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Reading: Teaching Geisha in History, Fiction, and Fantasy

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Teaching about Asia

Teaching Geisha in History, Fiction, and Fantasy

Author:

Jan Bardsley

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
About Jan
Jan Bardsley is Associate Professor of Japanese Humanities and Chair of the Department of Asian Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the recipient UNC-Chapel Hill’s Sitterson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching First-Year Seminars (2001) and Tanner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching (2009). She is the author of The Bluestockings of Japan: New Woman Fiction and Essays from Seito, 1911-1916 (Center for Japanese Studies, University of Michigan, 2007). With Laura Miller, she co-edited the book, Bad Girls of Japan (Palgrave, 2005) and Manners and Mischief: Gender and Power in Japanese Conduct Literature (forthcoming from University of California Press).
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Abstract

Artists skilled in performing classical music and dance, geisha are famous the world over as emblems of Japanese culture at its most erotic and exotic. Everything from novels and comedies to fashion and films document Euro-American fascination with geisha from the late 19th through the 20th centuries. Japanese essayists have long, and often ruefully, observed this foreign curiosity for the geisha gaaru. Yet, the literature on geisha in Japan includes a range of works, too, including fiction, academic study, tips for would-be connoisseurs as well as memoirs and etiquette manuals penned by geisha themselves. Well into the twenty-first century, geisha still intrigue at home and abroad. Exploring multiple representations of geisha in an Asian Studies course easily engages students, but also challenges them to think critically. Not only do they learn about geisha past and present, but they also understand geisha studies as a field. Their study also explores the constructed nature of gender, leading to comparisons of Japan, the U.S., and a host of models of ideal femininity and masculinity. It is students’ involvement with learning how knowledge is produced, fantasies sustained, and questions asked and avoided, that makes teaching the geisha course rewarding.

DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/ane.205
How to Cite: Bardsley, J., (2010). Teaching Geisha in History, Fiction, and Fantasy. ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts. 17(2), pp.23–38. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/ane.205
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Published on 01 Apr 2010.
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