Synopses & Reviews
Ever since Westerners arrived in Japan, they have been intrigued by Japanese womanhood and, above all, by geisha. This fascination has spawned a wealth of extraordinary fictional creations, from Puccinis Madame Butterfly
to Arthur Goldens Memoirs of a Geisha
. But as denizens of a world defined by silence and mystery, real geisha are notoriously difficult to meet and even to find. As a result, their history has long been cloaked in secrecy.
Lesley Downer, an award-winning writer, Japanese scholar, and consummate storyteller, gained more access to this world than almost any other Westerner, and spent several months living in it. In Women of the Pleasure Quarters, she weaves together intimate portraits of modern geisha with the romantic legends and colorful historical tales that shape their fascinating past. Contrary to popular opinion, geisha are not prostitutes but, literally, "arts people." Accomplished singers, dancers, and musicians, they are, above all, masters of the art of conversation, soothing the worries and stroking the egos of wealthy businessmen who can afford their attentions. Looking into such traditions as mizuage, the ritual deflowering that was once a rite of passage for all geisha, and providing colorful descriptions of their dress, training, and homes, Downer transforms their reality into a captivating narrative, and reveals an enthralling world unlike any other.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -280) and index.
In this revealing, accessible, and up-to-date portrait of geisha society, an expert on Japanese culture provides personal insight into a perpetually enchanting underworld. 25 photos. 15 line drawings.
About the Author
An authority on Japanese history and culture, LESLEY DOWNER is the author of several acclaimed works on Japan, including a travel book, On the Narrow Road, and The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japans Richest Family, selected as a New York Times Notable Book. Having lived in Japan for a decade, she now divides her time between London and New York.