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Women Of The Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History Of The Geisha (2002)

Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha (2002)
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Rating
3.8 of 5 Votes: 2
ISBN
0767904907 (ISBN13: 9780767904902)
languge
English
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publisher
broadway books
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Women Of The Pleasure Quarters: The S...
Women Of The Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History Of The Geisha (2002)

About book: Downer begins with the story of her embarkation on the quest to write this book, unashamedly and amusingly confessing her own mistakes and misconceptions when trying to access the geisha world, understandably well defended by every subtle barrier of etiquette against the exotifying and fetishising tendencies of western journalists. Eventually, perseverance and cake grant her both insight and cautious welcomes, and the real story begins.This strategy of creating the ambiance of the present geisha world, alive in modern Japan and perpetuated by people with very diverse lives and interests, is the perfect preface to the history of love, pleasure, courtesans and geisha in Japan, because it plants the seed of critical consciousness and empathy with the characters in that story as people like ourselves, rather than exotic otherworldly beings.Although it's a romantic, maybe even a bit breathless, history, it's very woman-centred and Downer successfully creates empathy with women finding ways to survive and flourish in a changing but always very patriarchal society. She laces her beautifully written narrative with contemporary literary quotations and comments that reveal attitudes and preoccupations of the day.Progressing into the present, the story gradually fleshes out into a substantial, integrated account of geisha culture in Japan, thoroughly researched and lucidly written by a woman acting as nearly as possible as participant observer. Westerners' interest in geisha is undoubtedly rooted in stereotypical views of Japan (hence the defensiveness that initially made Downer's project difficult). Although this book exists to feed that interest, and although it is written by a westerner, it works against exotification and orientalist othering by constantly prioritising the voices and experiences of the geisha and their adjuncts. In my opinion it is well worth reading by anyone interested in women's history.

I read this book about a month ago. I went to my local Half Price Books and found it within the Asian History section. I love to read anything pertaining to the geisha of Japan. I found this book very informative on the history and the making of the modern day geiko and maiko of Kyoto and other districts of Japan I had no clue still existed. I only thought the high class geiko of Kyoto were the last nest of women performing this ancient tradition. Her adventures delving her way into this secret world was very enthralling as she went in head first only to be rejected without adhering to the subtle code the world of the geisha have made in order for their secrecy to be just that a secret. Though I really enjoyed reading, I did find the author repeated herself and made the same point of Geisha being separate than that of a courtesan though walking the same thin line. But other than this book is an easy and entertaining read if you're just beginning to research the "floating world" of Japan's culture.
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Reviews
Ashley
I found this book right after I had read Memoirs of a Geisha and found myself wanting to know more about the geisha world. Overall I loved the book. I often find myself going back to read the more personal moments when the author is telling about how she lived in the geisha world more often than I go back to look up the actual history. I found myself cheering for her to break through the secrets that the Geisha kept for myself but by the end of the book I came to the thought that there were just somethings you were better off not knowing. Overall what I'm trying to convey to you is that if you want to know more about the geisha world without finding out such a deep history that you lose all interest for it I suggest that you read this book.
Sera Trevor
A really fascinating book with lots of interesting history. The one quibble I had with it was that the author seemed torn between her idealization of the geisha life and the obviously problematic aspects. She goes to pains to point out the differences between the modern geisha and the geisha of the past, which is great - obviously times have changed and geisha are not constricted the way they once were. But when she dips into the past, her views get contradictory. She goes into depth about the practice in the past of selling young girls into indentured servitude - but at the same time, she seems to romanticize those long ago times. I rolled my eyes when she mentioned that it was really the wives and the geisha who had men "wrapped around their little fingers." Uh, given that they were completely financially dependent on those men who could withdraw their support at any time, that does not really count as being "in control" of the situation. She also refers to geisha of the past as proto-feminists since they lived on their own, but again, the constraints of the era left them completely dependent on men, married or not. She seemed to really want the geisha of the past to be empowered so that she could keep her romanticized view, but her own research revealed that the truth was a lot murkier. I'm giving a four star review because I did find the history very interesting and well-researched, but it did suffer when the author interjected her starry-eyed views.
Patrick
I loved this book as it explains the role of geisha in traditional Japanese culture as artists and great conversationalists and not merely common prostitutes. For this, I give this book 4.5 stars.All Geisha names are professional names. Apparently, Japanese men find the neck of women extremely erotic. Kyoto not Tokyo used to be the cultural heart of Japan and thus preserves its Geisha tradition. Geisha's were built by women to create a man's dream world and thus were the only source of power ava
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