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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 27 October 2002
After reading "Memoirs of a Geisha" i was really hungry for more literature about this fascinating world and i picked the right book. Ms Iwasaki's story is truly interesting and offers an amazing inisght into the REAL world of the geisha. The details are so fine and exquisite that you really dont want to tear yourself away from this world. It also cleared up a lot of misconceptions that "Memoirs of a Geisha" presented. The latter text relates of a practice called the "mizauge" in which a young geisha offers her virginity to a patron (who has paid for the privilege). Ms Iwasaki clears this up and points out that it was NOT a part of her experience as a Geisha and that the practice belongs to another group. The only criticism i would have is that Ms Iwasaki tends to come accross as a little arrogant and presumtious sometimes (e.g the time she believes she caused the Queen and Prince Phillip to sleep in separate beds!). But other than that, this book is truly MARVELLOUS!
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on 8 November 2006
These are the memoirs of Mineko Iwasaki (born Masako Tanaka) who became the number one Geisha in the Gion Kobu area of Kyoto and remained as such until she decided to leave the community at the age of 29. Some reviewers have stated that she seems to think too highly of herself, but my understanding is that she's simply telling her story in the way she remembers it, and her self-descriptions are influenced by what those close to her led her to believe about herself. She left her parents at the age of 5 to live in the Iwasaki okiya, an all female environment, where she trained in the arts necessary to become a Geisha. At the age of 10, she agreed to adoption by the Iwasaki house, and took the name Iwasaki. She eventually left the community because the heirarcy had remained unchanged for several hundred years and was not moving into the present world; the trainee geisha's education is limited to the necessary Geisha arts, with no academic training at all. For instance, as a teenager she had no idea that the human body has 2 kidneys. The accounts of her childhood reveal quite a disturbed child; she would sit in dark cupboards for hours on end if worried or upset by anything. In order to fall asleep, she would suckle at the breast of either her older sister, or her 'Aunty' (the owner of the oikya) and this practice continued until she was 12! She even made a childish attempt to commit suicide by trying to strangle herself with her velvet hair ribbon following her adoption into the Iwasaki `family', although she was never forced into adoption. She goes on to be the number 1 geisha in the Gion Kobu, has a long-term relationship with a well-know, married, Japanese film star which she finished after 5 years, as his promised divorce never materialised. After leaving the Iwasaki house, she went on to marry and still lives in Kyoto with her husband and daughter. Her book was published in 2002, when Mineko was 52. The story, as told, lacks the drama of Memoirs of a Geisha, a book that I read some years ago. It's content, however,is most enlightening to those who have no knowledge of the life and commitment of a geisha and I believe it has been told with honesty.
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on 24 February 2004
I've read the reviews below and think some people have missed the point a little; yes, it's true Mineko can come across as being up herself but in reality she's just very factual, as is the style in Japan. She could easily be discussing someone else's life rather than her own. It's a fasinating book which reveals tons about the kind of life Geisha's have and how much hard work it is. I would highly recommend it - more so than Memoirs of a Geisha.
Read it and be your own judge.
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on 3 August 2003
After reading both 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden, and 'Geisha' by Liza Dalby, I was pleased to find this book as good. The prose flows well and captures the interest, and the photos add an element which was lacking in the other books I have mentioned (although 'Geisha' contained photos, I did not think they were as good, being black and white).
The story is interesting, and Mineko is a good story-teller, with each sentence being complete in itself. However, I would agree with other reviewers, as I also thought that Mineko sounded at times arrogant, and seemed to exude an air of superiority over those around her.
Overall, this book is excellent, and has the notable advantage over 'Memoirs of a Geisha' of being a true story.
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VINE VOICEon 9 December 2006
I purchased this book in error thinking it was fiction (I only read fiction generally) and so when I eventually picked it up to read it and learned my mistake, I was hesitant, and did not feel I would enjoy it. A further disadvantage for me was that it wasn't historical either (as I only read historical fiction as a rule) which was a double blow, and so this caused me to lack even more interest in what I was about to read... However, I gave it a go, and I wasn't disappointed!

I found the book very readable, and I looked forward to each new read when I would pick it up and be surprised at what I read! I found it incredibly fascinating to learn that a small child who had began her life hiding in cupboards and a child who was obviously lacking in great confidence and so bashful, could develop into such an adept person in her Art, and then to be equally successful having 'retired' from her profession upon entering the outside world!

I found this book, enlightening, fascinating and certainly educational! Educational, in that we learn from it that we can all do what we'd like to do if we all put our minds to it - and do it well! I expect this book has been inspirational to many people who would have read it.

When I finished the book, I felt I would miss 'Mineko' - I became fond of her, and genuinely interested in her life.

Highly recommended - even for those who don't usually read non-fiction!

Definitely five stars!
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on 22 December 2015
This is a very good book for those who would wish to understand the complex world of geiko and maiko a bit better. I personally found the insight into family and class relations fascinating. Without understanding of how clans interact with each other and their wealthy clients and tea houses and restaurants you will never form anything approaching a true picture of the "willow world".

The heroine is certainly a very strong willed woman. She is not hesitant to give you her view of things, and her account is very interesting to read. Special thanks to the translator, I have a rudimentary knowledge of Japanese, so can appreciate the difficulty of translating this book into English.

This book is a reflection of the very core idea of how Japanese society functions and balances questions of honour, keeping face, roles of males and females, wealthy patrons, economies and traditions, bullying and fighting for yourself. I have certainly got some understanding of how insanely difficult it is to become a maiko, let alone a successful geiko.
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on 23 January 2007
I am fasinated by the Chinese and Japanese cultures and picked this book up after reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha'.

I must say I enjoyed reading both Geisha of Gion and Memoirs of a giesha. The books are comparatively very similar and when reading you are able to see how the story of Memoirs of a Geisha has been highly influenced by giesha of Gion.

This story is about Mineko Iwasaki (childhood name is Masaka Tanaka). This is her story of her life as a Geisha.

The art of the 'Geiko' or 'Maiko' is very interesting and complex. If she wants to be successful she needs to put alot of effort into practicing the dancing and wake up early and sleep late. The story evolves in the Gion Kobu area of Kyoto the most popular Giesha district. Mineko decided to retire at the age of 29 at the hieght of her success. She became a great dancer and jthe most popular Gieko in the district in the era. Before becoming a Geiko she was a Maiko (dancer) and when she turned her colar she became a Geiko. There is specialised traininig given to Geiko which starts when she is very young. They are trained to dance, pore sake, learn tea cermony and performing. The maiko or Geiko are artists that perform specialised skills in tea houses.

Mineko decided to join the Iwasaki family at the age of five and was adopted at 10. She left her parents to try and improve things for them and to be able to support her parents.

Mineko was hated by one Iwasaki family member whom she learn't afterwards was her own blood sister. Her sister was increasingly becoming jelous of Mineko's success and the love her adoptive mother had for her.

When Mineko was younger she found solace and comfort in a cupboard and was continuing this when she joined the Iwasaki family. She slowly started to find her conifidence and eventually stopped for her own benefit. She was hard working and dedicated to her family and profession.

I do recommend this book to you all. It is worth it and very interesting.

I find the Japanese have a fantastic culture.
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on 11 September 2007
This is definatly an enjoyable read. You are bound to enjoy it if you like Chinese/Japanese literature and are interested in Geisha culture. You do take from this book an insightful understanding of Geisha training in Japan and other aspects of this e.g. tea ceremony, dancing, komono costume design etc.

The book also puts across effectivly just how much time, discipline and dedication is required to train as a Geisha.

However I feel this book falls down in quite a few areas. The progagonist Mineko definatly does come across as arrogant and self-important which is at times off putting. As Mineko trained so young and was such a dedicated student she does seem to have missed out on much emotional development. Reading another review on this book, I agree also that this does make the book a bit one dimensional at times.

Although the book flows well and is very readable the English is simple and at times disjointed or uses wrong expressions. A result of it's translation no doubt. So in terms of English literature I did not find it stretching my vobabulary/appriciation for the art of English in any way.

I also found the descriptions e.g. of the Geiko house very flat and one dimensional at times. Again in line with other reviews I felt this resulted in a slightly one dimensional read and would have benefited from using a more imaginative description.

One last point was the under developed/explained aspect of the protagonists' (Mineko) fustrations of the rigid and archaiac training system of becomming a Geiko. It seems to be only at the end of the book that we begin to learn this. As Mineko retired at the peak of her career at 29 I found this aspect to be unsatisfactory unresolved. For example, if this bothered Mineko so much why didn't she contribute to positivly try and change this for herself and others?

As the end of the book finishes rapidly with a summary of what happened next to Mineko it is hard to accertain Mineko's true depth of feelings/reflection of where she came from and acheived. I know others have mentioned how much they admired Mineko for her sheer determination and hard work. This, I would never knock her for. However for all the status and professional experiences she gained what ultimate price did she pay for this? If anything the book highlights a slightly sad and lonely childhood which Mineko seems to have blotted out by simply working herself into what could have been an early grave.

I did like this book but I wouldn't feel compelled to rush out and recommend it to others as a must read. But like I say if you like oriental literature you definatly will enjoy this one. And perhaps the fact that I've had all this to write about is no bad thing. It certainly has sparked a lot of questions and reflections for me reviewing it.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 22 November 2015
The world of the geisha is one filled with mystery to most of us in the west. The customs, lifestyle and heritage are part of a country and culture many of us know little about. I found this an extraordinary tale. I had no idea that the best geisha were taken from their home and family at such an early age. Or that their indoctrination was so complete.

It's a fascinating slice of social history. I found parts quite uncomfortable, bearing I mind the age of the narrator. The writing is often simplistic. But it seems to be factual with sympathetic translation. I still find it difficult to understand this way of life but now have better insight into how it sits within the Japanese cultural system. Interesting and informed.
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on 2 June 2003
This book was an insightful look into the world of Geisha from the viewpoint of one of it's own (normally close mouthed) people. You really relate to Mineko and her story. A great look at how people react to others within the Flower and Willow world of Kyoto. Also relates the authors own struggles with the education system within the Karyukai. Highly reccommended for anyone intrested in Geisha and their community.
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