Does he really know what it's like to be a geisha?

the book:

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

published 1997     chapter 17

Finally the day came when Mameha and I were to perform the ceremony binding us as sisters. I bathed early and spent the rest of the morning dressing. Auntie helped me with the finishing touches on my makeup and hair. Because of the wax and makeup covering my skin, I had the strange sensation of having lost all feeling in my face; every time I touched my cheek, I could feel only a vague sense of pressure from my finger…. Afterward as I studied myself in the mirror, a most peculiar thing happened. I knew that the person kneeling before the makeup stand was me, but so was the unfamiliar girl gazing back. I actually reached out to touch her. She wore the magnificent makeup of a geisha. Her lips were flowering red on a stark white face, with her cheeks tinted a soft pink. Her hair was ornamented with silk flowers and sprigs of unhusked rice. She wore a formal kimono of black…

Beginning at the hem of my gown, an embroidered dragon circled up the bottom of the robe to the middle of my thigh. His name was woven in threads lacquered with a beautiful reddish tint. His claws and teeth were silver, his eyes gold – real gold. I couldn’t stop tears from welling up in my eyes.

observations: Everything about this book is strange. It’s a first-person narrative about a Japanese woman growing up in the first half of the 20th century, written by an American man born in 1956. Arthur Golden is a member of the family that owns the New York Times. He wrote this long book, a massive bestseller, and seems to have written nothing else before or after. It is very gripping when you’re reading it, and when you manage to fight back the feeling that he can’t possibly know what it was like to be a geisha, however well-researched and factually accurate it is. Afterwards it tends to slip from the mind…

Links up with: A very different lady
getting ready for a date. Clothes defining women’s status and job here.

The photo is from the University of Washington’s digital collections, via


  1. There's a book by an Australian girl who became a geisha - as far as I remember it confirms he got the details right. Her book is really good too and I can't remember author or title.

    1. Haven't come across that - interesting. I've always wondered how he researched it.

    2. I read the forward to the book and he said that he didn't just interview Nitta Sayori but recorded their conversations. He did change some things as per her request but he didn't just research, he asked for her story directly from her

    3. Thanks for that - very interesting, and I'm glad to hear he did his research!

    4. the translator’s note at the beginning is written by a fictional professor. The translator’s note is really the beginning of the novel as that is where the fiction starts. Sayori didn’t exist.

    5. Thanks for the information - all very meta and post-modern


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