Published in 1997, Memoirs of a Geisha is the story of a nine-year-old girl who grows up to be the most famous geisha in her time. Chiyo was the second daughter of a fisherman’s. Her father was very old and her mother was his second wife. When their mother became deathly ill, their father knew he could not take care of his daughters.
A wealthy neighbor offers to help with his daughters, but he sells the girls. The oldest daughter becomes a prostitute and the youngest, Chiyo becomes a geisha. At first, Chiyo starts out as a maid, but she attends geisha school. She learns to dance, music, how to properly serve tea, and how to entertain men.
She learns the way to attract a man with a single look. Chiyo is taught how to dress, how to walk, and how to modulate her voice. A geisha is also taught how to be interesting to converse with.
The world of the geisha is very competitive. Hatsumomo is one of the top geisha in the city, but when Chiyo arrives, she recognizes her as a threat. And she was right. As the story progresses, Chiyo becomes the highest earner in their okiya. She has various lovers and is the mistress of a general during World War II so he could protect their okiya.
But, throughout the times she goes from lover to lover, she actually loves the Chairman. In the end, she becomes the Chairman’s mistress. After the birth of their child, Chiyo, who is now Sayuri, asks him to set her up in New York City, where she opened up a teahouse and became very successful. She was interviewed by the fictional author of Memoirs of a Geisha, a professor in Japanese History at the New York University, who told her story.
Memoirs of a Geisha begins with a Translator’s Note. A fictional Jakob Haarhuis, a professor of Japanese history at the New York University tells how he met Sayuri, a former Geisha, and she wants him to write her story.
Chapter one begins with a bit of an homage to Dickens. “That afternoon when I met so- and -so… was the very best afternoon of my life and the very worst afternoon.” Sayuri is telling her story.
She says she wasn’t born to be a geisha. She was a fisherman’s daughter in a little town on the Sea of Japan. When their mother becomes ill, Chiyo (who will become Sayuri) and her older sister Satsu are sent to live with a neighbor. Mr. Tanaka takes the sisters to be examined by an old woman before he takes them home. Satsu is fifteen years old. Mr. Tanaka leaves and the old woman checks the girl’s virginity. When Mr. Tanaka comes back he is assured the girls are “intact” and she points out that the oldest will be hard to handle, but the youngest at nine years old is easier and prettier.
Mr. Tanaka thanks her and takes the girls home to meet his daughter, Kuniko. Chiyo wants to be adopted by Mr. Tanaka and have Kuniko for a sister. That night, Chiyo and Kuniko sneak out. They find Mr. Tanaka in a geisha house. The next day, Chiyo and Satsu are sent back home, but soon an assistant from Mr. Tanaka arrives. He takes the girls, but not to Mr. Tanaka. Instead, they are put on a train where the see the old woman.
A Mr. Bekku is on the train with the old woman. He tells them they are going to Kyoto as he is trying to fix their appearance. The train arrives in Kyoto and they are taken to the neighborhood of Gion in Kyoto. The rickshaw drops Chiyo off at a large house, but her sister is taken some place else.
When the door to the house Chiyo is standing in front of opens, she sees a glamorously beautiful woman. Her name is Hatsumomo. She is the most renowned geisha in Gion. She is a jealous and rude woman. Although she is beautiful on the outside her inner self is twisted and ugly. Hatsumomo has an instant dislike towards Chiyo and calls her garbage.
An older woman takes Chiyo inside. She is called Auntie, she used to be a geisha. They are in an okiya.
The building is a school for geishas. Chiyo meets another girl who will be living and training with her. The girl’s nickname is Pumpkin. She will be an apprentice geisha some day. The okiya is run by a woman called Mother, and the other woman in charge is called Granny. They aren’t actually related, but Granny adopted Mother and Auntie years ago.
As time progresses, Chiyo realizes that Granny is an abusive old woman, and Mother isn’t very nice either. Chiyo quickly learns to obey quickly to make her life easier. Chiyo is forced to learn to be a geisha. She learns music, dance and the tea ceremonies. But, before her true lessons begin, Chiyo is forced to perform chores around the okiya. She must clean Hatsumomo’s room. The room is a mess and Hatsumomo tells Chiyo not to touch her makeup because she is dirty. Then Has mom slaps Chiyo. As a successful geisha, Hatsumomo gets away with a lot of cruelties.
When school begins Chiyo and Pumpkin attend classes together. Pumpkin is a lost cause. Not only does she eat the food she found on the ground, but she is a terrible dancer, and bad at playing a shamisen. It is a Japanese guitar. Chiyo hopes to find her sister at the school, but Satsu is not to be found.
After school, Hatsumomo brings Chiyo to the registry office in Gion. While Awajiumi is registering her, Chiyo asks if he has seen her sister. He says no. Hatsumomo is angry at Chiyo for asking the question. When they arrive home, Chiyo is bathed and put in a kimono. She must watch Hatsumomo apply the heavy make up the geisha’s wear. After the makeup is troweled on Mr. Bekku comes in to help Hatsumomo into her dress. She needs help because of her obi. It is a belt that is made of rope and tied in the back. After all the work Hatsumomo is breathtaking.
As the youngest member of the house, most of the housework falls on Chiyo. She must also attend Hatsumomo, who is abusive to her. She must keep Hatsumomo’s secrets, especially when she brings her boyfriend into the Tokyo. Hatsumomo is forbidden to have a boyfriend. Hatsumomo blackmails Chiyo with the knowledge of her sister’s location. She tells Chiyo that if she obeys her every whim, she will tell her where Satsu is.
Hatsumomo sees Chiyo as a threat to her position in the okiya, so she makes Chiyo deface a kimono if she wants her sister’s location. Hatsumomo knows she will be punished for it. The kimono belongs to Mameha another geisha who is a rival to Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo makes Chiyo paint on the kimono and returns it to Mameha.
The next morning when Mameha tells Mother about the kimono, Hatsumomo puts the blame on Chiyo. She says that she tried to stop the girl. Mother adds the price of the kimono to Chiyo’s bill. She must pay for her keep at the okiya with the money she will earn as a geisha.
Later Chiyo confronts Hatsumomo demanding to know where her sister is. She tells her Satsu is in a joyous-ya. Chiyo doesn’t know what that is. So when she must run an errand for Hatsumomo, Chiyo takes the opportunity to find her sister. Chiyo discovers the building her sister is in is a full of women who tie their obi’s in the front or prostitutes. Satu is now a prostitute, too. Satu has been saving money to escape and wants Chiyo to meet her on Tuesday night, so they can run away together.
When Chiyo returns to the okiya she is caught by Hatsumomo. But, instead of turning her in, she gives her money to make her escape. She hopes to never see Chiyo again. Unfortunately, Hatsumomo can’t let it her hatred rest, and tells Mother that Chiyo stole her emerald brooch and sold it. Mother finds the money on Chiyo and takes it. But she slaps Hatsumomo because she knows about her boyfriend.
After school one day, Mameha asks Sayuri to go with her to meet her danna, which is a benefactor, that the geisha sleeps with. He is called the Baron and he is impressed with the new geisha. When Pumpkin wins the award for the apprentice, Mameha tells Sayuri not to worry because she has a plan. There is a sumo wrestling match that the two of them will attend and Hatsumomo won’t know about it. A rich man, Nobu Toshikazu will be attending, along with the Chairman. Sayuri is thrilled to see the Chairman again.
Mameha introduces Sayuri to Nobu and Chairman Iwamura. Sayuri is so enamored with the Chairman that she tries to pour tea from an empty pot. Nobu is scarred with burns all over his body and is missing an arm. Hatsumomo arrives. She often makes fun of Nobu and is amused to see Mameha and Sayuri with the two men. Sayuri decides to turn the charm on at Nobu before Hatsumomo can ruin the night with her sharp, cruel tongue.
Sayuri is almost obsessed with Chairman Iwamura. She collects every article where he is mentioned. She learns that although he founded the Iwamura Electric, the owes Nobu a great debt he can never repay. Mameha is working on a plan. The beginning involves putting Sayuri in an old dress and cutting her leg bad enough the girl needs to see the doctor. While they are out, Mameha takes Sayuri about to show her off. She takes her to see an artist named Uchidasan. Mameha hopes he will one day paint Sayuri.
Sayuri entertains Nobu and the Chairman often. She also sees the doctor, until he becomes angry and accuses her of misleading him. She finally asks Mameha what her plan is. Mameha tells her she is trying to build the price up for her mizuage, or virginity.
Sayuri finds out that the reason the doctor was so angry was because Hatsumomo told him she wasn’t a virgin anymore, she had a boyfriend. Mameha assures the doctor that was a lie because Hatsumomo is jealous. Mameha and Sayuri attend a party at the Baron’s house. Afterward, the Baron invites Mameha to another party, but Mameha must decline as she is having a medical procedure done on that day.
Baron is angry because she mentioned her abortion in public, so he asks Sayuri instead. Mameha tells her she must attend but to be careful of the Baron. He may try to take her virginity. At the party, Sayuri walks with all the men. She also spends time with Nobu and the Chairman, who are also there. After everyone leaves, the Baron tells Sayuri he has a gift for her. She is wary but follows him into the bedroom. There he gives her a kimono. He takes her kimono off, then puts the other one on her. He doesn’t rape her. Afterward, she puts her own kimono back on and leaves, she takes the new kimono with her.
On the way home, Sayuri sees a poster for the dance she will be in, Dances of the Old Capital. Her face is on the poster because she is to be in it. The dance she performs in is called “The Morning Sun on the Waves.” Nobu and the Chairman are in the audience and she dances perfectly.
A week before the bidding for her virginity is to begin, Nobu gives Sayuri a ruby to give to Mother so she can settle her debts with the woman. The day before the bidding, Mother calls a doctor to verify her virginity. Mother says she will adopt Sayuri instead of Pumpkin. Hatsumomo is furious. Since Sayuri feels bad for Pumpkin, she asks Mother if she can adopt both of them, but Mother says no.
Although everyone thought the bidding would be between the doctor and Nobu, it is between the doctor and the Baron. The doctor wins at a record breaking price. The next week Mother adopts Sayuri officially. Now her name is Nitta Sayuri.
In July 1935 Sayuri goes through the preparations for her first time at sex. The doctor keeps some of her virginal blood in a vial. He misspells her name on the vial. Afterward, Sayuri goes back to her regular life. She attends parties with the Chairman and Nobu. For one of the parties the Chairman cancels her invitation because Nobu is ill and can’t attend. Sayuri worries that the Chairman doesn’t like her.
Two years later it is time for Sayuri to move from apprentice to proper Geisha. The ceremony is called turning the collar because her collar will not be red but white. The bidding begins for her again. She needs a “danna,” or protector. He would be the man who has exclusive privileges to her. Although everyone thinks Nobu will become her danna, she still hopes for the Chairman.
Mameha tells Sayuri that love has nothing to do with the arrangement. Nobu would be a good danna. Mameha collects the payment from Mother for their wager. Mother does not want to pay but listens when Mameha suggests that General Tottori Junnosuke would be a good danna. There is a war coming and they might need him as an ally for their okiya.
Although Sayuri continues entertaining at parties for Nobu, he seems to be angry at her. The general wins the bid as Sayuri’s danna. She has to be with him twice a week. One night she runs into the Chairman. She tells him that she hasn’t seen Nobu in a while. He tells her where to find him and that she should repair their relationship.
One night she finds Nobu standing outside a teahouse. He tells her he is angry at her because the General if now her danna. Even though she assures him that couldn’t possibly be her fault, she had no choice, he is still angry. Like a little boy who can’t have the toy he wants.
In six months time, Sayuri has earned more than Hatsumomo and Pumpkin together. This means she has earned the big bedroom. She kicks Hatsumomo and Pumpkin out of the room, but during the move, Hatsumomo finds Sayuri’s journal. Since geisha aren’t supposed to even talk about what happens, writing it is definitely wrong. Hatsumomo plans to show it to Mother.
While searching for it, Sayuri finds her journal and the emerald brooch Hatsumomo accused her of stealing. She takes the brooch to Mother, who makes Hatsumomo pay back the money that Sayuri was forced to pay. Mameha begins to spread rumors that Hatsumomo is losing her mind. When Hatsumomo gets in a fight with an actor, she confirms the rumors. Mother banishes Hatsumomo from the okiya. That is the last time Sayuri ever sees her.
When World War II takes a bigger toll on Kyoto, the Sayuri’s okiya is little-affected thanks to the General. But, after he is arrested the women must struggle like the rest of the town. They must grow their own vegetables, ration food and even wear the same underwear for many days. Then their lively hood is completely cut off when the government closes the geisha district.
The teahouses decide to throw one last party. At one of the parties, Sayuri runs into Nobu. He tells her he wants to help her. He has a friend who will take her in. She can earn her wages by making parachutes instead of kimonos. Sayuri agrees and wonders if she will ever come back.
While she is making parachutes, Sayuri is informed of the death toll in Kyoto. Of the people she lists, the Baron is one. He committed suicide. But, Mameha is still alive. Time passes with the war. After the war, Nobu finds her. He wants her to come back to Kyoto and Gion. She agrees, hoping she can get Mother to take her back as a geisha. Nobu gives her a piece of concrete saying that someday he will exchange it for gems.
Sayuri sends a letter to Mother, who sends Auntie to bring her home. With so many American soldiers around she is kept busy as a geisha. Nobu shows up to a party with the new Deputy Minister Sato. He wants to impress the Minister, so he and Sayuri are going to throw another party. This one will have more geishas. Sayuri brings in Mameha and Pumpkin, who became a prostitute after the war.
The Chairman comes to the party and Sayuri notices he is still handsome. Pumpkin is rude at the party, but the Minister likes her. He proceeds to get drunk but seems to have fun. As time progresses the geisha’s continue to entertain the Minister, Nobu, and the Chairman. As the time to perform the Dances of the Old Capital again, Sayuri and Mameha are busy rehearsing. One evening Sayuri finds Nobu angry and the Minister drunk, as usual.
After the Minister leaves, Nobu tells Sayuri that the Minister wants to be her danna. Nobu feels that he owes the man because he kept his company going during the war. She tells him that she will allow the Minister to become her danna if he asks her to. This makes him very angry because he doesn’t want her to be the type of woman who would do that. He tells her to get the concrete he gave her. She fears he will soon become her danna and she doesn’t want that.
Sayuri comes up with a plan to make Nobu not want her. At a party on an island, she asks Pumpkin to bring Nobu to an old theater. She plans to have him catch her having sex with the Minister. But, Pumpkin brings the Chairman, instead. Later when Sayuri confronts Pumpkin, she learns that the woman brought the wrong man on purpose, for revenge. She wanted Mother to adopt her, instead of Sayuri.
A few days later, she gets a note from Nobu’s office. She is to go to a teahouse. She is surprised to see the Chairman. He tells her that he was always attracted to her, but since Nabu wanted her, he stepped aside. But, when Nobu heard she slept with the Minister, she decided he didn’t want her anymore. Now the Chairman can be with her.
The Chairman becomes her danna. He can’t marry her because he is already married, but she travels with him on business trips to New York. She has their child and asks the Chairman to relocate her to New York on a permanent basis. She opens a teahouse and moves into the Waldorf Towers. She becomes very successful.
The story finishes forty years later. There are no more geisha. The Chairman, Nobu, and everyone else she knew is now dead. But, she says they all live on in her heart.
Nitta Sayuri (Sakamoto Chiyo) – The youngest daughter of a fisherman in a small village. When she is nine years old she is given to a house of geisha, while her older sister becomes a prostitute. Chiyo starts out as a maid and then goes to geisha school. She is bullied by one of the other geisha girls but gets her revenge in small ways.
When she tries to escape with her sister, Chiyo falls off the roof and breaks her arm. Chiyo must spend many years repaying the Mother of the House for her keep and the doctor. As a geisha, she will be able to repay her debts and get her freedom. When the time comes for Mother to sell her virginity, she sets a record with the bidding of the men. Then she is claimed by an older geisha as her sister and given the name Sayuri.
Next, she is adopted by Mother, and her name becomes via Sayuri. Afterward she makes a large amount when and secures the safety of the house by taking on a general as her danna. He supports her and she is his exclusive lover. After the general is arrested she moves into the country. Sayuri earns her keep by making parachutes.
After the war, she goes back to work as a geisha. When the Minister of Finance wants to become her danna, as well as Nobu, another man she does not want, she plans a stunt that turns both men away from her. Then the Chairman, who she has always wanted, becomes her danna. She is his mistress since he has a wife. After she gives birth, she convinces him to set her up in New York City where she opens a teahouse and spends the rest of her life. Forty years after moving later she tells her story to the “narrator”, fictional Jakob Haahuis, a professor of Japanese History at the New York University.
Mameha – Sayuri’s mentor. She is the second top geisha in the city. She takes Sayuri on to train at the request of the Chairman. She is proud of the accomplishments of Sayuri. The Baron is her danna and insists she aborts any children she becomes pregnant with. This saddens her, but she is fatalistic, so she takes it all in stride.
Hatsumomo – the head geisha of the Nitta okiya. She is cruel and manipulative. She bullies Sayuri and hates her because she knows she will replace her as head geisha. Mameha works toward removing her and is successful when Hatsumomo begins to lose money due to her erratic actions.
Chairman Iwamura Ken – The one true love of Sayuri. He meets her when she first comes to the geisha house as a child. He arranges for Mameha to train her to be a geisha and protect her. Although he desires her when she completes her training, he must let her go to his friend who he owes a great debt. In the end, she becomes his mistress and he sets her up in New York City with their illegitimate child. He is a good bit older than she is.
Toshikazu Nobu – He desires Sayuri, but never manages to get her. She likes him but turns away because of his war injuries. His skin is greatly scarred and has lost an arm. In the end, he turns away from him when he finds out she slept with the Minister.
Pumpkin – She is also a geisha who is training with Sayuri. She isn’t as pretty, and her intelligence is low. Having trouble learning to dance, sing, and everything else geisha are supposed to know, she falls short of Sayuri. But, after years of living in Sayuri’s shadow, Pumpkin gets her revenge by trying to damage her relationship with the Chairman.
Arthur Golden Biography
Arthur Golden, the author of Memoirs of a Geisha was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1956. He is a member of the Ochs – Sulzberger family. The Ochs – Sulzberger’s are the owner of the New York Times. His grandfather was the publisher from 1935 till 1961. This was the paper’s most productive time.
Arthur Golden graduated from Harvard University with a degree in Art History, specializing in Japanese Art. Then in 1980 he earned an M.A. in Japanese History at Columbia University. During this time he also learned to speak Mandarin.
Then Arthur spent a summer at Peking University in Beijing, China. Afterward, he worked in Tokyo for awhile. When Arthur returned to the United States, he attended Boston University, where he achieved an M. A. in English. Arthur now lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.
When Arthur set out to write a book it would stand to reason the book would be based on his favorite subject, the Japanese world. Arthur Golden released Memoirs of a Geisha in 1997 after spending six years working on it. He changed the point of view the book was written in three times. One of the sources Arthur used for the book was Mineko Iwasaki. She was a former geisha and is the inspiration for Sayuri.
A Japanese business woman, Mineko was the most famous and notable geisha of her time in Japan. During her time as a geisha, Mineko entertained celebrities and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. She retired at the age of twenty-nine and was the heir of her okiya when she was just an apprentice. She had hoped that retiring would put more importance in education for young women, but when 70 other geisha followed her example, the geisha tradition started to die out. Although, the reforms Mineko and the other geisha had hoped would occur in the Gion district, didn’t.
She was a former geisha and is the inspiration for Sayuri. A Japanese business woman, Mineko was the most famous and notable geisha of her time in Japan. During her time as a geisha, Mineko entertained celebrities and royalty, including Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. She retired at the age of twenty-nine and was the heir of her okiya when she was just an apprentice. She had hoped that retiring would put more importance in education for young women, but when 70 other geisha followed her example, the geisha tradition started to die out. Although, the reforms Mineko and the other geisha had hoped would occur in the Gion district, didn’t.
She had hoped that retiring would put more importance in education for young women, but when 70 other geisha followed her example, the geisha tradition started to die out. Although, the reforms Mineko and the other geisha had hoped would occur in the Gion district, didn’t.
When Memoirs of a Geisha was released in Japanese, Mineko Iwasaki sued Arthur Golden and his publisher. Arthur had promised her he would not reveal any names because a geisha never tells secrets. No matter how many years pass, a geisha keeps the names and stories to herself. Because he acknowledged her in the Acknowledgment Section of the book, Mineko received death threats for violating the tradition of the geisha code of silence.
Since she settled with his publishers out of court, the truths and names were never confirmed. Later Mineko wrote her own autobiography, Geisha of Gion. Her plan in writing the book was to bring out more truths, whereas Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, put too much emphasis on sex, leaving out the traditional importance of geisha as a part of Japanese culture.
Arthur Golden seems to have not published anything since writing Memoirs of a Geisha. Although writing the book was difficult, and time-consuming, we hope that he is diligently working on something equally as entertaining.