So you want to be a geisha...

Since my book Geisha first came out, I have received dozens of letters and phone calls from women convinced that they were geisha in a previous existence. Others want advice on how to become geisha themselves. 

   What exactly is the appeal of geisha to Western women? And what do I advise would-be Western geisha?

   I made a list of practical requirements. For example, that one would have to learn the Japanese language to a point of utter fluency. That one would need to practice sitting for hours on folded legs. That it is imperative to enjoy interacting with Japanese men. And then comes the serious study of the performing arts which define the profession. And even then, it would be terribly difficult to be accepted by a geisha community.

   But practical advice was never the point. The appeal of geisha to Westerners rests on something else entirely.

   The western fascination with geisha is not new. It began with images from woodblock prints flooding out of a newly-opened Japan to a curious Europe and United States from the 1860s onward. A geisha was about as different as it was possible to be from the familiar girl-next-door. Racially, linguistically, and culturally foreign, geisha became objects of fantasy for men and women both.