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Geisha, a Life

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  14,427 Ratings  ·  891 Reviews
"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."

Celebrated as the most successful geisha of her generation, Mineko Iwasaki was only five years ol
Paperback, 297 pages
Published September 1st 2003 by Washington Square Press (first published October 2002)
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Lindsay This is just my personal opinion, but the tone in which Mineko Iwasaki's story was told seemed very genuine, and lacked any air of boastfulness that…moreThis is just my personal opinion, but the tone in which Mineko Iwasaki's story was told seemed very genuine, and lacked any air of boastfulness that made me feel like anything was fabricated. Like Memoirs of a Geisha, she was very open about her less-than-perfect moments. Of course, the lack of a grandiose tale doesn't equal truthfulness. It doesn't help that, as the book states, those in the geisha community very rarely come forward with their own stories, and therefore may be less likely to come forward to scrutinize Mineko.(less)
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Community Reviews

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Petar X
May 05, 2015 Petar X rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 16, 2015 Madeline rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
"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
May 29, 2007 Sachi rated it it was ok
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.
May 11, 2015 Kara rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
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
Sep 21, 2015 Cheryl rated it liked it
Recommended to Cheryl by: Rowena
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 an autobiography instead though, because it certainly has the texture of the traditional autobiography (rumors are, it was ghost-written). 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
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This book was a solid 4 star read for me. Whereas Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha was meant to entertain, Mineko Isawaki's Geisha, a Life was meant to inform.

Mineko Isawaki is most notable for being one of, if not THE most famous Geisha in Japan's history. This autobiography is told from her own view of the traditions and trails that she faced.

Mineko does a brilliant job of taking the reader through the
Jun 02, 2013 Kim-Lost-In-A-Book rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-reads
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
First, I would like to urge anyone who wants to learn more about geisha - READ THIS BOOK INSTEAD OF MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. The author of that, Arthur Golden, interviewed Mineko Iwasaki and twisted her tales into falsities, making it seem that geisha were high class prostitutes. This is not the case - oiran, a high class courtesan, sold their bodies, not geisha. In fact, Iwasaki was extremely upset when she realized Golden had twisted her facts on the life of being a geisha, and decided to write he ...more
Dec 19, 2007 Tracey rated it liked it
Shelves: libraryread
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
Ingrid Lola
Mar 11, 2013 Ingrid Lola rated it did not like it
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
David Nicol
Jan 24, 2013 David Nicol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Maria 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.
Dec 11, 2008 Jensownzoo rated it really liked it
Shelves: biographies
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!
Apr 11, 2007 Katy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This was a pretty good book, but it was a little dry, probably due to the translation. Main point: Geisha are NOT prostitutes.
Jun 29, 2011 Lady rated it it was ok
Shelves: true-stories, memiors
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
Alice Lippart
An enlightening non-fiction book about the culture of geisha. It cleared up a lot of misconceptions I had after reading Memoirs of a Geisha. Though perhaps Memoirs is more entertaining, as it is fiction, I found this very fascinating and definitely worth the read.
Oct 31, 2011 Rowena rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, asia
One of my favourite books ever! Mineko's story is so fascinating, filled with tragedy, love and intrigue. Also great introduction to Japanese culture.
Crystal Navarro
Mar 20, 2012 Crystal Navarro rated it liked it
Shelves: historical
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--
Mineko Iwasaki takes you on into her world with her autobiography. In this book you'll learn about some japanese costums, what the world of the geisha (or geiko, as in this book) is like and how it is organized. You'll see how something that is normal for us can be viewed as un-normal or unwanted in this culture (like, signing a fan is not a good thing to do, as the geisha needs it for her performance). Mineko Iwasaki might come off to some people as being on a high horse or arrogant or anything ...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
Sara Murphy
Jul 25, 2013 Sara Murphy rated it it was amazing
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
Nafisa Kassam
Feb 09, 2015 Nafisa Kassam rated it really liked it
This autobiography was written in response to Mineko Iwasaki's displeasure with Memoirs of a Geisha, whose story is based on interviews with her.

I greatly enjoyed the read- it was recanted smoothly and the story flowed. As it does aim to be informative, the correct Japanese/geiko terms can be a bit tough to keep up with.

For those that have commented on the author's arrogance, it's important to note that the making of a good autobiography doesn't necessarily mean seeing eye to eye with the auth
Feb 06, 2012 Arlie rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
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
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
I was eager to read this, so eager that I read it in French--the only copy I could find. The translation from English (and previously of course from Japanese) was easy to read, in spite of a couple of hiccups--as a former professional translator myself, I know those are impossible to avoid. The French translation must be gentler than the English version, as there is quite a lot of self-deprecating humour included in the tales of her beginnings as maiko, and her bid for independence when she get ...more
Dec 22, 2015 Neri. rated it really liked it
This story shocked me. It is an eye-opening that not everything is pretty on the inside as it is on the outside. A first-hand experience from a woman who was geisha herself. This was a very beautifuly written story and it is also a great memoir.
Dec 11, 2015 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Das Buch bietet einen guten Einblick in die Geishakultur und einige Aspekte der japanischen Kultur wie z.B. das Verhalten gegenüber Älteren, Musikinstrumente etc. Es soll außerdem Mineko Iwasaki's Antwort auf Arthur Golden's "Die Geisha" sein, da es sie wohl gestört hat das einige Dinge falsch dargestellt wurden. Man erkennt auch immer wieder wie wichtig es ihr war vorallem den Unterschied von Geisha und Konkubine zu erläutern. Jedoch hat mich während des Lesens immer wieder Mineko's Persönlichk ...more
Oct 24, 2010 Mary rated it liked it
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
Apr 01, 2011 Nikki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Geisha of Gion is the story of one of the geishas that Arthur Golden based his book Memoirs of a Geisha on. I always enjoyed reading Memoirs of a Geisha, though I know it's not accurate and even perhaps exploitative -- it's certainly felt to be so by some people, in any case -- and I did want to read Mineko Iwasaki's words herself. A lot of people seem to have found that her tone was very grating: her self-assurance, her blithe assumption that the world would cater to her and she would never be ...more
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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.
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“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.” 22 likes
“And we are not mountaintop sages who can live by consuming mist.” 11 likes
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