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The glamorous world of big-city geisha is familiar to many readers, but little has been written of the life of hardship and pain led by the hot-springs-resort geisha. Indentured to geisha houses by families in desperate poverty, deprived of freedom and identity, these young women lived in a world of sex for sale, unadorned by the trappings of wealth and celebrity.
Sayo Masuda has written the first full-length autobiography of a former hot-springs-resort geisha. Masuda was sent to work as a nursemaid at the age of six and then was sold to a geisha house at the age of twelve. In keeping with tradition, she first worked as a servant while training in the arts of dance, song, shamisen, and drum. In 1940, aged sixteen, she made her debut as a geisha.
Autobiography of a Geisha chronicles the harsh life in the geisha house from which Masuda and her "sisters" worked. They were routinely expected to engage in sex for payment, and Masuda's memoir contains a grim account of a geisha's slow death from untreated venereal disease. Upon completion of their indenture, geisha could be left with no means of making a living. Marriage sometimes meant rescue, but the best that most geisha could hope for was to become a man's mistress.
Masuda also tells of her life after leaving the geisha house, painting a vivid panorama of the grinding poverty of the rural poor in wartime Japan. As she eked out an existence on the margins of Japanese society, earning money in odd jobs and hard labor — even falling in with Korean gangsters — Masuda experienced first hand the anguish and the fortitude of prostitutes, gangster mistresses, black-market traders, and abandoned mothers struggling to survive in postwar Japan.
Happiness was always short-lived for Masuda, but she remained compassionate and did what she could to help others; indeed, in sharing her story, she hoped that others might not suffer as she had. Although barely able to write, her years of training in the arts of entertaining made her an accomplished storyteller, and Autobiography of a Geisha is as remarkable for its wit and humor as for its unromanticized candor. It is the superbly told tale of a woman whom fortune never favored yet never defeated.
Columbia University Press
— Elizabeth Quinn
— Marlene Y. Satter
— Judy Helman
Part 1: A Little Dog, Abandoned and Terrified Little Crane the nursemaidThe eyes of the oxen glow in the darkI, too, had a motherPart 2: The Sunburned Novice The dream palaceGeisha schoolI want to be a geisha, right nowMy four "Elder Sisters''The death of Elder Sister TakemiThe hot ironThe scarI learn my nameCruel rulesI devote myself to artPart 3: Miss Low Gets Wise Shallow riverA secret placeThe new noviceThe sleep-with-anyone geishaHow to be cute and sexyPart 4: Bird in a Cage My first customerThe geisha temperamentMiscarriageThou shalt not loveIn the party businessTip takerTsukiko's suicideRevengePart 5: Awakening to Love Number Two and Number ThreeTricks of the love tradeThe witcher bewitchedTrue loveAttempted suicidePart 6: Wanderings of a Castaway No place to call homeA brother's loveTears of humiliationWar's endThe dumpling-soup dinerPart 7: A Dream for My Little Brother Beautiful eyesPeddlerStreet stallGang mollLittle FoundlingSeven funerary lathsPart 8: The Depths of Despair My little brother's suicideReturn to SuwaReunionHappy daysFarewell banquetLove's anguishHappiness and unhappinessWandering between life and deathPart 9: The Road Back to Life Innocent smilePiiko the fledgling hawkVain dreamsThe Prostitution Prevention ActCats' paws
Columbia University Press
Posted June 14, 2005
It should be noted that a hotsprings geisha is for the most part simply a prostitute, and does not undergo the same training in the arts that a true geisha does; hot springs resort 'geisha' more often than not are girls sold into prostitution that only mimic real geisha, and are actually more closely related to the tayu of years past. Sayo Masuda was not a true geisha such as those of the Kyoto or Tokyo hanamichi. Simply put this account may perpetuate the inaccuracy that geisha are indigent prostitutes when in fact that is not the case. Nevertheless it is a good read and worth picking up.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 24, 2003
This is a must read for people interested in the Geisha life. This is the often unthought of account of Country geisha. Most people only think of the Kyoto or Shimbashi Geisha, but this opens a person's eyes to the country geisha as well.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.