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Geisha in Rivalry: A Tale of Life, Love and Intrigue in the Shimbashi Geisha Quarter [Paperback]

Kafu Nagai , Shin Misho , Kurt Meissner
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (16 Aug 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804833249
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804833240
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 645,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Kaf Nagai's novels are a real living source of the `water trade', the shady world of the geisha quarter in Tokyo with its `high' and `low' houses, its bosses and accountants, its madams and `servants'.

His picture of the trade is melancholic. He sees through the white masks and the kimono glitter of the geisha professionals: `Once you become a geisha, no matter what you do, it's hopeless.'
Nearly all the geishas in Kaf's novels (all translated in French) chose this profession out of economic necessity (if they were not sold by their parents), as a means of survival.
The studies are extremely hard and expensive. They are financed by `investors' who want their money back as quick as possible. Geishas are saddled with huge amounts of debt before they can earn a living.
Therefore, they search desperately for a rich danna (protector) or outright for a husband, who can reimburse their debt and set them free. The rivalry for that kind of persons is fierce and without pity. It is a world where the `human touch' is a real exception.
But, for Kaf, it is the same the other way round: `People are saying that what's more important than her good looks is her big dowry.'

Kaf Nagai's novels excel by their subtle, impressionistic, colorful picture of a harsh profession, by his in depth search for the human faces behind the varnish and by their subdued atmosphere.

Not to be missed by all lovers of Japanese and world literature.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mean girls 18 Feb 2008
By Zack Davisson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Apparently catty girls fighting over a popular guy knows neither the boundaries of time nor place nor social status. "Geisha in Rivalry" could just as easily be a hot new teen film, starring Lindsay Lohan as the naive new girl being manipulated and preyed upon by the more cynical seniors. Even when set against the elegance of the flower and willow world, these women of the arts are still just ordinary people inside, with hopes and ambitions and disappointments just like everyone else.

And that really is the charm of this book. The geisha here are just allowed to be people, and interact in a regular old-fashioned love/rival story, rather than serving as some great symbol of refined and mysterious Japan. There is almost no emphasis put on the job of the geisha, the endless hours of training, the various roles in the geisha house and the extravagance of rare mockingbird-poop make-up that gives them a special sheen. Instead, they are just human beings doing a job, not all of them happy with it, not all of them good at it, but all of them determined to make some go at happiness, by hook or by crook. Author Kafu Nagai has put forth a story that is far more Jane Austen than Kawabata Yasunari, more light-hearted romp than heavy-hitting classic.

The basic story has Komayo arriving on the Tokyo Shimbashi geisha scene, returning after a short break when she was married are taken to the countryside. Her husband dead and her marriage over, she returns to the only work she knows. Unknowingly stealing a client from another geisha, the established and imperious Rikiji, she sets herself in a position of retaliation, and the gears start slowly working against her. Others move about the scene, like Hanasuke, the second-place girl content to be in the background but still looking after her own interests, or the slutty Ranka about whom it is gossiped that she is little more than a prostitute painted like a geisha but is still very popular with the male customers. The prize for all involved is the handsome and popular actor Segawa, a somewhat fickle man who is content to watch the game unfold and see who emerges the winner.

The translation of "Geisha in Rivalry" is a little outdated, but does a great job of keeping the active and fun spirit of the original language. A few odd choices were made, like literally translating "maiko" as "dancing girl" instead of leaving it as it is or using the more common "apprentice geisha", but none of this interferes with the story. A short book at a little over 200 pages, it is still a great read and a refreshing perspective for anyone wanting to read about geisha, or just get involved in a fun catty story of a couple of pretty gals maneuvering for the top guy.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars an old translation revisited 31 May 2007
By A. Chambers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Just some background: This translation was first published in 1963. No doubt it has been re-issued to cash in on the fad for anything relating to geisha. A better (but partial) translation, along with a biography of the author and other translations of his works, appears in Edward Seidensticker's "Kafu the Scribbler" (pub. 1965 and still available), and was reprinted in 1971 in "A Strange Tale from East of the River, and Other Stories" (out of print).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grief must lie at the heart of relationships between men and women 15 Sep 2008
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Kaf Nagai's novels are a real living source of the `water trade', the shady world of the geisha quarter in Tokyo with its `high' and `low' houses, its bosses and accountants, its madams and `servants'.

His picture of the trade is melancholic. He sees through the white masks and the kimono glitter of the geisha professionals: `Once you became a geisha, no matter what you do, it's hopeless.'
Nearly all the geishas in Kaf's novels (all translated in French) chose this profession out of economic necessity (if they were not sold by their parents), as a means of survival.
The studies are extremely hard and expensive. They are financed by `investors' who want their money back as quick as possible. Geishas are saddled with huge amounts of debt before they can earn a living.
Therefore, they search desperately for a rich danna (protector) or outright for a husband, who can reimburse their debt and set them free. The rivalry for that kind of persons is fierce and without pity. It is a world where the `human touch' is a real exception.
But, for Kaf, it is the same the other way round: `People are saying that what's more important than her good looks is her big dowry.'

Kaf Nagai's novels excel by their subtle, impressionistic, colorful picture of a harsh profession, by his in depth search for the human faces behind the varnish and by their subdued atmosphere.

Not to be missed by all lovers of Japanese and world literature.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Art of Backbiting 9 July 2007
By Crazy Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Geisha. Easily one of the most recognizable images of Japan familiar even to the average American who can't tell Tokyo from Kyoto. They've shown up in Hollywood from John Wayne's time to our own, and there's hardly a travel guide from which they're absent. And yet for all that (or because of that, I should say), these women are rather poorly understood--the realities of their lives warped and distorted by romanticized visions, exotic fantasies, sentimentalized condescension, and stern moralizing, not to mention plain old misinformation. The complex web of cultural politics and stereotypes being what they are, this situation probably isn't going to vanish overnight, but in terms of gradual amelioration there are probably few reality checks more enjoyable than Nagai Kafu's classic novel "Udekurabe" of 1918, here translated into English as "Geisha in Rivalry" and reissued in a handy commuting-friendly paperback by good old Tuttle.

Granted, in this novel we are viewing the social world of Geisha through a decidedly male gaze. But this is a male gaze with keen powers of perception. Nagai Kafu was infinitely curious about the demi-monde and so is able to depict the complicated dynamics of the Geisha's social world with convincing authenticity. Kafu indeed seems to delight in the endless details and complications of this shady world, delineating it from a number of perspectives (different types of Geisha and their different patrons along with the owners and operators of Geisha houses and the novelists, actors, and mooching bums loosely associated with the floating world). He is at once cheerfully enthusiastic about the glamorous aspects of their lives while sympathetically realistic about the sordid aspects, and it is this balanced binocular vision which allows him to depict the Geisha in the novel as memorably three-dimensional characters with hopes, dreams, challenges, frustrations, triumphs, heartbreaks, alliances, rivalries, and of course a very unhealthy dose of nasty backbiting and oneupswomanship (as per the title). For all that it has going on, though, all of it is held together by the core storyline, a fairly simple tale of a good-heartedly ambitious Geisha by the name of Komayo; the plot meanders along at just the right pace as she navigates the stormy seas of romance and the tricky shoals of her profession, making a few friends and a lot of enemies along the way. Will she hit bottom or sail on to the horizon? You'll just have to read and see.

P.S. For anyone interested in comparing translations, there's a new one of "Udekurabe" coming out fairly soon in August 2007 (Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale (Japanese Studies Series)).
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging reading about a way of life seldom heard. 22 Dec 2013
By Nancy J Fulton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The story flowed smoothly, the characters lively, the drama believable. An interesting look into a world of which I knew nothing. I enjoyed the richness of the descriptions of clothing and how they were worn. The backdrop settings were delightfully not neglected. The characters were brought to life as though on a screen. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel. Will definitely try other Nagai writings.
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