Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Flower and Willow World


The Flower and Willow World


Hanogi, Chokosai

I have been reading
Liza Dalby's Geisha
a new edition of the book
first published in 1983

Liza Dalby was an anthropologist
specializing in Japanese culture,
who trained as a Geisha
in Kyoto, Japan


 Pontocho, the Geisha precinct,
 lies on the bank of the Kamo River
which runs through the city of Kyoto

Nakai Kan and Geisha Fuseya, Eishosai Choki

A moonlit evening in Pontocho
On the bamboo blinds of the cool verandas
the beckoning shadows
of paper lanterns

Shinsui Ito

 The verse above is an example of a kouta
a short lyrical song
which formed part of the Geisha's
entertainment arsenal


Gakutei Harunobu

 The Geisha of old
may also be proficient in the shamisen
a lute like instrument with three strings
and no fretboard
 It looks a little like a banjo
with a long neck
and is about 30" in length

Midongi, Chokosai

she must be able to sing and dance
and hold intelligent conversation

 Kitagawa Utamaro

Is it a tender blossom
or a butterfly
whatever - I am led astray
by what I glimpse flash by

 Three Geisha

Reuniting again
Left waiting
Still meeting
Such is life

 Takigawa of the Ogiya Green House, 
Kutamaro Utagawa

The Geisha
or Geiko
as she was known in Kyoto,
was first and foremost
a cultivated, entertaining host
and drinking companion


The spring wind whispers
Bring in fortune
Fragrant plums breathe
Drive out devils
Is it rain
Is it snow
I don't care
We'll go this evening
and tomorrow too
Ginger Sake

True Beauty Chikanobu Toyohara

While the Geisha population has diminished
the Geisha culture has survived in Kyoto,
a city that thrives on tourism

Liza Dalby
University of California Press
1983, 2008



  1. Exquisite!Thank you for bringing us such beauty!

  2. Beautiful pictures, Delwyn. I've made a note of this book. I'm reading 'Memoirs of a Geisha' at present and have just read about the shamisen and the women who tie the obi in front!

    Lovely post. Thanks.

  3. HI Alaine

    then I'm sure the Geisha Book would be of interest to you...I am now reading the Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon...a very early Japanese book written in the late 900s by a gentlewoman in the Heian court of Empress Teishi...and it is also good...

    ah those women...

    Happy days

  4. Hello Elizabeth

    thanks for coming over...

    Happy days

  5. Somebody had a post on the Pillow Book about a month back. I went looking as I'd never heard of it and read quite a lot about Sei Shonagon on line. That book would be super!

  6. Alaine

    It was Friko who occasionally posts excerpts of The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon...

    I learned of the book from her...

    Happy days

  7. Your pictures have a sense of serene grace about them...I love
    reading of the Japanese and Chinese culture. Lisa See and Amy Tan are two other authors I enjoy.


  8. These woman are amazing and the amount of dedication the put into being a Geisha.

    Interesting post with wonderful pictures.

  9. How beautiful and elegant, Delwyn. Your commentary was like poetry, perfectly fitting each picture. I'm intrigued and need to read that book now! (I'm still basking in the glow left over from reading "Memoirs of a Geisha last week.) Thank you for this amazing post! Blessings!

  10. To a British born, non poetry reading, hockey playing Canadian, raised in a family with three brothers and no sisters, girls were a strange and exotic mystery. Geisha's were beyond comprehension.

    Fortunately marrying a woman and having two daughters has taught me a thing or two. and opened for a whole world I never knew existed.

    Geishas, however, remain a mystery.

  11. Stunning artwork and wonderful descriptions.
    I will have to look for this book, it sounds quite interesting... and something I have not read about before. You peaked my curiosity.

  12. I have read a Lisa Dalby book but I don't think it was this one. But this is so apt because I am going to Kyoto next week and I have read that I may see geisha walking around if I go to a certain part of Kyoto.

  13. Hi Dewlyn~ I love the sensuality these women exude. They use all five senses in a delicate,knowing way. I loved how you described the different aspects of their lives.

  14. Delwyn
    Beautiful pictures and writing! I enjoy reading your blog.

    Tracy :)

  15. delwyn what a beautifully illustrated and written post!! the poetry is so luxurious: "The spring wind whispers
    Bring in fortune" .... yes it does - especially if you're "down under" where it is bringing great fortune to those who live there!!! have a sweet day by the river. steven

  16. Hi Steven

    and good fortune is aways blowing through Steven...through these friendships, sharing of art and poetry and company...

    Happy days

  17. Hi Tracy

    thank you and it is a pleasure to have you here...

    Happy days

  18. Hello Margaret

    Yes Margaret, from what I have read the geisha were very accomplished ladies, well educated and talented women...there were also courtesans and ladies of the night and sometimes these crossed boundaries but on the whole the geisha saw themselves as career women with high standards and a sub culture to maintain...

    Happy days

  19. Hi Donna
    I Love Japan, especially Kyoto...
    You may see the geisha at dusk in Gion going to work but the ones I have seen are on the route of the Philosophers walk on the Eastern flank of Kyoto between the Silver temple and Kyomizudera...You must take that walk it is lovely and another walk I highly recommend is that in Arashiyama - it is beautiful.

    If you search on my front page for Nakasendo way you will see I wrote about 8 posts of a walk I did in Japan last year, but before the walk we spent time exploring Kyoto and I have written about a number of the sights.

    Have a great trip. I am very envious...

    Happy days

  20. Hi Rosey

    This book is a non fiction anthropological study and very interesting. If you want to read a fictional account I suggest Golden's 'Memoirs of a Geisha...'
    OR see the film, but the book which is beautiful but the book has more depth...

    Happy days

  21. Hello Barry

    Well Barry I think that perhaps you should start with 'Memoirs of a Geisha' by Arthur Golden...or see the movie of the same name...The geisha culture is fascinating...and rather misunderstood...

    Happy days

  22. Hi Marion

    well you would really get a lot out of the book having just read the Golden work of fiction...

    the commentary in colour was examples of actual kouta...I can't claim authorship for those lovely lines...

    Happy days

  23. Hi Liss

    I read they used to train for about 5 years then were apprenticed it was quite and it is different...

    Happy days

  24. Hello Wanda

    I loved your two authors as well...I have just read 'Snowflower' wasn't that great...and so educational...

    Happy days

  25. I loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan! and Peony in Love!

  26. Delwyn, thank you for all the recommendations and I will check out your past posts on Kyoto. I am going with a fellow artist girlfriend-- she is going because she loves japanese things and I am going for the same reason but I am also half Japanese so I am also on a search for myself. I chose the dates so that we will be there for 2 large temple flea markets as I love old things. We leave next Friday-- this has been a life long dream of mine. I already have that book you recommended on Old Kyoto.

  27. I loved Memories of a Geisha. It really told the story of the immense amount of training and complex lives they lived. Very interesting.

  28. Whoops - Memoirs of a Geisha.


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