Autobiography of a Geisha

Autobiography of a Geisha

by Sayo Masuda, G. Rowley
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Pub. Date:
Columbia University Press
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Autobiography of a Geisha

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231129510
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 05/25/2005
Pages: 216
Sales rank: 596,714
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.57(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

Table of Contents

Part 1: A Little Dog, Abandoned and Terrified
Little Crane the nursemaid
The eyes of the oxen glow in the dark
I, too, had a mother
Part 2: The Sunburned Novice
The dream palace
Geisha school
I want to be a geisha, right now
My four "Elder Sisters''
The death of Elder Sister Takemi
The hot iron
The scar
I learn my name
Cruel rules
I devote myself to art
Part 3: Miss Low Gets Wise
Shallow river
A secret place
The new novice
The sleep-with-anyone geisha
How to be cute and sexy
Part 4: Bird in a Cage
My first customer
The geisha temperament
Thou shalt not love
In the party business
Tip taker
Tsukiko's suicide
Part 5: Awakening to Love
Number Two and Number Three
Tricks of the love trade
The witcher bewitched
True love
Attempted suicide
Part 6: Wanderings of a Castaway
No place to call home
A brother's love
Tears of humiliation
War's end
The dumpling-soup diner
Part 7: A Dream for My Little Brother
Beautiful eyes
Street stall
Gang moll
Little Foundling
Seven funerary laths
Part 8: The Depths of Despair
My little brother's suicide
Return to Suwa
Happy days
Farewell banquet
Love's anguish
Happiness and unhappiness
Wandering between life and death
Part 9: The Road Back to Life
Innocent smile
Piiko the fledgling hawk
Vain dreams
The Prostitution Prevention Act
Cats' paws

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Autobiography Of A Geisha 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Like someone previously mentioned, it should be noted that hotspring (onsen) geisha are not true geisha. They do not undergo the same artistic training, and are usually prostitutes. Nevertheless, I think it's an interesting read, but I wouldn't recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having just finished reading Arthur Golden's 'Memoriors of a Geisha' I became entralled with the topic. While I loved his novel, reading of the experience from one who truly lived it gave a much different sense of the reality. I was at first dubious of Masuda's claims, wondering how anyone could live such a horrid childhood. But by the end, I was smitten...with her backbone, her intelligence, her knowledge of people, and her undying spirit. She was an amazing woman, who sadly lived, but rose above, a miserable life. Highly recommend this book. Would truly want to give it ten stars, though only limited to five.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.