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Ex-geisha takes objection to "Memoirs of a Geisha"

by Keisuke Hirano
Mainichi Shimbun


Mineko Iwasaki
Mineko Iwasaki was born in Kyoto in 1949. Her autobiography is published by Kodansha.

"Geishas are professionals who make a living by using their artistic skills, but many people have a mistaken image of the world of mystery and shadows," says Mineko Iwasaki. Arthur Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha" (translated in Japan as "Sayuri") was published in 1997 and has sold 4 million copies in the United States.

Iwasaki agreed to an interview by the author because she thought she could help dispel "the Fujiyama-geisha image of a woman who sells herself to her customers." She was shocked when Golden's novel turned out to be a narrative that contradicted her very intentions.

"I want people to have a true understanding of the Karyukai ("the flower and willow world" of the geisha) of Kyoto's Gion quarter." This is why Iwasaki published her own memoirs, "Iwasaki Mineko no hana ikusa - honma no koi wa ippen dosu" (The flower wars of geiko Mineko -- True love happens only once). In the book, Iwasaki writes without reservations about the personal relationships and complex give-and-take that go on between the women behind the ornate scenery of the "flower and willow world." She also writes about the pride these women take in their artistic skills.

Iwasaki was taken into an "okiya" (geisha house) at the age of five and became a "maiko" (geisha-in-training) at 15. She has been photographed for magazines and at one time was the highest-earning geisha in town for six years running.

She became a "geiko" (full-fledged geisha) at 21, when she underwent the ceremony called "erikae" (changing of collars). She retired at 29. Three years later, just as she was planning to open her own beauty salon, she met and married her husband, a traditional Japanese painter.

After the publication of her autobiography, Iwasaki has received many letters from young girls who want to become maiko. Her reply: "Only a handful of girls are ever able to earn a living with their artistic skills. It won't be too late to become a maiko after you've finished school."

What would she like to do next?

"I'd like to tell people about some unique encounters with customers, and about the playful world of the flower world."

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