The Gei of Geisha: Music, Identity and Meaning: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Gei of Geisha: Music, Identity and Meaning

1st Edition

By Kelly M. Foreman


160 pages

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The Japanese geisha is an international icon, known almost universally as a symbol of traditional Japan. Numerous books exist on the topic, yet this is the first to focus on the 'gei' of geisha - the art that constitutes their title (gei translates as fine art, sha refers to person). Kelly M. Foreman brings together ethnomusicological field research, including studying and performing the shamisen among geisha in Tokyo, with historical research. The book elaborates how musical art is an essential part of the identity of the Japanese geisha rather than a secondary feature, and locates current practice within a tradition of two and half centuries. The book opens by deconstructing the idea of 'geisha' as it functions in Western societies in order to understand why gei has been, and continues to be, neglected in geisha studies. Subsequent chapters detail the myriad musical genres and traditions with which geisha have been involved during their artistic history, as well as their position within the traditional arts society. Considering the current situation more closely, the final chapters explore actual dedication to art today by geisha, and analyse how they create impromptu performances at evening banquets. An important issue here is geisha-patron artistic collaboration, which leads to consideration of what Foreman argues to be the unique and essential nexus of identity, eroticism and aesthetics within the geisha world.


’This is the first book to focus on the art (gei) of the geisha and to position musical skills at the center of geisha life and identity … Much of the material about geisha repertoire and history is not readily available in English. The final chapter is especially engaging. Summing Up: Recommended.’ Choice ’… this book is an insightful read, both informative and entertaining, bringing to life an area of Japanese society that continues to be steeped in myth and intrigue.’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies ’In this well-crafted book, Kelly M. Foreman takes on the pervasive conception of Japanese geisha as exploited erotic entertainers, and argues that the center of their professional lives is their dedication to traditional Japanese performing arts. … The Gei of Geisha should attract those interested in the social phenomenon of female performing arts, as well as those interested in the arts themselves.’ International Journal of Asian Studies ’The Gei of Geisha is a beautiful and much needed work that fits nicely into Japanese musical studies. Scholars and everyday readers alike would gain a new perspective on geisha from this book and, ultimately, because of Foreman’s convincing detail, on what truly makes a geisha an artist - her gei (art).’ Ethnomusicology Forum 'This book is essential for anyone considering the scholarly study of geisha from an ethnomusicological or an anthropological perspective.' Ethnomusicology

Table of Contents

Contents: Preface; Introduction; Repertoire and training; Geisha performances and how they are constructed; Geisha and traditional arts society; Entertainer vs. artist: patronage and the negotiation of identity; Understanding geisha and gei: eroticism through ambiguity; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Kelly M. Foreman teaches in the Department of Music at Wayne State University, USA.

About the Series

SOAS Studies in Music Series

SOAS Musicology Series is today one of the world’s leading series in the discipline of ethnomusicology. Our core mission is to produce high-quality, ethnographically rich studies of music-making in the world’s diverse musical cultures. We publish monographs and edited volumes that explore musical repertories and performance practice, critical issues in ethnomusicology, sound studies, historical and analytical approaches to music across the globe. We recognize the value of applied, interdisciplinary and collaborative research, and our authors draw on current approaches in musicology and anthropology, psychology, media and gender studies. We welcome monographs that investigate global contemporary, classical and popular musics, the effects of digital mediation and transnational flows.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / General