The life of a famous Kyoto geisha-from her painful apprenticeship in the early 1930s through the years of her prime and her later career in Manhattan-is rendered with stunning clarity in this fully. Memoirs of a Geisha. Memoirs of a Geisha. According to Arthur Golden's absorbing first novel, the word 'geisha' does not mean 'prostitute,' as Westerners ignorantly assume-it means 'artisan' or 'artist.' To capture the geisha experience in the art of fiction, Golden trained as long and hard as any geisha who must master the arts of music, dance, clever conversation, crafty battle with rival beauties.
Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so . . . was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.” I expect you might put down your teacup and say, “Well, now, which was it? Was it the best or the worst? Because it can’t possibly have been both!” Ordinarily I’d have to laugh at myself and agree with you. But the truth is that the afternoon when I met Mr. Tanaka Ichiro really was the best and the worst of my life. He seemed so fascinating to me, even the fish smell on his hands was a kind of perfume. If I had never known him, I’m sure I would not have become a geisha.
I wasn’t born and raised to be a Kyoto geisha. I wasn’t even born in Kyoto. I’m a fisherman’s daughter from a little town called Yoroido on the Sea of Japan. In all my life I’ve never told more than a handful of people anything at all about Yoroido, or about the house in which I grew up, or about my mother and father, or my older sister—and certainly not about how I became a geisha, or what it was like to be one. Most people would much rather carry on with their fantasies that my mother and grandmother were geisha, and that I began my training in dance when I was weaned from the breast, and so on. As a matter of fact, one day many years ago I was pouring a cup of sake for a man who happened to mention that he had been in Yoroido only the previous week. Well, I felt as a bird must feel when it has flown across the ocean and comes upon a creature that knows its nest. I was so shocked I couldn’t stop myself from saying:
“Yoroido! Why, that’s where I grew up!”
This poor man! His face went through the most remarkable series of changes. He tried his best to smile, though it didn’t come out well because he couldn’t get the look of shock off his face.
“Yoroido?” he said. “You can’t mean it.”
I long ago developed a very practiced smile, which I call my “Noh smile” because it resembles a Noh mask whose features are frozen. Its advantage is that men can interpret it however they want; you can imagine how often I’ve relied on it. I decided I’d better use it just then, and of course it worked. He let out all his breath and tossed down the cup of sake I’d poured for him before giving an enormous laugh I’m sure was prompted more by relief than anything else.
“The very idea!” he said, with another big laugh. “You, growing up in a dump like Yoroido. That’s like making tea in a bucket!” And when he’d laughed again, he said to me, “That’s why you’re so much fun, Sayuri-san. Sometimes you almost make me believe your little jokes are real.”
I don’t much like thinking of myself as a cup of tea made in a bucket, but I suppose in a way it must be true. After all, I did grow up in Yoroido, and no one would suggest it’s a glamorous spot. Hardly anyone ever visits it. As for the people who live there, they never have occasion to leave. You’re probably wondering how I came to leave it myself. That’s where my story begins.
* * *
In our little fishing village of Yoroido, I lived in what I called a “tipsy house.” It stood near a cliff where the wind off the ocean was always blowing. As a child it seemed to me as if the ocean had caught a terrible cold, because it was always wheezing and there would be spells when it let out a huge sneeze—which is to say there was a burst of wind with a tremendous spray. I decided our tiny house must have been offended by the ocean sneezing in its face from time to time, and took to leaning back because it wanted to get out of the way. Probably it would have collapsed if my father hadn’t cut a timber from a wrecked fishing boat to prop up the eaves, which made the house look like a tipsy old man leaning on his crutch.
Inside this tipsy house I lived something of a lopsided life. Because from my earliest years I was very much like my mother, and hardly at all like my father or older sister. My mother said it was because we were made just the same, she and I—and it was true we both had the same peculiar eyes of a sort you almost never see in Japan. Instead of being dark brown like everyone else’s, my mother’s eyes were a translucent gray, and mine are just the same. When I was very young, I told my mother I thought someone had poked a hole in her eyes and all the ink had drained out, which she thought very funny. The fortune-tellers said her eyes were so pale because of too much water in her personality, so much that the other four elements were hardly present at all—and this, they explained, was why her features matched so poorly. People in the village often said she ought to have been extremely attractive, because her parents had been. Well, a peach has a lovely taste and so does a mushroom, but you can’t put the two together; this was the terrible trick nature had played on her. She had her mother’s pouty mouth but her father’s angular jaw, which gave the impression of a delicate picture with much too heavy a frame. And her lovely gray eyes were surrounded by thick lashes that must have been striking on her father, but in her case only made her look startled.
My mother always said she’d married my father because she had too much water in her personality and he had too much wood in his. People who knew my father understood right away what she was talking about. Water flows from place to place quickly and always finds a crack to spill through. Wood, on the other hand, holds fast to the earth. In my father’s case this was a good thing, for he was a fisherman, and a man with wood in his personality is at ease on the sea. In fact, my father was more at ease on the sea than anywhere else, and never left it far behind him. He smelled like the sea even after he had bathed. When he wasn’t fishing, he sat on the floor in our dark front room mending a fishing net. And if a fishing net had been a sleeping creature, he wouldn’t even have awakened it, at the speed he worked. He did everything this slowly. Even when he summoned a look of concentration, you could run outside and drain the bath in the time it took him to rearrange his features. His face was very heavily creased, and into each crease he had tucked some worry or other, so that it wasn’t really his own face any longer, but more like a tree that had nests of birds in all the branches. He had to struggle constantly to manage it and always looked worn out from the effort.
When I was six or seven, I learned something about my father I’d never known. One day I asked him, “Daddy, why are you so old?” He hoisted up his eyebrows at this, so that they formed little sagging umbrellas over his eyes. And he let out a long breath, and shook his head and said, “I don’t know.” When I turned to my mother, she gave me a look meaning she would answer the question for me another time. The following day without saying a word, she walked me down the hill toward the village and turned at a path into a graveyard in the woods. She led me to three graves in the corner, with three white marker posts much taller than I was. They had stern-looking black characters written top to bottom on them, but I hadn’t attended the school in our little village long enough to know where one ended and the next began. My mother pointed to them and said, “Natsu, wife of Sakamoto Minoru.” Sakamoto Minoru was the name of my father. “Died age twenty-four, in the nineteenth year of Meiji.” Then she pointed to the next one: “Jinichiro, son of Sakamoto Minoru, died age six, in the nineteenth year of Meiji,” and to the next one, which was identical except for the name, Masao, and the age, which was three. It took me a while to understand that my father had been married before, a long time ago, and that his whole family had died. I went back to those graves not long afterward and found as I stood there that sadness was a very heavy thing. My body weighed twice what it had only a moment earlier, as if those graves were pulling me down toward them.
The book opens by presenting the geisha’s life and family before coming to Gion. She was a young girl, belonging to a fisherman, who grew up in a fishing village called Yoroido. She grew up as being the youngest one and often being compared to her mother with whom she shared the same unusual eye color, a light grey, not common among Japanese people. Her father’s name was Sakamoto Minoru and he was married before but his wife and also his two children, a boy and a girl, died. Ftc speed test.
After that Sakamoto Minoru married again and together with his new wife had two daughters, Chyo and Satsu. The older daughter resembled her father both in manner and physical appearance while Chyo was more like her mother.
When Chyo was seven, her mother became ill. Despite that the village doctor, Miura, tried to help her, it seemed that there was no more hope for her. Chyo overheard her father and the doctor talk about her mother and she started fearing what would happen if her mother were to die.
When her father sent Chyo into the village to bring incense for the altar, she felt down and was rescued by Tanaka Ichiro, the owner of the Japan Costal Seafood Company. He took care of her and recognized her as being Sakamoto’s daughter. Chyo then started to look up to Mr., Tanaka because she saw him as being more mannered than the others.
The very next day, Chyo meets Mr. Tanaka again as she spies on her sister making out with one of the village boys. Mr. Tanaka invites Chyo and her sister to come to his house the next day and they agree.
The next day, they are first taken to Mr. Tanaka’s office where the two girls meet old women that Chyo calls Ms. Fidget, and examines them. After that, they are taken to Mr. Tanaka’s house. Chyo meets Tanaka’s daughter who is the same age as she is and the idea that Mr. Tanaka wants to adopt her and her sister grows inside of her.
A few days pass until one day, Mr. Tanaka sends after the two girls. Instead of adopting them, they are taken to the train station where a man awaits for them and the two girls are taken to Kyoto. There, Chyo is taken to a geisha house in the Gion district and is separated from her sister.
In the house lives only another geisha named Hatsumomo who immediately dislikes Chyo because she sees her as a potential threat. The house is also inhabited by Granny, an old geisha, Mother, a person who only cares about money, Auntie, a failed geisha, and Pumpkin, another girl the same age as Chyo brought to become a geisha.
Chyo starts as a servant, doing chores and whatever she is put up to, but after a while, she is sent to be trained as a geisha together with Pumpkin. Hatsumomo tries to get rid of Chyo by making her life miserable, withholding information about her sister’s whereabouts and blaming the destruction of Mameha’s kimono, a rival of Hatsumomo’s, on Chyo. Auntie, knowing Hatsumomo’s character, warns Chyo not to trust her.
Chyo’s sister tries to get in touch with her but Hatsumomo doesn’t let her. Because she wants to torment Chyo, Hatsumomo lets her know that her sister searched her but refused to tell her where she is and where she works.
One day, Chyo is sent to go and give Hatsumomo an instrument at a tea house and she uses the opportunity to go and find Satsu. Chyo finds her sister in the pleasure district and they set the date when they would run away, Satsu refusing to run away that night because they had no money.
When Chyo arrives at the okyia, Hatsumomo reveals that Chyo went to see her sister to Mother. Because of this, Chyo tells Mother that Hatsumomo has a boyfriend, a peasant named Koichi, fact that could endanger Hatsumomo’s career and the okyia’s revenue. Mother punishes Hatsumomo and forbids her from seeing her lover again, which only makes Hatsumomo hate Chyo more.
Despite Auntie and Pumpkin’s warnings, Chyo tries to run so she could meet with her sister. She goes up on the roof believing that she can escape that way but ends up falling and breaking her arm. Mother gets angry with her and decides that she will no longer pay for Chyo’s training to be a geisha and that from that day on, Chyo will pay her debts by being a slave to the okyia. That day, Chyo also finds that her sister had run away from the pleasure house and is nowhere to be found.
A few years passed and while Pumpkin continues her training as a geisha, Chyo remains a servant in the okyia. One day, when Chyio returned home from running errands, she stops on a bridge and reflects on how miserable her life has been. A man passing by accompanied by another geisha stops to comfort her, telling her kind words and buying her shaved ice and giving her some money and his handkerchief. Chyo knows him only as the Chairman, since that was what the geisha called him, and it is then when she decides that she wants to become a geisha too, just to have the chance to meet him again. Chyo keeps the handkerchief but donates the money to a temple hoping that that way she will be closer to becoming a geisha.
Grandmother dies in an accident and at her funeral, Mameha comes to pay her respects. Mameha takes an interest in Chyo and manages to convince Mother to let Chyo begin her training as a geisha again under her tutelage and they set a bet concerning Chyo’s ability to pay all her debts by the age of 20.
When Chyo starts her training as a geisha again, Pumpkin is already an apprentice geisha who has taken the name Hatsumiyo and has Hatsumomo as her older sister.
Chyo becomes close to Mameha who tells her more about Hatsumomo and why she is considered as being a failed geisha. Despite her fame and steady income, Hatsumomo is unable to get a danna, or a man who will pay for what she needs and make her financially independent. Because of this, Hatsumomo has to remain in the okyia and under Mother’s authority because she needs the okyia’s kimono collection. Mameha suspects that the reason why Hatsumomo hates Chyo is because she is more beautiful that she is and that she suspects that one day Mother will chose to adopt her as a daughter and thus making Hatsumomo loose her power in the okyia.
With Mameha’s help, Chyo soon becomes a geisha and adopts the name Sayuri. Mameha begins to introduce Sayuri through the district but her efforts are in vain because Hatsumomo starts spreading rumors about Sayuri and how she is no longer a virgin. Because of this, Mameha is more determined to make everything she can to throw Hatsumomo out of Gion.
Mameha arranges that Sayuri’s virginity or mizuage to be bided between two influential men: a doctor that is known for buying the virginity of a large number of geishas including Mameha and the president of Iwamura Electric, Toshikazu Nobu. Sayuri meet Nobu at a summon match where she was taken by Mameha and it was there when she also meet, the Chairman again, Ken Iwamura who happened to be a close friend and business partner with Nobu.
The doctor is ready to give up bidding for Sayuri’s virginity when he hears that she may not be intact but is convinced not to do it by Mameha.
Before the bidding is done, Sayuri attends a party at the villa owned by Mameha’s danna, the Barron. There, the Barron tries to sexually assault Sayuri , undressing her. As a result, the Barron also bids for Sayuri’s virginity but loses against the Doctor.
After Sayuri is no longer a virgin, Mother decides to officially adopt Sayuri and make her heiress to the okyia. Hatsumomo and Pumpkin get angry but they can’t convince Mother to change her mind.
Hatsumomo starts to behave reckless and is eventually thrown out of the okyia by Mother, and is never seen again.
Nobu manifests his wish to become Sayuri’s danna but loses when Mother chooses General Tottori instead. Even is The General doesn’t lavish Sayuri with gifts, he proves to be useful when Japan is on the brick of war in the World War II, providing necessities and not only and protecting the okyia from being seized and searched by the military.
The general falls from his position and is no longer able to help them just when the geisha district is closed. Many geishas are sent to work in factories and lose their lives because the factories were frequently bombed. Sayuri goes to the General to ask him to send her somewhere safe but he is unable to as he used his influence to protect another girl.
Sayuri is helped by Nobu and she ends up sent to a kimono maker that now made parachutes, outside the city and safe from the bombing.
At the end of the war, Nobu goes back to Sayuri and asks for her help. Because of the war, many factories were destroyed, including a few belonging to Iwamura Electric. Nobu and the Chairman needed Sayuri to entertain the new Deputy Minister Sato who could help them rebuilt and save the company.
Sayuri agrees and goes back to Gion where the okyia is opened again. Together with Mameha and Pumpkin, they start to entertain the Minister on a regular basis, and the Minister ends up getting attached to Sayuri to the point where he proposes himself to be her danna. The minister is however made to drop his proposal by Nobu who also wanted to become Sayuri’s danna.
Sayuri dreads the idea of Nobu becoming her danna because of her feeling for the Chairman. Sayuri starts to form a plan to make Nobu give up the idea of becoming her danna by staging to be caught while having sexual relationships with the Minister on a trip she took together with Nobu, The Chairman, Pumpkin and Mameha to an island.
Sayuri asks Pumpkin to bring Nobu to the place where she and the Minister will be, but she brings the Chairman instead to get revenge on Sayuri.
They return to Gion and Sayuri realizes that she lost the trust Nobu had in her but also that she ruined whatever chance she had with the Chairman.
After a while, Syuri meets with the Chairman again and they confess their feelings. The Chairman reveals that he didn’t pursued Sayuri because he saw how much Nobu got attached to her and didn’t wanted to ruin the relationship that may form between them.
Book Memoirs Of A Geisha
The Chairman and Sayuri kiss and for Sayuri, that was the first time she felt loved.
Sayuri retires from being a geisha and the Chairman becomes her danna. She moves to New York after a while and it is implied together they had an illegitimate son. The two of them continue to love each other until the day the Chairman dies.
Memoirs Of A Geisha Online
The book ends presenting Sayuri in New York, having a little tea house opened there, and reflecting on life.