This memoir continues (timewise) where Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) ends. Mineko Iwasaki was born after WWII, and retired in the 1970s.
Iwasaki first explains that geisha means artist. She considered herself a geiko (female artist) and also a maiko (a woman of dance). She was also an atori, the head of household and business for other geikos who worked in the Iwasaki lodging house and the support staff.
She does acknowledge that some women do work as prostitutes, but geikos are artists. But, love can happen when men and women come together.
Iwaski was one of 11 children. Some older siblings became geikos, but she was chosen by the Iwasaka atori to be the next atori. She lived in the Gion section of
She started her training at age five but she was not adopted by the Iwasaki family until she was about 10. Until this point, she occasionally visited her parents. After the adoption, she did not.
“A first-class geiko is constantly in the glare of spotlights while I spent much of my childhood hiding in a darkened closet. A first-class geiko uses all the skills at her command to please her audience.. while I prefer solitary pursuits A first-class geiko is an exquisite willow tree who bends to the service of others while I have always been stubborn and contrary by nature, and very, very proud.”
Iwasaki was happy at home, but fate had another path planned for her. She started dance lessons at age 6, attending school, and did some minor household tasks. At age 15, she stopped attending regular school, went to dance school in the mornings, paid respectful visits to others in the geiko community, rehearsed for dance performances, studied national and international events, and biographies of clients and patrons, and performed the geiko duties in the evenings. Iwasaka worked almost non-stop, seven days a week, for several years. She did have to stop once when her kidneys failed; she usually slept about 4 or 5 hours a night. She did have servants, so she didn’t have to do household tasks or run errands, like other young women in
Iwasaki chafed under the restrictions. Although the system allowed her to earn a great deal of money, she could not dance what she felt like; she had to follow the rules of the dance mistress. She wanted to continue her formal education, but that was frowned upon.
She has no idea how to handle money, or how much things costs. She falls in love with a married man, who promises to leave his wife. She has to ask the permission from a go-between to make arrangements.
Despite the restrictions, Iwasaka was determined to continue expanding her mind. She tried learning new ideas from talking to clients. She kept petitioning the governing board of the geikos for modernizations, despite their refusal. She lived in her own apartment for a bit and learned how to cook and clean and deal with her budget. She took better care of herself and went on vacations.
I learned many things about the geikos: how much a kimino costs and why it is so precious, how envious other women can be (I worked in mostly male offices, so this was eye opening for me), how difficult is it to dress and get ready for an evening of work, how strict the dancing was. Also, entire families get to know their favorite geiko and even invite her to visit them in their vacation home.
Iwasaki decides to retire at a rather young age and marry an artist. She learns another career. She still goes to Gion to see the geikos.
I enjoyed reading this autobiography and recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about this world.