I just finished the book and I have to agree with the reviews; it was hard to put down and refused to stay shut.
I’d like to first mention a bit of controversy surrounding the novel. It was written by a westerner named Arthur Golden. I wanted to know if this book was worth reading and so read up on his sources. Well, his main source was a real geisha named Mineko Iwasaki. The controversy lies in that he was allegedly not supposed to name her as the source since the geisha world is very secretive. She ended up getting into quite a bit of trouble with that world over this book and even some death threats.
I dug into it a little and it is hard to discern the truth. On one hand I would give a Japanese person the benefit of the doubt when it comes to honesty. But on the other hand I cannot see the author agreeing to this and then outing her anyway. She is the first person he mentions in the acknowledgements and she is integral to this entire work! My own theory is that Mrs. Iwasaki might have been fine with it but didn’t expect it to become as popular as it did which then caused problems and she needed to cover herself a bit. Otherwise Mr. Golden is just a terrible person. Again, it is very hard to understand this because as Japanese culture is based on honor I don’t think either side would have purposely done something so dishonorable as an outright lie (without excellent reason).
I read up on Arthur Golden’s background and as it turns out he is a member of the Ochs-Sulzberger family which owns controlling stock in the New York Times. That means trust fund baby. I had my suspicions when reading his brief autobiography in the book. He went to Harvard and majored in Japanese history. Who goes to Harvard and majors in Japanese history??? Trust fund babies do. Secondly how did he even have access to a former top Geisha? He comes from a very powerful family that knows other powerful families, that is how.
The rest of his autobiography says he then went on to earn an MA in Japanese history at Columbia where he also studied Mandarin Chinese. With all these Japanese studies why wouldn’t he study the Japanese language? Then he studied in Beijing, worked in Tokyo and then got an MA in English at Boston University. This is totally the autobiography of a rich kid with a fascination for Asia with the means to be a ‘forever student.’ The book was fantastic so Mr. Golden is a great writer. I guess he should be expected to be a great writer as his education would have cost a fortune!
However, I’m more interested in real history and from the source. So after this controversy arose, Mrs. Iwasaki wrote a book of her own called Geisha, A Life. Mrs. Iwasaki says many things are greatly exaggerated and even untrue in Golden’s book so now I have to read Mrs. Iwasaki’s book as I’d like a picture that is closer to actual history than Mr. Golden’s book, which is stated fiction, has given me.
This book became a popular movie but that created its own controversy. Three very popular Chinese actresses were selected to play roles that are 100% Japanese exclusive. This didn’t sit well with the Japanese or Chinese sides.
As for the story itself, I found myself imagining what it must have been like to be in that exclusive club found in only one town in all of Japan. Yes there were geisha elsewhere but it was in Gion where the old traditions held sway according to the novel and I’m assuming is based on historical fact. The elites would gather to drink and be entertained in a style only found in Japan. Perhaps it wasn’t that special at all to them, it was just how the upper class was accustomed to being entertained. Something that would seem otherworldly to a foreigner, or a time traveler was just a part of life to the men who frequented those places. The elites always have their places to play although in the West we do not have a culture of normalized female entertainment thanks to a Puritan strain that unfortunately continues to run through this country.
If I were to compare then my thoughts immediately go to the Moss Beach Distillery which was a play area for elites here in San Francisco during the ’20s and Prohibition. It was an entry point to California for booze from Canada and was one of the only place (if not the only one!) that didn’t get shut down all for the simple reason is that is where the elite of society liked to party. There you’d drink the sweet prohibited nectar of alcohol, listen to music, dance and maybe, just maybe, they had some dancing girls or something like that but nothing like a geisha.
Now days, it seems the tradition of female entertainment and geisha has evolved into hostess clubs in Japan. You still make conversation, drink and enjoy the company of a woman. Like geisha times this can also lead to sex but is not prostitution and at the volition of both parties. The money is paid for the company and drinks but if it progresses then that is more because both parties want to do so and money much less of a role.
In the modern USA you have clubs like The Battery in downtown San Francisco where the rich go to drink and look at each other. If there are women comforts then I imagine it is kept under wraps since prostitution is illegal thanks to those fun loving Puritans and the various Jesus movements that infect our entire society today. I’m sure things still go on in a big way but I’m not part of that world so wouldn’t know.
My Favorite Quotes:
Since moving to New York I’ve learned what the world “geisha” really means to most Westerners. From time to time at elegant parties, I’ve been introduced to some young woman or other in a splendid dress and jewelry. When she learns I was once a geisha in Kyoto, she forms her mouth into a sort of smile, although the corners don’t turn up quite as they should. She has no idea what to say! And then the burden of conversation falls to the man or woman who has introduced us – because I’ve never really learned much English, even after all these years. Of course, by this time there’s little point even in trying, because this woman is thinking, “My goodness…I’m talking with a prostitute…” A moment later she’s rescued by her escort, a wealthy man a good thirty or forty years older than she is. Well, I often find myself wondering why she can’t sense how much we really have in common. She is a kept woman, you see, and in my day so was I.
She cannot see the similarity because along with that Puritan strain we have a very strong culture of hypocrisy here in the USA. A good majority of people in the USA want to appear upstanding and moral yet they watch scandalous entertainment, segregate themselves and care very little for those unlike them, the divorce rate is well over 50% and the main motivator is greed. Need an example? Take a look at the President of the USA now Donald Trump. He is a con man and a crook yet the envy of a good part of American society. It makes no sense at all. And what about the wife that he bought Melania? She married Donald for money of course and anyone who says differently is an idiot and perhaps a voluntary idiot. How simpler it would have been if our society would just permit mistresses as socially acceptable. Then we wouldn’t have to go through this nonsense of pretending to be in love when in fact the guys want sex and the women money?
Here is the twist that an average American couldn’t understand. I do not look down on Melania nor think poorly of her at all. I’m sure she is a decent person whose great looks are both a wonderful asset as well as tremendous curse. She gets the money but has to put up with a husband as crass, vain and idiotic as Donald. I imagine she doesn’t love him at all and like geisha has to bury her true emotions and true loves due to circumstances. I for one am in favor of allowing for mistresses and doing away with the fairy tail nonsense of true, everlasting love. Real life isn’t a Disney movie for God’s sakes but a good majority of Americans are absolutely infantile that increasingly can barely get their own affairs in order. For a great example of and infantile man/boy look no farther than VP Mike Pence. Poor guy cannot even have dinner alone with a woman other than his wife, or something might happen!!! My God, it is all so depressing the way society has gone.
So in short, young women who are marring wealthy older men are “kept” women just as a geisha is kept. The difference is a geisha can keep the relationship much simpler and cleaner without all the fake appearances and bullshit we do here in the West.
An en is a karmic bond lasting a lifetime. Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.
In the West we have the illusion of making our own choices and controlling our own destinies. It is something we like to tell ourselves as part of our national character. Yes, we can control our own destinies and our futures are determined by individual choices there is so much about ourselves that is shaped by others. Here are some examples.
How many people share the same religion as their parents? I would guess it is around 80% or so and religion is something that is very hard to shake off when you’ve been brought up believing the nonsense and so does everyone around you.
How many people live further than 50 miles away from their parents? The typical American lives only 18 miles away from Mom and Dad.
How many children share the same education level as their parents?
How many kids share the same political opinions as their parents and/or those that surround them? If people were able to truly form their own opinions then shouldn’t we have a smattering of red and blue all over the place in the electoral map instead of huge blocks of red and blue?
So the fact is, we have gotten very good at telling ourselves we make our own decisions, that we are individuals. Nope, the majority here in the USA are pieces of clay shaped by those who have been in their lives.
Over the years, she probably succeeded in drinking herself to death. She certainly wouldn’t have been the first geisha to do it.
When I read this I think about the false faces we show to society. My first thought is to social media where everyone portrays only their best sides and that their lives are perfect. The reality of it is depression is on the rise, drug use is on the rise and we’ve got (mostly women) uploading picture after picture of themselves for social approval and to feed that need for “likes,” yet who are actually falling down a pit of depression.
I then think of actors such as Robin Williams, Chris Farley and many others who show a happy face, just like geisha, to the outside world but are dying on the inside. Seems we all have similar experiences as humans although our circumstances can be quite different. Same feelings, completely different worlds.
In summary, I certainly enjoyed the book and am looking forward to re-watching the movie. I also need to buy Geisha, A Life and read that as well. I noticed it is exactly the same price as Mr. Golden’s book but I imagine has not sold nearly as many copies. That is too bad.