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Butterfly's Sisters

Butterfly's Sisters: The Geisha in Western Culture

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Butterfly's Sisters
    Book Description:

    In this fascinating and wide-ranging book, Yoko Kawaguchi explores the Western portrayal of Japanese women-and geishas in particular-from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day. She argues that in the West, Japanese women have come to embody certain ideas about feminine sexuality, and she analyzes how these ideas have been expressed in diverse art forms, ranging from fiction and opera to the visual arts and music videos. Among the many works Kawaguchi discusses are the art criticism of Baudelaire and Huysmans, the operaMadama Butterfly,the sculptures of Rodin, the Broadway playTeahouse of the August Moon,and the international best sellerMemoirs of a Geisha.Butterfly's Sistersalso examines the impact on early twentieth-century theatre, drama, and dance theory of the performance styles of the actresses Madame Hanako and Sadayakko, both formerly geishas.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16946-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    As a Japanese girl growing up in North America in the 1960s and ’70s, I used to be greatly irritated that the geisha appeared to be one of the chief images associated with Japan and its culture. That mincing, simpering personification of female subservience to the male infuriated me. I was annoyed at the persistence of such an anachronistic image of Japan. I hated, moreover, the insinuation that the Japanese were being disingenuous about the true nature of the geisha’s occupation. At the same time, I felt that the geisha was being held up to me as a standard of...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Were They or Weren’t They? Geishas and Early Western Perceptions of the Morality of Japanese Women
    (pp. 12-66)

    ‘The Japanese woman is the crown of the charm of Japan,’ crooned Henry Norman, the travelling commissioner for thePall Mall Gazetteand theDaily Telegraph, in a collection of his articles about Japan which was published in 1892 under the titleThe Real Japan. Whether it was the most aristocratic of noblewomen or the ‘frailest and most unfortunate’ of her sisters, Japanese women of every social standing and condition, according to Norman, possessed alike ‘an indefinable something which is fascinating at first sight and grows only more pleasing on acquaintance’.¹ Notwithstanding the suggestion in the title of Norman’s book...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Geishas as Artefact: Artifice, Ideal Beauty and the Natural Woman
    (pp. 67-117)

    Western visitors to Japan found Japanese women fascinating to look at, yet these women defied western criteria of female beauty. Though the typical Japanese woman was not as voluptuous as a Caucasian, she nonetheless possessed some curves. But the Japanese appeared to go to great trouble to disguise the natural contours of the female physique. Women flattened their chests and padded up their waists with layers of heavy brocade until their bodies looked like cylindrical parcels. Many western observers conceded that there was a certain aesthetic pleasure to be derived from beholding the end result. There was universal admiration for...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Madame Butterfly’s Antecedents: The Women of the Ports and Japanese ‘Wives’
    (pp. 118-160)

    In pronouncing the musical comedyThe Geishaa suitable entertainment for respectable company, its London reviewers praised the production for its success in throwing a rosy veil of deception over the unsavoury reality of prostitution in Japan’s international ports and cleverly creating the illusion that the Japanese were primarily a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky race. But when reviewers declared themselves relieved thatThe Geishamanaged to gloss over the kinds of detail that one might find in a book such as Pierre Loti’sMadame Chrysanthème, they were, of course, piquing the interest of those members of the public (gentlemen, it was hoped,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Hara-Kiri! Sadayakko and Madame Hanako on the Western Stage
    (pp. 161-210)

    Around the time, in February 1900, that David Belasco was preparing hisMadame Butterflyfor the New York stage, a troupe of Japanese actors arrived in the city, fresh from performing in front of the American President in Washington, DC. They had spent the last eight and a half months crossing the continental United States and had built up a considerable reputation for their extravagant stage spectacles. At the centre of the troupe was a slim, demure, melancholy-faced actress named Kawakami Sadayakko (or Sada Yacco, as her name was frequently spelt in the west), whose most celebrated role was that...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE From Foe to Friend: Geishas in Anglo-American Popular Culture before and after the Second World War
    (pp. 211-256)

    In his novelMadame ChrysanthèmePierre Loti stressed the lack, as he perceived it, of any commonality between the Japanese and people of the west. In his view, the Japanese were aliens with whom ‘we have absolutely nothing in common’. Pierre, the author’s alter ego and his narrator inMadame Chrysanthème, feels his ‘wife’ Chrysanthème possesses a soul ‘of a different species’ to his own.¹ Loti’s polarisation of the Japanese and the peoples of the west is reflected in John Paris’s first and most notorious novelKimono(1921), the product of a time when tensions between Japan and western nations...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Bunny-boiler or Like a Virgin: Images of the Geisha in Late Twentieth-century America
    (pp. 257-284)

    Even as geishas during the last four decades of the twentieth century were turning into anachronistic rarities in their own country, abroad they have retained their prominence as popular icons of native – that is to say, non-westernised – Japanese culture. Their exotic appeal, however, has not been the sole reason they have lived on in the western cultural consciousness. As women in western industrialised nations have advanced into the workplace and into public life, the geisha has continued to represent a more traditional role for woman as companions to men, as their helpmeets and as objects of their admiring eye or...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 285-312)
  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 313-328)
  14. Index
    (pp. 329-342)