Teaching Materials: Ch. 3, Voices of Maiko and Geiko

Cover, Aisare jōzu ni naru Gion-ryū:
Onna migaki (The Gion way to skill in
becoming loveable: A woman’s polish) by Kiriki Chizu. Copyright © 2007. Kōdansha.

Chapter scope:  This chapter explores how three women—former geiko Kiriki Chizu, geiko Yamaguchi Kimijo, and maiko Kamishichiken Ichimame—all active as maiko in different decades, ranging from the 1960s to the early 2000s—reflect on performing their public roles, developing as dancers, and their lessons learned. Writing at different stages in their personal and professional lives, each woman gives her view of the maiko-geiko life.

Reading Questions:
Keep these questions in mind as you read the chapter and organize your thoughts.

Chapter Introduction
What sources inform this chapter?
What is the main argument proposed?
How do autobiographical works by geisha vary according to their era and generation?

Compare the three books discussed:
The Gion Way by Kiriki Chizu; Barefaced Geiko by Yamaguchi Kimijo; Maiko Etiquette by Kamishichiken Ichimame

What motivated the author to become a maiko?
What stands out to you about each book?
What do you want to know that is not discussed in the books?
What do learn about the maiko and geiko’s life and work through these personal accounts?
How do these books change your mind about the maiko and geiko as a personal experience and a public role?
The women were maiko in different eras. How did their times affect their maiko lives?

Short Writing Exercises
Make the case for translating one of these books into English (150 words).  Why should English-language readers interested in geisha, or Japan more broadly, read this book?

Imagine leading a conversation among Kiriki, Yamaguchi, and Ichimame (500 words).  What questions would you ask?  How do you imagine they would respond? Use quotes and specific stories from their books in the chapter to ground your conversations.  Write this in script form.

Discussion Activities:
We can extend conversation about these three women’s books to autobiographical writing more broadly. Discussion of this chapter works well, too, by comparing these to geisha autobiographies by Masuda Sayo and Iwasaki Mineko available in English translation, as mentioned at the end of this guide.

Cover, Suppin geiko: Kyoto, Gion no ukkari nikki (Bare-faced geiko: My haphazard diary of Gion, Kyoto) by Yamaguchi Kimijo. Copyright © 2007. Published by LOCUS.  Artist Kanbara Kunie.

Small-group discussion:
“Personal fiction” and life writing, biographies of people past and present, comprise a broad, popular genre.  What motivates our interest in reading about individual lives? Divide into groups to discuss:

  • What book or film about another person has most interested you recently? What did you take away from that book or film?
  • How may autobiographies serve as motivational tools? Whose life do you find inspiring and what would you hope to learn from a book by or about that individual?
  • Plenty of books introduce us to flawed people and even the criminal. What is the attraction of these books?
  • Share your group’s ideas with the class:
  • What can we learn about history through such books or films? What are the pros and cons of relying on autobiography to learn about history?
  • What autobiography would attract a wide audience of readers in your country now? What does the potential popularity of that book say about the social climate and people’s interests now? Would it attract global interest?

Cover, Maiko no osahō [Maiko etiquette] by Kamishichiken
Ichimame. Copyright © 2007. Daiwa Shobō.

Suggestions for Further Reading
Two geisha autobiographies translated into English offer very different views of the geisha life: Masuda in a rural area in the 1930s, Iwasaki in Kyoto in the 1960s-70s.

Iwasaki Mineko and Rande Brown. Geisha, a Life. Translated by Rande Brown. New York: Atria, 2002.

Iwasaki Mineko and Rande Brown. Geisha, a Life. Translated by Rande Brown. Atria, 2002.

Masuda, Sayo. Autobiography of a Geisha. Translated by G. G. Rowley. New York:
Columbia University Press, 2003.

Masuda, Sayo. Autobiography of a Geisha. Translated by G. G. Rowley.
Columbia University Press, 2003.

For a different view of women’s lives in Japan in the early postwar, see
CHANGING LIVES: The ‘Postwar’ in Japanese Women’s Autobiographies and Memoirs by Ron Loftus. Loftus introduces ways to think about the genre of autobiography and provides excellent historical background.

Changing Lives: The “Postwar” in Japanese Women’s Autobiographies
and Memoirs. Ron Loftus. Association for Asian Studies, 2013.