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Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World Paperback – 14 Jun 2001


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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Headline; New edition edition (14 Jun 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747264260
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747264262
  • Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 2.8 x 19.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 65,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lesley Downer's mother was Chinese and her father a professor of Chinese, so she grew up in a house full of books on Asia. But it was Japan, not China, that proved the more alluring, and she lived there for some fifteen years.

She has written many books about the country and its culture, including Geisha: The Secret History of a Vanishing World, and Madame Sadayakko: The Geisha who Seduced the West, and has presented television programmes on Japan for Channel 4, the BBC and NHK.

She lives in London with her husband, the author Arthur I. Miller, and still makes sure she goes to Japan every year.

Find out more at www.lesleydowner.com

Product Description

Review

'...the accretion of detail in Downer's book gives it the edge on Arthur Golden's Memoirs Of A Geisha' -- Independent

'Lesley Downer... has succeeded in penetrating this intensely secret and rapidly vanishing world and describing it brilliantly' -- Sunday Telegraph

'intriguing, well structured....richly rewarding study' -- Observer

From the Publisher

The only book on geisha you will ever need to read.
Lesley Downer's book on geisha is a compelling and fascinating read, which combines extraordinary historical detail (eg, that the first geisha were male and that male geisha still exist in Japan today) with pitch-perfect narrative about the reality of geisha in contemporary Kyoto and Tokyo. I know that as the book's editor you might not believe me, but Simon Winchester, author of the brilliant and bestselling Surgeon of Crowthorne, calls it 'exquisite... Geisha deserves to become a classic'. It has also had rave reviews in everything from the Literary Review to the Big Issue. So if you enjoyed Arthur Golden, you'll love this even more, particularly because it's real. Enjoy. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 July 2001
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed this book while travelling on a European holiday.
It examines many aspects of the geisha world, both past and present. There are discourses covering the development of the geisha from their roots as courtesans and artistes several centuries ago, through to their heyday in the mid 19th to mid 20th century as the players of games to the politicians and company chairmen, right up to their present declining and redefining state at the turn of the new century. Lesley Downer also covers famous geisha and their tales, the diverse geisha communities both old and new, Japanese sexual attitudes, the role of the wife versus (or complementary to) the geisha, how Western influences changed geishas, how the West misrepresented them, the traditional development and training of a maid girl to maiko to geisha, the traditions that evolved including those of the 'danna' - a keeper of a geisha - and 'mizuage' - maiko deflowering for which vast sums of money could change hands, descriptions of geisha paraphernalia (wigs, fans, kimonos, makeup) and descriptions of visits to current geisha and so-called geisha areas. On the whole, it makes for an enlightening read with good photographic plates. The tone of the book is quite passive, leaving the reader to make their own judgements.
A worthy examination of the geisha culture and a good introduction - I am now interested enough to know more.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 16 Jan 2001
Format: Hardcover
Lesley Downer has written an instant classic on the world of the geisha. Downer's thoroughly researched work is a masterful blend of the autobiographical novel, history, social analysis and sheer entertainment. This is a book to be savoured and appreciated by academics and the general reading public alike. I work and live in Kyoto, a city where I have spent a total of eleven years teaching in various universities. More to the point, I live in an apartment building in Gion, the heart of Kyoto's geisha district--a building where geisha and maiko (trainee geisha) live. When, like only this evening, I come across one of these mysterious creatures as they leave the building to get into a waiting taxi and head off to a local tea house to delight some lucky clients with their beauty and artistry, I feel elated because there is something magical about a geisha's appearence. Such a chance encounter, I may add, is an event that 99% of the Japanese population will never experience. Now, thanks to Lesley Downer's wonderful book, I, the native inhabitants of this land (this work, I am sure, will be translated into Japanese very soon), and readers all around the world can view and admire a very detailed picture which shows us where geisha originate, what place they occupy in contemporary Japanese society, and where their collective destiny may take them as Japan enters an uncertain economic future and an era of rapid social change.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 14 July 2001
Format: Paperback
Interest in the lives of geisha probably started with the publication of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha. Since then many similar books have been released but this is by far the best in the non-fiction genre. Lesley Downer studied geisha first hand by gaining their confidence and trust and then being able to enter what has always been a very secret world. She writes a history of the geisha and also looks at how their way of life in Japan is dying out due to Westernisation. The lives of geisha are hard and the study to become one requires much discipline. I found her book fascinating and it gave me a wonderful insight into a culture often misunderstood by those of us in the west. I have gained tremendous respect for the women who become geisha.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Trevelyan on 14 April 2003
Format: Paperback
Lesley Downer's book on geisha is, quite honestly, one of the best out there. Whereas Liza Dalby has been incorrectly referred to as the only non-Japanese woman to be a geisha (see my review on Dalby's "Geisha"), Downer presumes few airs due to her involvement with the community. The picture of her wearing a geisha wig demonstrate a slight embarrassment but there-through her good-humour in acknowledging that she could never be associated with the fine women of Gion or Pontocho. She is an outsider and she recognises that, even if she learnt much about them.

Downer comments in detail upon the lives, both past & present, of geisha in Japan, talking extensively about how the geisha came to be, as well as how they exist today. In doing so she takes time to show that they are real Japanese women, not just dolls in kimono. Indeed they are self-confident, highly-resourceful individuals who rely on themselves alone for their income (not being allowed to get married or have a partner). This is something that is rarely stressed about geisha. Not only can they retire early, many can live well for the rest of their lives with what they earn.

Interestingly she also touches upon the tayu, once courtesans that survive in far fewer numbers than the geisha and maiko of modern Japan, as well as the taiko-mochi ("male geisha"). These are "artists" that few authors have ever discussed. This is one of the things that makes the book for me. Whereas other works have been somewhat narrow in their focused, Downer tries to be more thorough in examining other related areas.

She does a fantastic job in conveying how closed and inaccessible this world is normally, being quite honest in how her initial attempts to enter it were frustrated.
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