to the translation. Main point: Geisha are NOT prostitutes.
David Nicol
I really liked it for the peek inside the life of a meiko/geiko in post war Japan. Mineko herself as a child is what we in the West would call a precocious little brat, but is more of a misinterpretation of the class system.

Two things that were negatives for me though were the fact that either Iwasaki or Brown had never seen a Shamisen and/or a Viola. The text states that a Shamisen is played like a Viola.... that I would like to see.

The second thing was Mineko's assertion that she doesn't pass...more
Crystal
This book, like most non-fiction, had a bit of a slow reading pace. There were a few events that truly drew me into Mineko's story, though my review is going to be mostly about about the comparison of this book to Memoirs of a Geisha.

It's kind of upsetting to me to see so many people say they changed their view of the fiction novel because of this book. Memoirs of a Geisha is a work of fiction- not everything is portrays will be straight on. The biggest confusion present is the use of mizuage--...more
Lady
I'd give this 2.5 if I could but it doesn't deserve a three. The author is stuck up, spoiled and full of herself. She Disparages both the Queen of England and Prince Charles for trivial things that a normal person would never even consider. She acts like shes better than everyone around her and bosses people around from a young age. She spends the entire book slamming the entire geisha system and is terribly offended that everyone doesn't change and do her things her way instead. If you're readi...more
Norah
I found this story fascinating, in that it described a culture very far removed from the casual way we live in Britain today. Formalities were so important, even for the children, and this girl chose for herself to leave her own family and join the house of Geisha to be trained as one, and endure all the hardships involved. She was obviously very very motivated and determined, and seemed happy most of the time. It is written in the voice of a child, though maybe this is due to translating from J...more
Ingrid Lola
Yeeah ... Mineko Iwasaki unfortunately comes off as very unlikeable in this book. The overtone that she is trying to prove something (that Arthur Golden was "wrong" [even though he was writing fiction, which I feel she should understand, since she knows everything about art and all?]) is very, very strong. Like way too strong. Like it kind of made me laugh. It just didn't read well at all.

I would love to have read more about how Mineko challenged the system (like she claims she did, but never s...more
Arlie
Four stars! I love reading memoirs - I think they're one of the best parts of reading: learning from people you've never met, experiencing a part of the world you never would otherwise, wonder. I've been meaning to read this particular memoir for several years; ever since I read 'Memoirs of a Geisha', which fascinated and enthralled me. And then I did some research and found out it had some very serious inaccuracies, and that Iwasaki (whom the author interviewed) had pressed charges for breach o...more
Mary
Oct 24, 2010 Mary rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Mary by: Sandy H's mom
I did not like the 'other' book "Memoirs of a Geisha"; although it was interesting to learn about the geisha culture, I didn't like the sexual storylines involving children and very young women that the novel portrayed.

Apparently the 'other' book was based on the life of THIS geisha (or geiko), but she was not too pleased with her portrayal either. So she wrote this one ("Geisha: A Life") to counteract the popular opinion portrayed that geishas were high-class prostitutes. If there was one thin...more
monica ♪
For people who don't know about Japanese culture maybe geisha for them has 'negative' image.
But it's all wrong. Geisha don't sell their body. They sell arts!
And this book tells the very detail about Geisha and their life.
Geisha really are the real artist! They learn various traditional Japanese culture since they were very young.
And being Geiko (Geisha) is not an easy thing. They have to take so many lessons, performing those arts (dancing, singing, playing traditional music instruments, etc) w...more
Sara Murphy
I enjoyed this book of Geiko life immensely. The entire time I read this, I thought fondly of Liza Dalby's "Geisha", written about the same period. Mineko Iwasaki was honest about her personal feelings and personal trials. She also wrote with passion on her love of dance. While reading this book, I felt like I was walking beside her as she went to dance class and Ozashikis at night. Her hard work throughout her life inspired my respect for her and the Geisha tradition even more than ever before....more
Katie
The culture Iwasaki reveals is more than enough for me to give her a pass on the somewhat stilted writing - she isn't an author by trade, after all.

I especially enjoy the fact that she pretty much wrote this as a big "fuck you" to Arthur Golden, who ignored her request for anonymity when she helped him with Memoirs of a Geisha; it's worth noting that Golden also misrepresented many facts about the life of geisha in general.

I could not handle such a career - the lack of good sleep for such a lon...more
Regina Lindsey
Geisha: A Life by Mineko Iwasaki
4 Stars

In 1999, Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha was a runaway best-selling novel, which was followed up by a blockbuster movie based on the novel. For his book Golden interviewed Mineko, who is the first Geisha in 300 years to go public with her story. Beginning her training at an okiya in Gion, the Geisha District of Kyoto, at the age of five Mineko was adopted by the okiya’s owner and handpicked as the eventual successor. Eventually becoming the number one g...more
Skye
I read this in one day. The prose was clear, frank and accessible, not at all dry as some reviewers suggest. If you want dry, try reading an academic paper on the subject. The details she went into about the structure of the establishments at Gion were fascinating and cleared up many misconceptions about the Arts she practiced. I especially enjoyed the anecdotes of her time working in the ochaya (pl.) I can see how it may come across as self promoting and aggrandising, if it weren't for the fact...more
Rowena
One of my favourite books ever! Mineko's story is so fascinating, filled with tragedy, love and intrigue. Also great introduction to Japanese culture.
Nadia
reading the book is far better than watching the movie , more details of Japan's famous geisha life .
Anna Kalyta
The first book I ever read about Geisha, as with most people, was Memoirs of a Geisha. Going through the Wikipedia page for it, however, showed up a lot of criticism, especially for inaccuracy about the Geisha lifestyle, and especially from Mineko Iwasaki, the prominent Gion-Kobu Geiko that Golden had interviewed for research purposes for the novel. Without her permission, he spun Memoirs as a biographical account of her life, though told fictionally, which caused a lot of controversy, especiall...more
Donna
Before reading the book, "Geisha, a Life", I was not familiar with the art of Geisha and what it truly encompassed. I was hoping that Mineko Iwaskai's tale would teach me about this cultural tradition, and also convey an entertaining, emotional and thought provoking story through the first person narrative of her story.

I was vastly disappointed. While she does explain the demands of her training and professional schedule throughout the book, there is really little insight into the lifestyle. The...more
Violet Crush
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. 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. S...more
Reina
Originally read in December 2004, I picked it up on a whim simply because I was studying Japanese at the time, not realising the true reason why this book was written.
I then had to study and compare this with Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha”, months before it’s theatrical release in the West in late ‘05 and then began to understand that she more or less gave him the keys to her world, thus eventually to his fame and fortune as the story was loosely based on Iwasaki herself.

As with most thin...more
Brittany
When I started reading this I had no idea this was the Geisha that told the Karyukai secrets to Arthur Golden when he was doing research for his book. It soon became clear as a lot of things rang the same, or had the same tone to them. This book received 3 stars rather than 4 from me because of a two things:
1) It wasn't as engrossing as I was hoping.
2) I felt like a lot was lost in translation. You would be reading along and then all of the sudden, it seemed as if you were jumping into something...more
Sara
Well, I'm now out to read any book that claims to be informative of the geisha life. What I got from this book is the realization that I'll probably never know how it really is inside any geisha district past or present because of the "guarded secrets" of the lifestyle. I'm not so sure I believe Iwasaki's telling the whole truth about things that occur in the karyukai or if she is, I'm not so sure they didn't occur in sometime not so far distant from when she, herself was in Gion. Just because t...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Non-Fiction Enthu...: September Group Read 1 2 8 Sep 20, 2014 09:53PM  
  • Geisha
  • Autobiography of a Geisha
  • Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha
  • A Geisha's Journey: My Life As a Kyoto Apprentice
  • The Diary of Lady Murasaki
  • Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
  • The Secrets of Mariko: A Year in the Life of a Japanese Woman and Her Family
  • The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan
  • Confessions of a Yakuza
  • Bound Feet & Western Dress
  • A Year in Japan
  • Kickboxing Geishas: How Modern Japanese Women Are Changing Their Nation
  • Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto
  • Learning to Bow: Inside the Heart of Japan
  • This is Paradise!: My North Korean Childhood
  • The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto
  • Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.
  • The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices
617
Mineko Iwasaki (born Masako Tanaka) is a Japanese businesswoman, Geiko and author. Iwasaki was the most famous Japanese Geiko in Japan until her sudden publicized retirement at the age of 29. Known for her performances for various celebrity and royalty during her Geisha life, Iwasaki was also an established heir or atotori to her geisha house (Okiya) while she was just an apprentice.
More about Mineko Iwasaki...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »

“Cleaning is considered a vital part of the training process in all traditional Japanese disciplines and is a required practice for any novice. It is accorded spiritual significance. Purifying an unclean place is believed to purify the mind.” 15 likes
“And we are not mountaintop sages who can live by consuming mist.” 8 likes
More quotes…