“A story like mine should never be told, for my world is as forbidden as it is fragile, without its mystery, it cannot survive. I certainly wasn’t born into the life of a Geisha… like so much in my strange life, I was carried there by the current… “-Sayuri


A young and beautiful girl, born in a poverty-stricken household is sold to a Geisha house in Kyoto. She is forced to live a life where young girls are rigorously trained in Geisha arts of dance, music and tea service; where their virginity is auctioned away, and even dreaming about love and happiness is forbidden. Though resistant at first, she learns that to survive, she must abide by the customs and traditions of the society, and finds a new purpose: to become the most desirable Geisha in Japan. Her journey from this young girl named Sakamoto Chiyo to becoming Japan’s most renowned Geisha Nitta Sayuri is painted in Arthur Golden’s, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. But, who shaped her to become THE Geisha? Let us look into the three most prominent figures of her life, their story and their becoming of milestones in Sayuri’s life.


The second best Geisha in Gion

Before Sayuri was the hot potato in Kyoto, Hatsumomo was one of the most well-known geisha and the sole moneymaker of the Nitta Okiya. She is depicted as an extremely beautiful but a heartless and wicked woman who was always resentful of Sayuri’s beauty and left no opportunity to dislodge her. She accused Sayuri of having illegitimate relations with other men, in an attempt to sabotage her career. To avenge Hatsumomo, Sayuri and Mameha, her mentor, spread rumours about Hatsumomo being ”mentally unstable” and tarnished her reputation, eventually driving her out of Kyoto. Only after the dismissal does Sayuri realize that no matter how much she hated it, a part of Hatsumomo would have always resided within her.

“I sometimes lift the brocade cover on the mirror of my makeup stand, and have the briefest flicker of a thought that I may find her there in the glass, smirking at me.”


Onee san

Family, a wonderful word. Chiyo was orphaned at a young age and had no parental influence all her life. Mameha, the closest thing she had to a mother or a sister, however, used Chiyo to undermine Hatsumomo. Indeed, she volunteered to be Chiyo’s big sister, guided her through every phase of her Geisha training and gave her a new identity of ‘Sayuri’, it is revealed towards the end of the story that, the only reason she adopted Sayuri was at the chairman’s request. A very timid and innocent Chiyo matures into a savvy and quick-witted Sayuri who dismisses Hatsumomo out of Gion, all thanks to Mameha.  Fate had bound them to each other. On one hand, a cunning Mameha used Sayuri’s success for her benefit, however, on the other hand, she tutored Sayuri to survive in the cruel and competitive society of Gion.


One true Danna

Iwamura Ken, Chairman of the Iwamura electricals, Sayuri’s love interest, who eventually marries her, is the only reason why Sayuri had decided to become a Geisha. Right from their first meeting, the chairman becomes Sayuri’s obsession.

 “Nothing in life mattered more to me than pleasing him”.

It was love at first sight for the chairman when he had consoled a young Sayuri weeping near a stream.  He had asked Mameha to mentor the “beautiful girl with grey eyes” to become a Geisha. The only reason he did not become her Danna (patron of a geisha) was because of Nobu, his best friend’s growing interest in Sayuri.  However, their union proved that even though the fact that a middle-aged man falls in love with a teenage girl is as weird as it sounds,  Sayuri had found the man of her dreams and had the happy ending she deserved.


Thus, even though ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ is Sayuri’s story, the many unsung heroes of her life deserve a voice. The story is her narration of how she turned her life around from being a scared young girl with no family to becoming an independent woman who survived a war. She kept herself the main focus of the story and showed how all the odds she had faced in her life had moulded her personality. Sayuri is indeed the warrior here but it is also important to note that her acquaintances had a much bigger role to play in her life, more than what is interpreted in the book.


This article is inspired by the book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, by Arthur Golden.

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