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Autobiography of a Geisha Hardcover – May 15, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (May 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231129505
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231129503
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Sayo Masuda’s Autobiography of a Geisha offers a story of unremitting hardship faced by a hot-springs geisha, a virtual indentured sex-slave in pre-World War II Japan.

Born in 1925, Masuda began work as a nursemaid at age 5 and suffered a childhood of emotional and material poverty. She was then sold to the Takenoya geisha house in Upper Suwa at age 12. While her food and clothing were provided for by Takenoya, she was subject to constant verbal abuse as an apprentice. At one point, she was heaved down the stairs by her "Mother" (the name she uses for the proprietor of the geisha house) and nearly lost a leg. During her recovery, she attempted suicide and further injured herself.

Eventually, Masuda mastered the art of seduction as a geisha. The middle portion of the narrative is taken up with stories of her successful campaign for a danna (patron), of her brother’s tragic suicide, and of her star-crossed love affair with a Japanese politician.

Autobiography of a Geisha, translated for the first time into English by G. G. Rowley, was published in Japan in 1957 and has been in print in Japan steadily ever since. The tale is rendered in a simple English prose to reflect Masuda’s own, untrained style (she did not have schooling and she only learned to write hiragana script later in life). For Western readers, Masuda’s autobiography is a gift: a glimpse into the dark reality behind one of the most shrouded institutions in Japanese culture. --Patrick O’Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

Masuda's account of being a geisha in rural Japan at a hot springs resort is at once intriguing and heartbreaking. There is nothing idyllic in her description of geisha training or life between the world wars. Born in 1925, Masuda was sent to work for a wealthy landowner when she was five. At 12, she was sold to a geisha house for about 30 yen, the price of a bag of rice. During those years, Masuda writes, "I wasn't even able to wonder why I didn't have any parents or why I should be the only one who was tormented. If you ask me what I did know then, it was only that hunger was painful and human beings were terrifying." Originally published in Japan in 1957, where it is still in print, this book grew out of an article that Masuda, who didn't learn to read and write until she was in her 20s, submitted for a contest in Housewife's Companion magazine. Her picaresque adventures as a geisha, then mistress, factory worker, gang moll and caretaker for her young brother offer an impassioned plea for valuing children. "Never give birth to children thoughtlessly!" she writes. "That is why, stroke by faltering stroke, I've written all this down."
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

I felt for the characters in this book and how tragic their lives were.
Chelsey
While this may be true of Kyoto geisha, this experience is not representative of all geisha, or even most geisha, as Sayo Masuda's book demonstrates clearly.
debeehr
If anything is the biographical counterpart to Goldman's book, this one is...absent the fancies of fiction.
Ginger, New Orleans

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 95 people found the following review helpful By AxeTopher on April 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I HIGHLY recommend this book!
Not particularly for its information about geisha. There are other books with more facts. The factual information was good, and quite a bit different from the usual song and dance of most books about geisha (in that I can truly feel and understand what it is she is feeling; it's a book about a person not an occupation). The footnotes at the back of the book were fascinating and provide a lot of sources for further reading that I had not been exposed to from prior books I had read about geisha. It isn't a "geisha do this, geisha do that" type of book. It's the story of one woman who just happened to be a geisha, but more than anything she was human.
The writing is quite fluid. It's a really good translation! It's not dry or awkward in the least.
This books "speaks." I truly "feel" a real person talking (and it's a translation, too!). From reading this book, I saw someone whose life was definitely not "cherries jubilee" but worked hard, tried hard, still failed, gave up sometimes, but managed to get by. I saw someone who saw the ugliest aspects of human nature, but still saw the beauty as well. I wish the book was longer. Her life is fascinating! It's quite a detailed account with lots of anecdotes, thoughts and feelings. Boy, were things different in her time (as compared to modern day geisha!)! This isn't Kyoto...or is it?
After reading this book, I realized all the things in life that I take for granted and that I shouldn't. I really should step back, take a good look at things and try to make someone I love's life better. It's one of those rare books that makes one take a step back and reassess their lives. I'm really glad that I read it. I might read it again tonight...
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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By debeehr on September 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you've read MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and GEISHA: A LIFE, by Arthur Golden and Mineko Iwasaki respectively, then your image of geisha is probably one of a world of glamor--high-status, highly-trained women existing in a world of glitter and flash, dealing with celebrities, scientists, movie stars of the stage and screen, mistresses of their chosen arts, and honored for their talents.

While this may be true of Kyoto geisha, this experience is not representative of all geisha, or even most geisha, as Sayo Masuda's book demonstrates clearly. Masuda was a hot-springs geisha, sold into servitude at the age of twelve, to a place as different from the glamor centers of Kyoto as it is possible to get. Though she was trained in shamisen and dance, the sexual aspect of her profession was at least as important as the artistic aspect, and she routinely met with cruelty, poverty and hunger.

I won't say this book shows what the life of a geisha was "really" like--Mineko's autobiography demonstrates that the glamor world of Kyoto was a real one. But it was not the only one, or even the majority one, and for a more comprehensive view of a different kind of geisha, this book here is indispensible. If Kyoto is all you know of the "flower and willow world," I recommend that you pick up Sayo Masuda's work, and expand your horizons.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Ginger, New Orleans on November 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We should keep in mind, Memoirs of a Geisha was written about a fictional character. In this book, we explore the sad life of a real character, in this instance, a hot springs geisha (or more accurately, a glorified prostitute). Her candor and reflection were fascinating. We should not expect a historical account of events from an uneducated victim of indentured servitude. I did, however, get more than I expected in the way of storytelling, as perceived by the author. If anything is the biographical counterpart to Goldman's book, this one is...absent the fancies of fiction.

The author wishes to escape her past now and has surrounded herself only with people who know nothing of her past. I only hope she has recorded her life after this book ends so that when she leaves us, the rest of her story is not lost.

Of all the books I have read on this subject, I enjoyed this one the most.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jack M. Walter on June 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book deserves a lot of publicity and has gone unrecognized for far too long. Masuda's account of a difficult (to say the least) existence as a geisha in a small town in Japan in unapologetic and strangely elegant. Her writing style is spare but she knows just how to convey each experience so that the full impact hits the reader. For someone supposedly so uneducated, Masuda's painfully-acquired wisdom lives on each and every page.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Chelsey on March 22, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book almost brought me to tears. It really, really did. Sayo's life, as depicted in her memoir, was filled with such unhappiness and pain that I just can't figure out how she was able to live through it. And she did.

The book starts out with Sayo's earliest memories, working as a nursemaid, knowing no kindness, only sorrow and pain. Finally she is sold to a geisha house, where she is tormented by her Elder Sisters and the Mother of the house. She eventually has enough of the geisha life and heads out into the world, only to be stricken with poverty and more pain. The rest of the story weaves the tale of her becoming a prostitute, involved with a Korean gang, finding forbidden love, and her beloved brother's suicide. Even until the very end of the book, she has nothing and no one. It is only in the new epilogue do we find out that Sayo was able to make a fine living by becoming a chef and opening a bar/restaurant.

This book was so moving and touching. It shows that the life of geisha weren't all glamor, kimono, white faces, and popularity. This book actually shows the pain and suffering certain geisha went through. I think because of this, this book changed my life. It showed me how good my life is and how I should never take anything for granted. I should do everything in my power to help other people who are less fortunate than I am, which was a point stressed very much so by Sayo.

The writing was strong and fluid, never once wavering and I'm sure it stayed true to the power of the Japanese version. I felt for the characters in this book and how tragic their lives were. All in all, this was a great book. Heartwrenching, but great. It really, truly was.
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