The unconscious inspiration behind the project
In 1993 at the age of 22, I arrived in this land from my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, which was as far away distance-wise and culturally as I thought I could handle for my first stint living abroad. However, I was not disappointed nor too overwhelmed. I have made Kyoto my home ever since and have now spent more time living in Japan than Canada.
I remember the first and only time I had heard the word geisha before I came to Japan. It was in the movie “Black Rain” when Andy Garcia, playing a New York City cop, tries to convince his partner (Michael Douglas) that their trip to Japan won’t be so bad because he was going to “be in and out of geishas like a Times Square pickpocket.” At the time, I really didn’t know what or who the geisha were. Still, after settling down in Kyoto and being introduced to the “real Geisha,” I knew I wasn’t going to waste this opportunity I had been blessed with, so I immersed myself in the karyukai -flower and willow world. Now I would have access to see if Andy Garcia’s depiction of the geisha was accurate or not. I didn’t know how long I would be staying in Japan but I knew this adventure was guaranteed to be something new and exciting. And this is when I began documenting my experiences.
About the project
The Real Geisha Real Women project is my labour of love. It is my way of saying thank you to the members of the hanamachi and or even Kyoto itself for inspiring me enough to finally sit down and put my experiences in print. After encouragement from friends and clients, I have finally decided to it was time to organise and publish my decades of research and experiences through a collection of photos, books, essays articles and documentaries.
Why now? Today, the geisha world, because of the internet and social media, not to mention an ageing customer base and a younger generation not interested in the traditional arts or entertainment, has become a totally different world than the one I fell in love with and thought I knew so well. It became time to close the book and decide how to approach the internet age of the karyukai. For better or worse, the geisha’s mysterious world is no longer mysterious/secret, even though it never really was. It was the image the Japanese used to sell to the west because they didn’t know how to explain it. There was just little interest in it because it was a world not many could understand or wanted to and especially did not want to spend the money to see behind its closed doors. The hanamachi was for a certain type of clientele, and I wish it still was. However, it has become just another thing to be ticked off on traveller’s bucket lists on their visit to Japan.
With this project, I am reflecting upon my nearly three decades of eating, breathing and living. I am not trying to judge the geisha and their world but describe and help explain certain aspects many others have not had the chance to experience or even see, especially in the west. for themselves from it. Everything published through books, essays, photographs, or video is a combination of my experiences trying to give the audience a chance to imagine themselves when they are watching, seeing or reading.
I will always look for ways to promote geisha culture, not only as a customer but by also producing more images and writings about my experiences and understanding of this world and the women in it as they and I continue to change and learn more about each other.
I hope all of the geiko/maiko and all the other people who helped and encouraged me along the way will be as proud of this project as I. This is my way of showing appreciation and respect for their dedication to the traditional arts disciplined lifestyle in an era where easier career paths are abundant. I aim to show both Western and Japanese audiences a true look at this wonderfully unique part of Japanese culture and not just the generic photos and/or overly exotic images in literature. And, finally, debunk all misconceptions or gloried representations of the geisha and show the members of Kyoto’s and other hanamachi (geisha communities) throughout Japan what they are, which is not prostitutes nor princesses but Real Geisha and Real Women.