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From Victim to Artist: Maiko Stories in Movies and Manga. A lecture by Jan Bardsley, Professor Emerita, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies

April 22, 2021 @ 5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

This talk is based on a chapter from Dr. Bardsley’s book, Maiko Masquerade: Crafting Geisha Girlhood in Japan <> (forthcoming March 2021, UC Press).


Maiko Masquerade explores Japanese representations of the maiko, or apprentice geisha, in films, manga, and other popular media as an icon of exemplary girlhood. Jan Bardsley traces how the maiko, long stigmatized as a victim of sexual exploitation, emerges in the 2000s as the chaste keeper of Kyoto’s classical artistic traditions. Insider accounts by maiko and geisha, their leaders and fans, show pride in the training, challenges, and rewards maiko face. No longer viewed as a toy for men’s amusement, she serves as catalyst for women’s consumer fun. This change inspires stories of ordinary girls—and even one boy—striving to embody the maiko ideal, engaging in masquerades that highlight questions of personal choice, gender performance, and national identity.


This presentation explores how films of the 1950s to TV drama and manga of the 2000s costume the maiko identically, style her as an accomplished dancer, and imagine her as a famous symbol of Kyoto. But the plots they spin about her backstory—how she came to be a maiko, what her future holds, and what is important to her—differ radically over the decades.  We also notice how the geisha character goes in and out of the spotlight as interpretations of her position change, too, revealing a certain uneasiness about unmarried adult women’s financial and sexual independence.


Discussant will be Alisa Freedman, University of Oregon, Editor-in-Chief, U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal, and author of  Japan on American TV: Screaming Samurai Form Anime Clubs in the Land of the Lost (Association for Asian Studies Asia Shorts Book Series, forthcoming from Columbia University Press).

All events this semester will be held via Zoom

For access, contact kktroost (at)


April 22, 2021
5:00 pm - 7:00 pm