Inspired by Arthur Golden’s massively popular Memoirs of a Geisha to ˝meet the real geisha˝ in the last stronghold of geisha training in Japan, Downer skillfully intertwines her profiles of Kyoto personalities and tea-house customs with a fluidly written geisha history that’s unabashedly aimed at a Western audience. Author of On the Narrow Road and The Brothers: The Hidden World of Japan’s Richest Family, Downer was no stranger to the country. However, she found the entrance to the ˝geisha world˝ heavily guarded. She writes: ˝I was always an outsider, I could never step through the looking glass.˝ But small successes (finding the right cakes to present to ˝the mama,˝ a very powerful geisha) and patience eventually won Downer a place at events that are ˝utterly closed to outsiders.˝ These included an invitation to a young girl’s misedashi (˝store opening˝), the ˝rite of passage˝ from trainee to geisha. We also learn, for example, of the distinction that has developed between a prostitute and a geisha (which translates as ˝arts person˝), who undergoes intense and lengthy apprenticeships in dance and music. Written in dynamic, highly readable prose, the book is supported by exhaustive research and a lengthy bibliography. Readers who were as smitten with Golden’s geisha as Downer was will find this good companion reading. Photos.