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.
This account shocked Japanese readers with its bitter taste of grinding poverty and its revelations about the geisha world's dark side. A comfortless portrait of the flip side of the geisha world, where one is more slave than courtesan.
At once intriguing and heartbreaking.
[Masuda's] endurance of adversity is admirable, as is the down-to-earth way in which she relates her story. She is witty, realistic, and forthright about her life, and readers will admire her courage and determination.
Marlene Y. Satter
Courageously, Masuda refuses to put white makeup on the unsightly aspects of her tale, inviting readers to take a long, hard look at the unadulterated face of geisha living.
As I read this autobiography I cried for the women who live their lives as geishas...Thank you, Sayo Masuda, for revealing your life to us.
Masuda's memoir is a must-read for those interested in the lives of geishas.
Originally published in Japan in the 1950's, Autobiography of a Geisha is a remarkably fresh and personal account of a life that is a far cry not only from the Eastern exoticism of [John Ball's Miss One Hundred Thousand Spring Blossoms], but also from the upscale and at least sometimes glamorous lives depicted in [Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha.
A much-needed corrective to the romantic myths spun around this profession... Superbly preserved and sensitively rendered... [Masuda's] gripping, heart-rending and humorous account is a gem, especially as it offers a view 'from below' of the untold social history of modern Japan.
Since the publication of Arthur Golden's bestselling novel Memoirs of a Geisha, there has been a spate of books that an unkind reviewer might label 'follow-ons'... While all of these speak to a greater or lesser extent of the hardships and occasional cruelties of the geisha's life, none provides as raw and unvarnished account as Sayo Masuda's Autobiography.
Autobiography of a Geisha is a compelling... gritty and at times bleak account, but one which is related with great pathos and humor throughout. Rowley is to be commended.
Her story is heartbreaking, but her indomitable spirit prevents it from becoming maudlin.
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
I want to be a geisha, right now
My four "Elder Sisters''
The death of Elder Sister Takemi
The hot iron
I learn my name
I devote myself to art
Part 3: Miss Low Gets Wise
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
Part 5: Awakening to Love
Number Two and Number Three
Tricks of the love trade
The witcher bewitched
Part 6: Wanderings of a Castaway
No place to call home
A brother's love
Tears of humiliation
The dumpling-soup diner
Part 7: A Dream for My Little Brother
Seven funerary laths
Part 8: The Depths of Despair
My little brother's suicide
Return to Suwa
Happiness and unhappiness
Wandering between life and death
Part 9: The Road Back to Life
Piiko the fledgling hawk
The Prostitution Prevention Act