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“Portrait of an Old Geisha” by Kanoko Okamoto

“Portrait of an Old Geisha” by Kanoko Okamoto


Kanoko Okamoto is unique in that she was not only a fine writer, but also a waka poet and a Buddhist scholar. In her personal life, she got married with Ippei, who was one of the most popular cartoonist at that time, and her first son is Taro Okamoto, a renowned avant-garde painter. Yasunari Kawabata described this family of 3 as the “Sacred Family”, who respected and heightened each other as an artist.


This story is one of the most representative works of hers. If you have seen a movie of “Memoir of Geisha”, you will most certainly have a different impression of Geisha after reading the story. The protagonist is a retired Geisha whose insatiable curiosity prompts her to learn waka and learn the latest technologies. She one day decides to let a young man whose dream is to be an inventor live at her house. The enigma underlying this story is the reason why she does that. Is it an altruistic motive to just want to help young people? Or is it something else?


The story ends with a waka poem, which makes this story rather distinctive. Its original Japanese can be interpreted in several ways. I highly recommend this story to anyone who wants to have a glimpse of what the world of Geisha was like.


I had been a huge fan of Taro Okamoto. However, this story has made me interested more in his mother and her works. Kawabata was right. They were the sacred family.



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