the book GEISHA

by Liza Dalby

Geisha are exotic even in their homeland. At the same time, geisha are the most Japanese of Japanese. In this book, Liza Dalby examines these intriguing women, practitioners of the classical arts of music and dance and unmarried companions to the Japanese male elite.

   The profession was born in the licensed demimonde of eighteenth-century Japan, where geisha were originally entertainers to the high-ranked prostitutes and their customers. As their popularity grew, geisha gradually became society's fashion arbiters, and their sophisticated style had a great impact on the arts, music, and literature of nineteenth-century Japan.

   Today an air of paradox clings to geisha. They are trained in the respected arts of classical music and dance. Yet because they take lovers rather than marry, a middle-class girl who chooses the profession causes parental dismay. It is an unusual girl who chooses this disciplined, glamorous, recherché way of life today.

   During the 1930s they made the transition from fashion innovator to curator of tradition, and in so doing, geisha assured themselves a continuing role in modern society. The ideal of artistic achievement and feminine allure that they represent is deeply rooted in Japan.

   GEISHA combines ethnography with a view from the inside. Liza Dalby was accepted into the geisha community of Pontochō in Kyoto for a yearlong stint under the geisha name Ichigiku. This account of her unique experience provides an intimate look into a feminine community that has been the subject of rumor and fantasy for centuries in the West. In explaining the beauty of the paradox of geisha today, she holds up a mirror to the complexities of Japanese culture itself. She leads the reader to a rich understanding of Japan and one of the most Japanese of all existing institutions.