Sunday, 22 February 2009

Food in Golders Green

I fell in love with Golders Green at first sight. It's beautiful and tranquil, there is an amazing park, and it's very well served by tube, buses and even a coach to Stansted Airport. Last but definitely not least, if you like food as much as I do, this place is heaven :)

First of all, there are loads of Jewish bakeries. Only the scent in the air is enough to make your day :) I am crazy for holla (aka challah) bread...

holla bread

Secondly, There are 3 Asian (Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Korean) food shops, the biggest of which is Seoul Plaza. Thanks to them, I had a chance to eat delicious things like Lotte Yukimi Daifuku. I had been dreaming about it since the day my pen pal Masasumi told me about it - years ago. I have never been to Japan (sigh) but at least I could eat this mouth-watering sweet wonder.

Lotte Yukimi Daifuku

Finally, there are some Italian restaurants. One is Pizzeria L'Artista, next to the tube station. Not as good as La Porchetta in Chalk Farm, in my opinion, still I enjoy eating there and I even went there with my dear friend Cecilia from Napoli(!).

Most important, between Golders Green and Hendon there is the restaurant with the most beautiful name in the world!!!

Francesca Restaurant

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Geishas and Fiction

Geishas and Fiction - Part 1

Among the old blog posts, I found several ones about a movie I watched years ago: "Memoirs of a geisha". I previously read the book by Arthur Golden and I loved it, more than I loved the movie. Even though I must say that Ken Watanabe is awesome!
Anyway thanks to the movie I had a chance to ask my Japanese pen pals about their opinion. I could more easily find some Japanese people who watched the movie rather than read the book.

Oh by the way, the Japanese title of the movie is "Sayuri".

This is a summary of what my Japanese pen pals told me (don't blame the messenger!):

1. A very small number of Japanese watched it.
2. The Japanese who watched it didn't like it.
3. Japanese generally give a hard look at Hollywood movies about Japan
4. The atmosphere of the town and the lines isn't like Kyoto. Japanese feel like wondering "Where are we?"
5. It seemed like a story of Edo period, but actually the very beginning is in the early Showa period. (Edo period: 1603-1867, Showa period: 1926-1989)
6. Some people expected to see the traditional performance of geisha and where disappointed
7. Screen image, costumes, and actresses are very beautiful, but Zhang Ziyi has broad shoulders, too long legs and arms, too small face, so her kimono looks like put on a hunger. The actresses don't walk as a real geisha would walk
8. Kimono is not put on correctly. Generally speaking, kimono doesn't fit good on a tall woman. The obi (kimonos' belt) is often fastened in a wrong way
9. Sayuri's performance was not Japanese at all (this is exactly what I thought when I saw it!!!)
10. After all, the movie is American ^_^

Geishas and Fiction – Part 2

In another post, I sort of wrote a letter to Mineko Iwasaki commenting on her reaction to the publication of the book by Arthur Golden.

I read that the geisha Iwasaki Mineko, who inspired the book Memoirs of a Geisha, was really mad at the author Arthur Golden. She felt betrayed by the writer who had been interviewing her while he was working at the book. She read the book in delay because she had to wait for a Japanese translation. She said that Golden took the story of her life and wrote it in the form of a novel, adding many invented details and lies. In her opinion, the book is only about sex, and the heroine looks like a prostitute. Iwasaki Mineko is afraid that the readers may think she is a prostitute. She also added that in the book women look like stupid beings, running after money and changing men often. She said that the geisha system is just created to give women a chance to get independance: We are artists, sex has got nothing to do with it.

1. Sorry madam, but how would you expect that an American man could make a likely Japanese movie and understand your culture perfectly? After all, it's Hollywood.

2. I like the book. I didn't think Geishas are prostitutes, and I didn't think women look stupid. They look mean, vindictive, ready to do anything to reach for their goal, spiteful, competitive, but this is because they are unfortunate. They are obliged to act like that to be the most popular and the richest so that they can hope to be independent. Also, they are very smart and cunning.

3. Sorry, but I think sex has got much to do with it. I respect geishas and I am not here to judge anyone. Their situation is better than being prostitutes. But I cannot see them as free or independent women.

3.a. They have been sold by their families in most cases, probably because of poverty. This means they didn't choose to be geishas.

3.b.They are artists indeed, but their goal is finding a danna, that is a man who will mantain them... Right? I think they have sex with their danna, am I wrong?

3.c. Of course, many Westen women (and also men) have sex and even get married for money. But this is a choice they make as adults, not something they are destined to and trained for since they were kids.

3.d. Moreover, what about mizuage? The young geisha sells her virginity to the man who makes the best offer. I think this has got much to do with sex.

3.e. Maybe the only independant geishas are the ones who manage to be adopted by the Mothers of the oikya and become Mothers themselves. But what about the geishas who are not adopted? Will they all have a sad life like Hatsumomo?
And anyway, I think they they are not young when they become Mothers, so they cannot live a normal life, getting married and having children. Also, a Mother lives thanks to other young Geishas, so it's like a never ending circle.

3.f. Anyway, can a Geisha, at least a Geisha who becomes a Mother get married???
(and even if she could, I think a Mother of oikya is too old to have kids, am I right?)

3.g. They say a Geisha is forbidden to fall in love.
Once again, why? If a geisha is independent, why can't she fall in love?
She is a slave of the oikya, isn't she?

3.h. Last question. I would really like to know if Geishas have sex only with their dannas and with the best bidder for her mizuage. So, should I believe Geishas are so well paid just to talk, serve tea, dance and play music? I already said that I am not here to judge, I would really love to understand how it really works. Is there someone who can tell me the truth about it?

Anyway, I read an interesting interview to Mineko Iwasaki.
She says that everything is a lie, even the mizuage thing. Honestly I don't believe her completely. How is it possible that all these things have been invented by foreigners? Maybe she was a lucky geisha. She said she never had sex, not even at her mizuage, and she retired at the age of 29, got married and have kids.

Forgive me, but I think she was an exception.
Moreover, Mineko Iwasaki was born after the second world war, and I guess the Gion quarter could be completely different from the Gion where the book take place.

Geishas and Fiction - Part 3

I finally read Mineko Iwasaki's autobiography "Geisha of Gion".

I really wanted to know what this woman has to say, after suing Mr. Golden who wrote "Memoirs of a Geisha".
Let me say that since the beginning I had prejudices against this lady and her book.

I had just read Sayo Masuda's heart-rending and desperate Autobiography of a Geisha, and I was expecting a cold, boring and hypocritical book written by a rich lady who wants to redeem herself after Mr. Golden's best-seller slandered her (I don't think it did slander anyone, but I respect her feelings).
Well, this is true only in part.
There are several things I have to remark, but believe me, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, as much as I enjoyed the other one. I'm getting keen on autobiographies this year!

The very first reason why I liked "Geisha of Gion" is that Iwasaki Mineko is an aesthete, and so am I. The whole book is overflowing with detailed description of precious kimonos and
accessories, with passion and obsession for art, dance, beauty.
Her interest for this "visual" aspect of life surely takes after their parents, as she said, anyway it is a leit-motiv and obsession through her whole life.
Only this would be enough for me. Her book is almost "painted". This is what I felt by reading it. And as you might suspect, I couldn't help falling in love with her enchanting flower and willow world.

The second remarkable thing in this book, is Mineko Iwasaki's peculiar character.
Since her childhood, she has been quite original.
Asocial, reserved, stubborn, but also extremely proud and self-assured, sometimes I think she has (and had) a superiority complex!
This lack of modesty, sometimes is annoying, but on the other hand attracts the reader. She runs the risk of being too big-headed, but on the other hand, she sacrificed her life to reach for their goals. She has been ambitious to distraction, but she has undoubtedly worked hard. Talented, but hard-worker. Big-headed, but she was objectively the best and most requested (= paid) geisha at her time. I am attracted by people like that.
So, this is probably the second reason why I found this book so interesting. I guess it's not so easy to find a person who admits so clearly their self-confidence and feelings, especially if they are Japanese.

Anyway, while I was reading the whole book, I couldn't help thinking that this was Mineko Iwasaki's story, not a common Geisha's story.
This is clear in every aspect of it. But she is not the only geisha who wrote an autobiography. I will not say she lied, but all the autobiographies contain their own truth.

Now, I can compare only two autobiographies.
But there are already so many things to say.

First off, the two lives are completely different as far as location (Gion in Kyoto Vs a rural hot-spring resort in Nagano Prefecture), time (Mineko Iwasaki was born in 1949, Sayo Masuda in 1925, and prostitution became illegal in 1957-1958 in Japan) but also family.
Sayo Masuda was an unwanted child sold by her uncle to a hot spring resort.
Mineko Iwasaki decided on her own to become a geisha. Several older sisters were sold to the same oikya before, but she didn't have to. She was the youngest one, and her parents adored her. They didn't need money any longer since their business were going well. And still, she fell in love with kimonos, tea houses and especially traditional dance. She wanted to be the best dancer ever.
If Mineko Iwasaki's eldest sister had written her autobiography, it would have been full of hatred and resentment!

I think those info are enough to make you understand how different there two life experiences can be. Actually, they have nothing in common, except a very strong personality.
One struggled to survive, the other to be the best. I respect both in the same way.

I don't want to insist too much about Mizuage, anyway let me say that maybe the "Prostitution Prevention Act" made the difference in the two women's lives.
Actually, Sayo Masuda even complains against the Prevention Act, since the poor ones like her found themselves unable to survive once their only job became illegal. She thinks this law is hypocritical. I found this comment quite strange, but I can't help thinking she has a point. What an interesting topic to discuss about!
Anyway, Sayo Masuda makes it clear what her Mizuage was, and actually her 'first time' was sold more than once to different customers!
With that, I will not say that Mineko Iwasaki is a liar. Lucky her, she just celebrated with a big ceremony. But again, times changed, and she lived in a such a different and more refined area. Also, she was considered the best performer. She made a lot of money. Maybe less talented geishas led less virtuous lives. I'm not criticizing anyone, but I just can't accept it, that someone who claims she has never farted in her life (she was offended when the doctor asked her about that, after an appendicitis operation if I remember well), someone who has never complained about teachers who would make Tsukikage-sensei get pale, only because she wanted to be the best dancer ever, thinks she is the only one who knows how the world goes.

I recommend both the books to anyone!!! :)

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Maya no Garasu no Kamen stats

Yes, it's a manga fan site, and it's mostly plain html, but it's the site I've worked the hardest and the site I'm most proud of.
An average of 500 hits a day, from all over the world.
Not as many feedback emails as I would love to receive, still very encouraging and supportive messages from many countries.
On February 1st, the site had more than 900 hits.
Thanks to all my visitors!!!

Maya no Garasu no Kamen