Saturday, 1 February 2014

Book Review: Geisha by Liz Dalby

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 her Asakusa hanamachi for not going for lessons and being rude (ETA: or so I hear from a few Japanese websites I read). And then I found out that there was actually a lady who was a geisha before her called Liz Dalby. And guess what? Liz Dalby wrote a book, which I very conveniently found at Rainbow Plaza in Tenjin -insert squeals of joy-

This book is awesome. I think I'm going to have to buy a copy for myself. Geisha is, to describe it simply, an account of how Geishas in Japan function, interspered with Liz Dalby's experience.

It could be said that as an anthropologist, Liz Dalby became too involved in what she was studying, but I think it just proves that she really knows her subject matter. What she does is to describe the various practices of the geisha and what they think about it. What she thinks is part of her experience, and I don't think she makes that many professional judgements in her book.

While Liz Dalby was based in Pontocho in Kyoto, she did travel to various Geisha communities in Tokyo and Atami hot springs. It was actually through a casual mention in the Atami hot springs chapter that I heard that Kyushu does have geisha. Fukuoka has the Hakata Bazoku Geisha. A quick internet search shows that they have a home page. Apparently, they perform at the Hakata Dontaku festival in May, so now I have a huge interest in going (I uh, I left for Huis Ten Bosch during Dontaku last year, since it's during Golden Week). And because I'm distractedly clicking through the geisha website while writing this, here's an interesting page: Geisha words. Did you know that they call the 三味線 (shamisen) 糸 (ito)? If I remember correctly from Liz Dalby's book, the geisha's in Kyoto call theirs おしゃみ (o-shami). Perhaps this is a regional thing, or perhaps it's a time period thing (Geisha was published in 1983).

If you're interested in Geisha, you should really check out this book. It's interesting and very well-written.

P.s. If you'd like to buy it from Amazon.com, I'd be so grateful if you use this affiliate link. It won't add to your cost, and it'll help me earn a bit of money. This link leads to the 25th Anniversary Edition, Updated Edition of Geisha by Liz Dalby