Performers dedicated to the practice of classical Japanese arts, geisha reside mainly in Japan’s ancient capital, Kyoto. Romanticized in Japanese and Euro-American fiction, plays, and film, the geisha has come to embody an exotic femininity, and to those abroad, can symbolize Japan itself as an orientalist paradise.  How has the geisha’s reputation changed over time and across international borders? What is life like for today’s geisha and how is she different from other Japanese women today and geisha of the past? What are her artistic goals?

This course considers these questions by studying the geisha in changing historical contexts. We will look at the geisha as a performer, learning about her practice of traditional dance, music, and other arts, as well as her past connections to the courtesans of the Edo pleasure quarters and modern systems of commodified romance.  We will think about the geisha, too, as a subject of plays, novels, film, and photography. Our study will prompt us to ask broad questions about art, gender, and politics, and in the process of asking these questions we will discover that definitions of the geisha change according to the history, fiction, fantasies-—and controversies—we examine.  VP, BN.