Geisha Chic?

// 18 December 2005

Next month sees the film adaptation of “Memoirs of a Geisha” open in the UK. You might of noticed, seeing as the tube is plastered with posters.

Not to be disuaded by the fact the film was mostly shot on a Californian studio lot, the Japanese tourist board is trying to capitalise on the flood of interest it expects the film to generate in Kyoto. Including sending a tranche of UK journalists out there to engage with – and dress up as – real geishas.

Now, I haven’t read the book or seen the film, so I don’t know. It could be great. But.

Joanne O’Connor went for the Guardian, and tells of how her own “clumsiness” and modern ways jar her attempts to learn to be a geisha for a day.

“Much is made of the geisha’s role as artist but really it’s all about making men feel good; allowing them to escape, briefly, into a fantasy world where beautiful young girls laugh at their jokes and don’t roll their eyes and look bored when they try to chat them up.”

Her guide, Peter, displays an enthusiasm for all of this – perhaps not surprisingly. “Are geisha the embodiment of an ancient and venerable artistic tradition or a relic of an outmoded sexist hierarchy which promotes female subservience?…

“His answer is well rehearsed: ‘People ask me, “Why pay $800 to talk to a 17-year-old? Are you some kind of loser?” But people think nothing of paying to go to the ballet or to see a bunch of hooligans running around on a football pitch. Are they losers?'”

Well, it’s a bit different, isn’t it? Just a tiny, tiny bit? As O’Conner puts it when considering why she was right not to spend 300 quid to attend a teahouse party, “nothing will burst the bubble more quickly than the sight of a real woman sat in the corner with all her insecurities, clumsinesses and opinions, getting not-so-quietly drunk and airing her views on the Dewey system”.

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