Friday, 25 May 2012

Author Golden "Memoirs of Geisha" and Lesley Downer "Gaisha. Secret History of Vanishing World"


Arthur Golden-Memoirs of a Geisha
At the end of the twentieth century a new wave of fashion for Japan and Japanese culture went through the world thanks to Arthur Golden’s book "Memoirs of a Geisha". 
A fascinating, partly sad, story of gray-eyed geisha, Sayuri, takes place in the early twentieth century in Kyoto. A girl from a poor family was sold to okiya, a place where love did not exist, but paradoxically, a place where those who emanate beauty and love were raised. Sayuri would spend her childhood and youth in an atmosphere where everything was based on strict calculation, sometimes hatred, and through a series of fatal events would gain access to the world of geishas. Sayuri would become one of those who through hard work and training create the world of femininity and mystery. The book is interesting not only by descriptions of okiya, tea houses and amazing traditions of geisha industry. The main character talks about Japanese culture and events taking place in Japan at that time (before and after the Second World War). Everything in this book is interesting: the destiny of Sayuri, descriptions of silk kimonos, Kabuki theatre, and the history of Japan.

I was charmed by descriptions of dances and their poetic names. Here Sayuri tells about a dance called “Cruel Rain”: “The story behind “Cruel Rain” is of a young woman who feels deeply moved when her lover takes off his kimono jacket to cover her during a rainstorm, because she knows him to be an enchanted spirit whose body will melt away if  he becomes wet. My teachers had often complemented me on the way I expressed the woman’s feeling of sorrow; during the section when I had to sink slowly to my knees, I rarely allowed my legs tremble as most dancers did. Probably I’ve mentioned this already, but in dances of Inoue School the facial expression as important as the movement of the arms or legs. So although I’d like to have stolen glances at the Chairman as I was dancing, I had to keep my eyes positioned properly, at all times and was never able to do it. Instead to give feeling to my dance I focused my mind on the saddest thing I could think of, which was to imagine that my danna was there in the room with me – not the Chairman but rather Nobu. The moment I formulated this thought, everything around me seemed to drop heavily toward the earth. Outside in the garden, the eaves of the roof dripped rain like beads of weighted glass. Even the mats themselves seemed to press down upon the floor. I remember thinking that I was dancing to express not the pain of a young woman who has lost her supernatural lover, but the pain I myself would feel when my life was robbed of the one thing I cared most deeply about. I found myself thinking, too, of Satsu; I danced the bitterness of our eternal separation”

"Memoirs of a Geisha" teaches to feel.

Lesley Downer-Geisha
If in Arthur Golden’s book we see the world of geisha from inside (the story is told in the first person perspective) in Lesley Downer’ book we have an outsider’s opinion about geishas in modern Japan. The author of the book "Geisha.The secret history of a vanishing world" is a modern western woman who following Arthur Golden, decided to open Japan to the western world .

Japanese geisha - it's like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a cliché, to which many Japanese people are offended. When Lesley Downer mentioned that she was going to write about geishas, she was for the first time confronted with rudeness in a country where protocol and tradition of courtesy were so carefully observed. Some Japanese run into rage, others asked in bewilderment why she was so interested in the banal, old, dark side of Japan. She was also surprised by a small selection of the topic at bookstores in Japan (at that time the book of Golden had not been yet translated into Japanese). Lesley Downer wanted to see faces of real women behind the painted mask, not that she wanted to debunk the myth of geishas. She wanted to find an answer to a question: "who were women who chose the path of a Geisha?”. She was also interested in legends about geishas and historical aspects of the issue.
I liked reading about her attempts to enter the circles of geishas, how she had to adapt to the Japanese mentality and change her dray western style of communication into Japanese courtesy.


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