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really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  4,199 ratings  ·  192 reviews
Liza Dalby, author of The Tale of Murasaki, is the only non-Japanese woman ever to have become a geisha. This is her unique insight into the extraordinary, closed world of the geisha, a world of grace, beauty and tradition that has long fascinated and enthralled the West. Taking us to the heart of a way of life normally hidden from the public gaze, Liza Dalby shows us the ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 28th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1983)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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Jul 24, 2010 rated it liked it
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
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
Feb 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

May 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was amazing! I learned so many new things, and I loved all of the pictures. Liza Dalby brings so much information and personal experience to this anthropological study of Geisha. It makes me wish that I could have also experienced what she was able to. Highly recommend if you are at all interested in this subject.
Oct 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone who is fascinated by geisha, Japan, history or other cultures.
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
Regina Ibrahim
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
so many books on Geisha Culture. Read this one first then proceed to watch Arthur Golden Memoir of a Geisha. Then you can stop reading about Geisha... This book can be found at secondhand book store if you are lucky.
Liza gave an extensive view of an interesting and fascinating world of being being a Geisha. Music, Poetry and the art of entertaining.
a must read.
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Kelsey McKim
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 13, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
If you have ever read "Memoirs of a Geisha" then you should read this book too. Liza Dalby gives a whole different perspective on being a Geisha as she herself, a foreigner, became an actual geisha!! Excellent book!! What an eye-opener!

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 ...more
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 18, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Jen B
Apr 01, 2015 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
Lorna Collins
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Jul 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, own, japan
This is a brilliant book for anyone who wants to learn about the geisha of Japan, written by someone who has first-hand experience. Liza Dalby, an anthropologist, was the first westerner to be accepted and trained as a geisha and this resulting book is her dissertation on the subject.
As it was written in the 1970s some of the information is a little bit dated but I think it stands the test of time as a great book to introduce someone to the subject.
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.
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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!
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, japan
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.
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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".
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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

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