“The Geisha With The Blue-Gray Eyes”: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

“The Geisha With The Blue-Gray Eyes”:
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

*Apparently, Arthur Golden was sued by the retired geisha he had interviewed for his novel because he left her name as one of the sources in his acknowledgements, even though she was supposed to remain anonymous. Check out this article: (http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=106248&page=1)

“…the ‘gei’ of ‘geisha’ means ‘arts,’ so the word ‘geisha’ really means ‘artisan’ or ‘artist’”
-Nitta Sayuri

Nitta Sayuri, formerly known as Sakamato Chiyo, used to live in a fishing village in Japan, called Yoroido, with her ill mother, her quiet father, and her clumsy sister. But that all changed when Chiyo met Mr. Tanaka, who then brought her to an Okiya (geisha boarding house) in Gion. With the help of Mameha, a beautiful and famous Geisha, who eventually becomes Chiyo’s “Older Sister,” Sakamato Chiyo changes her name to Nitta Sayuri, and makes her own reputation as a well-loved Geisha with startlingly blue-gray eyes. Even though she never knew she would become a successful Geisha, life had many surprises for Sayuri, and as she later confesses, “the afternoon when I first met Mr. Tanaka was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst” (105).

Before reading Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, I had never understood what a Geisha really was. Reading this novel completely changed my perception of the profession, and I learned that the profession (or the art?) of being a geisha is more complicated and intricate than I imagined.

When Chiyo becomes a Geisha, Mameha, her Older Sister, helps her with her new name. As she explains to her readers:
My new name came from “sa,” meaning “together,” “yu,” from the zodiac sign for the Hen – in order to balance other elements in my personality – and “ri,” meaning “understanding.” (167)

As a famous Geisha, Sayuri goes on to make acquaintances with men from all kinds of backgrounds – a baron, a minister, a chairman of a company, a soldier, among others. But what I found to be interesting is in the “Translator’s Note” in the beginning of the novel. Jakob Harhuis states that the Geisha’s “…existence is predicated on the singularly Japanese conviction that what goes on during the morning in the office and what goes on during the evening behind closed doors bear no relationship to one another, and must always remain compartmentalized and separate” (3). He then wonders, “Why did Sayuri want her story told?” (3). And this question intrigued me. Why did Sayuri want to reveal her secrets and experiences to her readers? Did She want to relive her memories about the man she had loved? Did she miss Okiya, the geisha boarding house, where she had lived with Mother, Auntie, Granny, Pumpkin, and the infamous Hatsumomo? Why did she want to tell a story about the geisha with the blue-gray eyes?

Works Cited:

  • “’Geisha’ Author and Publisher Sued.” ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/story?id=106248.
  • Golden, Arthur. Memoirs of a geisha. Alexandria Library, 2007.


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