Liza Dalby's Geisha is quite simply one of my very favorite books ever. I'm sure it tops the list of many a Japan lover and has enchanted plenty of other readers who enjoy a glimpse into the secret world of another culture. The geisha has become a symbol of all that is mysterious and alluring about Japan, but few of us know what a geisha really does and who she is. I remember so well when I first read--or rather devoured--the book back in 1985 right after I returned from my first stay in Japan. I'd lived in Kyoto for two years and studied Japanese traditional dance, but the world of the geisha was as mysterious to me as ever (and as it is to most Japanese).
But thanks to Liza Dalby, I finally was able to slip into the teahouses of Pontocho to experience the day-to-day life of real geisha. A skilled shamisen player who is fluent in Japanese, Liza actually worked as a geisha as part of her research for her Ph.D. in anthropology at Stanford, and the book does indeed provide an excellent and entertaining education about that world. First and foremost, I learned that geisha are complex and compelling human beings and artists, so much more than the fantasies Westerners entertain about them.
Originally published in 1983, then given a second life with the publication of Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha, Liza Dalby's beloved classic turns twenty-five this year and is being reissued with a lovely new cover and preface which "examines how geisha have been profoundly affected by the changes of the past quarter century yet—especially in Kyoto—have managed to take advantage of modern developments to maintain their social position with flair." Liza has also updated her Web site on geisha and it's a tasty buffet of information, with plenty of delicious photographs and fascinating insights into geisha and courtesans and Japanese culture. Sex and geisha, pictures of Liza in full geisha dress as "Ichigiku,"stages in the life of a geisha, the importance of the seasons--it's all there--but I have to issue a warning. You may find yourself spending the whole afternoon there!
If you've ever been intrigued by Japan's traditional culture, I recommend you take a look!