By Purdy, Director of Publicity
I recently lunched with the publicity director at Kodansha‘s US office. In the interest of full disclosure, OUP distributes Kodansha books in the US, so it gives us an excuse to lunch at nice restaurants each season to talk shop. As we whined about the media and dined on the Parisian/Maghreb fare at Barbes on 36th St., our conversation took the inevitable turn to books and authors we were excited about on our respective Spring lists. I confessed I favored working with Ashraf Ghani & Clare Lockhart on their book about fixing failing states in this crazy mixed up world we live in. I confessed that as a young idealist in the 80s I dreamed of changing the world, but Ghani & Lockhart were actually doing it. They were consulting with world leaders of foreign governments and trying to make the world a better place. I confessed that it gave me a rush and chills to think that somehow I was contributing to their great good efforts, that I was living what i had only dreamed of doing as a boy in upstate New York.
Jennifer nodded. Then she got a gleam in her eye and she told me all about her fave title on the Spring 2008 Kodansha list, A Geisha’s Journey: My Life As a Kyoto Apprentice. It was a book about young Japanese girl who sets out to master the ancient art of being geisha. I was fascinated as Jennifer spoke about young Ruriko’s transformation from a 15 year old school girl into the adult geisha, Komomo.
Komomo is appearing in NYC this week and a brief interview with Komomo appears below.
On Friday, May 23 at 1 p.m. there will be a signing and permformance at Kinokuniyya (Bryant Park Store), 1073 Avenue of the Americas.
At 3:30 there will also be an informal signing and performance at the Ippodo Gallery, 521 W. 26th Street.
On Saturday, May 24 at 3 p.m., Komomo will be appearing at Kiteya Soho, 464 Broome St., New York, NY (near Greene St.). She will be autographing books and performing.
Komomo will also teach a two-day geisha workshop at the Japan Society on May 21 and 22. She will participate in a lecture featuring Ogino on May 22. (Sorry! This is sold-out).
OUPblog: In the book, you expressed some uncertainty before you became a geisha. What doubts were going through your mind?
Komomo: I wasn’t sure if I was ready to become a full geisha because they are required to entertain the customers with their “skills in the arts” much more than an apprentice. Also, I thought that perhaps I should experience the outside world at that time because I thought I might miss opportunities.
OUP: “Geisha Experience Tours” – in which everyday women are dressed as apprentices and are professionally photographed in popular sites throughout Kytoto – have become very popular lately. Do you feel that these tourist excursions have commercialized or tarnished the image of the geisha profession?
Komomo: I think so. If everyday women walk in the city in geisha costume, I want them to somehow indicate that they are not professional geisha.
OUP: You lost many freedoms when you made the decision to become a geisha. How difficult was that for a teenager to live under such restrictions?
Komomo: I once thought about quitting the apprenticeship without becoming a geisha because I wanted to be free and to choose whatever I wanted to do in the outside world – I wanted to go to university, study abroad, etc.
However, as I mulled it over and over, I realized I hadn’t achieved anything that I could be proud of. Whatever path I decided to take, I thought I would need to have some kind of expertise to contribute – otherwise no one would take me seriously. I decided to continue my work in the hanamachi (geisha district) because I thought, even if I had freedom, it wouldn’t do me any good until I achieved something and found something to be proud of. At that time, though, I felt like I was in limbo – like I still had a lot to accomplish.
OUP: Is there anything you miss about the outside world or anything that you regret you’re missing?
Komomo: I think it’s never too late to start anything. If there is something that I want to do, I will do it. There is nothing that I regret.
OUP: What do you do in your free time?
Komomo: Once in a while, when I get free time, I usually dine out and go shopping with my friends.
OUP: What does the future hold for you? Do you still have the option of marrying and having a family while being a geisha?
Komomo: I believe that being a geisha is a lifelong profession—we can continue to work as a geisha regardless of age. However, in today’s hanamachi in Kyoto, geisha usually quit their jobs when they decide to get married. This might change in the future, though. Unlike the old days, geisha don’t have a danna (a rich man who acts as a geisha’s individual patron), therefore, if we want to continue working as a geisha, getting married might become an obstacle.