Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Geisha's Journey

by Komomo
Photographs by Naoyuki Ogino
Non-Fiction/Auto-biography/Photography, 2008
Kodansha International, hardback, 139 p.
This is the story of a contemporary Japanese teenager who, in a search for an identity, became fascinated with the world of geiko-as Kyoto's geisha are known-and discovered in herself the will and the commitment to overcome the many years of apprenticeship necessary to become one.

It is a story related by a young Japanese photographer who grew up overseas, and who also was captivated by the lives led by these women who choose to dedicate their lives to their art. He began following and documenting the life of the teenager, Komomo, as she studied and grew into her role.

The photographs are accompanied by autobiographical text and captions by Komomo, as she shares her thoughts and emotions, and describes the life of a Kyoto apprentice. It is an illuminating view of seven years in the life of a very unique young woman.
Given my fascination with traditional Japanese arts and my interest in photography, when I came across this book in the bookstore earlier this year, I knew that it had to come home with me!
The focus of the book is certainly the beautiful photographs, so the text is a bit sparse, but we still get an idea of the girl who became the geiko, Komomo, and the journey that took her there. I’ve read some other books on geisha, like Liza Dalby’s Geisha, or Geisha of Gion (Geisha: A Life, US title) by Mineko Iwasaki, but it was interesting to get a modern look at the hanamachi (geisha district) through the eyes of a “twenty-first century geisha”. And I’m sure I’ll return to it often to admire the gorgeous photos. Recommended.

© Naoyuki Ogino

Short interview with Komomo
Naoyuki Ogino's online photo gallery
More photos from the book can be seen here.

My Rating: 4/5
*cross-posted on my blog.


Bellezza said...

Tanabata, I have an embarrassing question: are geisha still a part of life in Japan today? If so, what is their role? I always thought of them as have a place in the past, but I could be very wrong.

Your review of this book, including the photos and the author interview, was very interesting. I've always been entranced with how the geisha look, and like you, I would be returning to the photos often myself.

tanabata said...

There aren't nearly as many as there once were but yes, and the numbers are declining but there are still some. There are still a few geisha districts in Kyoto and Tokyo.

The geisha, Komomo, that this book is about, started her training in about 2000 and only became a full-fledged geisha in 2005 or so. As far as I know she's still working as a geisha in Kyoto. That's why it was interesting to read this book (and of course admire the photos) because the other books I've read on geisha were mainly memoirs or described geisha life a few decades ago.

Their role, I imagine, is much as it always was, to entertain at exclusive parties. The average Japanese doesn't have much opportunity to attend a party with geisha but company executives, or other well-off men would still have evenings at the tea houses. I would guess it's a status thing.

Bellezza said...

I wonder if 'entertaining' means something along the line of sexual favors; that's the part I've not been fully clear on. I've equated geisha with elegant prostitutes, mentally, but that can't be right with all of their training, beauty, and elegance. It helps to know from you that they are exclusive, and are to entertain. Thanks for getting back to me, Tanabata.

DreamQueen said...

This is a great blog and great challenge idea - is it too late for me to become a participant?

tanabata said...

Bellezza- No, that has long been a Western misconception about geisha but everything I've read about them stresses that they aren't courtesans or prostitutes.
Now geisha can be quite independent but apparently it used to be common for a geisha to have a danna, essentially a wealthy patron who paid for her upkeep. In the book she mentions this but also says that even ballet dancers used to have patrons who supported them. It didn't mean they were sexually involved.
From what I understand, 'entertaining' is playing tradition music, doing traditional dances, pouring the drinks, laughing at the jokes and creating an environment where the men can relax and feel spoiled.

Bellezza said...

Dreamqueen, thank you, and it's not too late at all. I assume you know the "rule" of three books by January 30 in the genre of Japanese literature. I'll add you to the list of participants, and I'll send you an invitation so that you can post your reviews (or thoughts) on this Review Site. I'm glad you're interested in joining!

Tanabata, ah, that's the kind of entertaining I'm glad to know they do. Thanks again for getting back to're such a good teacher!

DreamQueen said...

Thanks for the add, belleza! I do know the format, which is why I was so excited when I stumbled upon this blog.

Bellezza said...

I'm glad your stumble brought you here, dreamqueen. It's so nice to 'meet' you.