geisha

What’s In a Book? Part 15

The giant pile of books has finally arrived, so I now have even more books review to keep this series going! Today’s book is one that was published this year (2016) and, although written completely in English, is only available in Japan.

Book’s cover courtesy of Amazon Japan.
The Alluring World of Maiko and Geiko by Judith Clancy (ISBN 978-4-473-04059-6)
Date of Publication: 2016
Language: English
Format: Softcover
Availability: Fairly easy to find online
Price: $15 new
Errors: 35 (not including spelling and grammar)

At first I was interested in this book since the author has been writing about Kyoto for decades and the price is very reasonable. However, in having a chat with a friend one day who already owned the book they began to paint a bit of a grim picture. Since this person is very reputable I had no reason to doubt them, and I said that I’d buy it anyway because it’s so cheap (I actually paid less than the 1200 yen cover price). Now I’ve come to understand the warning I was given, and I almost feel like books published within the last year by foreigners has been a disaster.

I covered Robert Van Koseveld’s “Geiko and Maiko of Kyoto” a few months back and was incredibly disappointed with the lack of in-depth knowledge and editing done by people who obviously have no links to the karyukai. This book is very much the same, albeit with added grammatical errors that left me shaking my head. Now, usually I let some grammar slide, but most of these errors could have been found by a simple spellcheck program, so there was no excuse to finding them in a printed book in the digital age. I feel as though the author just handed in a manuscript and the company decided to publish it because of her previous works.

So, minding the grammar that almost drove me insane, this book is like every other bad book: It’s redundant to a severe degree; you don’t need to add the translation for a foreign word on every single page that it appears, nor do you need to practically copy and paste your text onto another page and then change a few words around because you’re trying to fill space (I lost count as to how many times this happened).

As for factual errors, it’s riddled with them. They include:

-Multiple Pages: Stating that a girl must be 16 to apply to be a maiko (it’s actually 15 and this error is repeated numerous times)

-Multiple Pages: Stating that a girl is a shikomi for 2-3 years. Nowadays about one year is the norm, with even a year and a half being incredibly long. She corrects this fact on page 16 though.

-Page 6-7: Failing math (seriously). It mentions that 6 out of 65 of Kyoto’s maiko in 2015 actually came from within Kyoto while on page 11 it states that only 6 out of 60 maiko and geiko hail from Kyoto. The numbers don’t add up or make sense.

-Page 10: That a person chosen to be a new maiko’s onesan is only 1-2 years older than her. In 99% of cases it is an independent geiko who is chosen as the onesan to a new maiko since she has far more experience than a fellow maiko.

-Page 12: Confusing the traditional date to start artistic training with the date when young girls would become maiko. Yes, children traditionally began lessons on the sixth day of the sixth month of their sixth year, but they did not enter the kagai then. If they were the child of geiko they would have started dance lessons then, but the youngest maiko, even before labor laws were enacted, were only about eight years old.

-Page 12: Saying that a maiko will only call her okasan or onesan by their titles for the first year of her training. Formalities never stop in the karyukai, so I don’t know where this came from.

-Page 16: Stating that camellia oil is rubbed into the skin before oshiroi is applied. Camellia oil is used in the upkeep of hair styles as it keeps the hair glossy. It is not used on skin.

-Page 16: Somehow insisting that maiko and geiko use a template for their neck areas on a daily basis. This little tool is only used when a maiko or geiko is painting on the formal sanbonashi.

-Page 20: Saying that maiko switch to ofuku in their second year. A maiko will usually switch to ofuku after 2-3 years of training, not before.

-Page 21: Showing a picture of sensu (folding fan) style kanzashi and calling it round fans. 

-Page 24: Stating that, in the picture, the okasan is giving the new maiko a gift on her misedashi. She’s actually just showing her the kanzashi that she’ll be wearing after her misedashi when she will be a regular maiko. 

-Page 26: Says that a girl can declare her intention to become a geiko at age 20. Not only does the girl not get to choose when her apprenticeship is finished, but they’re almost always 21 years old (about to be 22).

-Page 26: Says that only geiko take singing and instrument lessons. All maiko are required to take these lessons too.

-Page 26: Says that most geiko won’t get back to their okiya until midnight. Most don’t get back until 2am, so midnight seems a bit gracious.

-Page 26: Stating that a geiko’s collar isn’t worn as low as a maiko’s. They’re worn at the same length. If anything, a geiko’s will be slightly lower at the back because she’s a grown woman and not a child.

-Page 26-27: Stating that geiko get paid for major dance recitals. Not only do they not get paid, but most actually pay money to perform in them if they’re independent from the annual dances that their district puts on.

-Page 29: Says that maiko will gossip when on dinner dates with their customers. All maiko and geiko are supposed to keep a minimum amount of secrecy in the hanamachi and gossip is strictly kept within its own walls. A maiko or geiko would never stoop so low as to gossip while on an outing.

-Page 30-31: While the book tries to keep personal recollections from the women anonymous, it’s very obvious that the geiko she’s talking to work in Kamishichiken. I’m fairly certain that I can guess who each of them are, but I won’t post it on here.

-Page 34: Calls the instruments used in the kagai “ancient”. Technically, to be ancient something has to be over 1,000 years old. The shamisen and the taiko are no where near that old.

-Page 36-37: Says that the jikata geiko she’s talking to is retired, and then goes on to talk about how she’s still an active geiko. I can’t even.

-Page 40: “Narrow” is spelled as “Nallow”. I know I said that I’d ignore the spelling and grammar issues, but this one’s a large caption under an image.

-Page 41: Caption states that maiko and geiko are greeting their okasan on New Year’s. The picture was taken during Hassaku on August 1st. They’re also not really greeting the okasan as she’s seeing them off on their rounds, but, rather, greeting each other.

-Page 42-43: Makes it pretty obvious as to the women she’s talking to (again). This time she actually mentions Kamishichiken by name.

-Page 44: Confuses a hada juban (top half juban) for a full length juban.

And that’s just Chapter 1!

-Page 54: States that all districts began an annual dance recital in 1872. Only Pontocho and Gion Kobu did that.

-Page 58: Fails to mention that dance recitals stopped during World War II and have not been continuous.

-Page 59: States that Onshūkai, Gion Kobu’s fall recital, is “a troupe who performs both singing and dancing.” I’m not even sure what to make of that since it doesn’t make any sense.

Chapter 2 was mostly pictures, so it got by with the least amount of factual errors.

-Page 80: States that maiko and geiko wait to serve the men who pull the giant mikoshi during the Gion Festival in July. They don’t do this at all.

-Page 88: States that only one kagai participates in the Jidai Matsuri in October. There are always two kagai that participate on a rotating schedule.

-Page 93: States that maiko and geiko distribute their fukudama to their customers on New Year’s. It’s the other way around.

-Page 94: Calls Shigyoshiki a “Shinto ceremony” and not the new year’s commencement ceremony that it really is.

You’d figure that the book would end here, but the glossary and bibliography floored me.

When it comes to the glossary, only half of the terms are actually mentioned in the book. The rest are added in an after thought.

For the sources, I honestly couldn’t believe that the author cited her Kyoto tourism books. HER OWN BOOKS!


For the “suggested viewing” videos most of the links don’t work, or are just small things like a maiko putting on make-up, or can only be found on Youtube in Japanese without subtitles. or are just terribly made English documentaries. It’s like she threw them in at the last second to look like she’s actually watched them or something.

When it comes to images in this book they’re all from Hiroshi Mizobuchi (whose books have been covered before). However, it appears that Ms. Clancy did not get permission from all of the maiko and geiko in the images as some faces have been blurred. This is the first time that I’ve actually seen this happen in a book about the karyukai, but it just goes to show how little faith the residents of the karyukai gave to the author. 

All in all, this book feels like the Ookini Zaidan (traditional arts foundation for the gokagai) wanted to give tourists a book to read when they come to Kyoto to teach them about maiko and geiko. They really backed the wrong horse on this one as it’s poorly written, poorly sourced, and filled with more errors than a high school kid’s first essay.

Rating: ✪ (out of 5)