Plot: This exotic fable is about a young, innocent girl named Chiyo (9 years old in 1929) who lives in a poor fishing village in Yoroido with her older sister Satsu, her father, and sick mother. Since Chiyo’s mother is going to die soon and her father can’t do much to support their family, he sells his two daughters into slavery to a renowned geisha house. Chiyo has unusual blue-gray eyes, which later helps her capture people’s attention, especially men’s. Unfortunately, her sister is taken to a different district and from this time on, little Chiyo lives her life in agony because she has no family left and she’s a maid serving a notorious geisha named Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo can also be referred to as a witch because she does anything like spreading false rumors to make Chiyo’s life miserable. One day while running an errand for the house that she lives in, Chiyo falls down on a stone near a river and starts to cry for she can no longer endure the pain and hardships she is going through at such a young age.
Luckily, the Chairman of a wealthy electric company comes across her while he’s walking with his business associates. He takes notice of her and goes up to see what is the matter with her. As he lifts her chin up and looks into her eyes, he is marvelled by the beauty her eyes possess. All he can do is stare.
He gives her a handkerchief and a few compliments and tells her not to worry because everything will be fine. The Chairman then leaves but he never leaves Chiyo’s thoughts or dreams. He is the only person who has been kind to her all her life and for the past years, all she dreams about is meeting this wonderful man again and getting to know him. To make a long story short, the Chairman never forgets Chiyo and how beautiful she is, so he goes to a well-known geisha by the name of Mameha and asks her to adopt Chiyo as her younger sister so she can train her to become a geisha too. The Mother of the house where Chiyo lives is a wicked woman, and when Mameha comes to arrange Chiyo to become her younger sister, Mother agrees but knows that Chiyo won’t ever succeed.
Hatsumomo tells people lies about Sayuri (her name changed from Chiyo to Sayuri after she became an apprentice geisha) so she can ruin her career because she is jealous. Mameha, on the other hand, is Hatsumomo’s enemy, so she introduces Sayuri to popular men so she can win their hearts and attention. This is the next time Sayuri meets the Chairman, but now she’s all grown up; she doesn’t know if he remembers her. The Chairman’s partner, Nobu, likes Sayuri and he wants to become her danna, having Sayuri as his mistress. Years after years of struggling to be with Sayuri, he never succeeds.
During this whole time, Sayuri is in love with the Chairman, but he never seems to pay attention to her. Finally, the Chairman and Sayuri tell each other how they feel towards one another, and he becomes her danna (sort of like a husband, but not exactly). They travel to the United States on business trips and, after a few years, Sayuri moves to New York City from Gion, Japan, to make her living as a teahouse owner and an artist/geisha.
Ending: Sayuri is able to find her way out from becoming the mistress of a few men who are interested in her. All her life of living in misery comes to an end the day the Chairman comes to talk to her and tells her how much he likes her and has liked her ever since he laid eyes on her by the river when she was just a little girl. Sayuri tells him that he is what she’s wanted all her life, and they finally are able to be together. They travel together, and she settles in New York City and opens a teahouse where men go there and engage in a conversation with geishas. The Chairman dies after Sayuri moves to New York City, but he lives on inside her heart.
Main character: Of course, the main character in this book is Sayuri, who is a mostly believable heroine. Her ambitions were not always rational, but this creates a more imperfect and human character. Through her eyes, we see the decadent heart of Gion—the geisha district of Kyoto—with its marvelous teahouses and theaters, narrow back alleys, ornate temples, and artists’ streets. Her transformation is seen as she learns the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate makeup and hair; pouring sake to reveal just a touch of the inner wrist; competing with a jealous rival for men’s solicitude and the money that goes with it. Soon, World War II begins, and the geisha houses are forced to close. Sayuri, with the help of her admirer, Nobu, is taken into a haven where she spends the remainder of the war sewing balloons (hot-air balloon and parachutes).
Growing up without any parents, she leads an awful life, but with the help of the Chairman and Mameha, she is able to work herself up and become a dignified woman who captures the hearts of many.
Problem-conflict: The main conflict is that some geishas in Japan would do anything to ruin the reputation of others because the fewer geishas there are and the more popular they are, the more money they will make. So Hatsumomo, an envious geisha, sets out to ruin Sayuri’s life who has nothing nor anyone in this world. In this novel, Sayuri proves to be the toughest one out of Hatsumomo and many other geishas because she works herself up respectively and wins the admiration of so many people that she is soon adopted as the daughter of the house she used to serve and live in. After all, the one who deserved all the kindness and respect received it, although it took many years and a great deal of suffering.
I’d be a liar if I didn’t tell you that Hatsumomo was the antagonist in this story, although some other people tried to do bad things too. But she was the corrupt one who caused Sayuri so much grief and made her live under her control. One time, she told the Mother of the house that Sayuri had stolen her bracelet, and the Mother believed her. She beat Sayuri and asked her to pay for an expensive piece of jewelry she had not even touched. Hatsumomo also tried to end Sayuri’s geisha days, but I’m happy to say that she went down herself.
The climax of the story was when Sayuri had arranged to sleep with the Minister and have Nobu find her with him. Something happened that changed everything. Instead of Nobu discovering them together, the Chairman walked in, and you can imagine how Sayuri felt. The reason why Sayuri had planned this scheme for Nobu to find them was that Nobu wanted to become Sayuri’s danna, and Sayuri didn’t like him, although he had been kind enough to her to save her from working in the factories because he cared about her.
Obviously, she didn’t like him, so she had planned that if Nobu walked in on them together, he would change his mind about her. But after the Chairman saw her with the Minister, he went and told Nobu. As for Sayuri… she thought the Chairman would hate her, and she would never have a chance with him. She was wrong, for in fact, this incident made the Chairman realize how important she really was to him and how much he liked her. Therefore, three days later, he sought to see her, and that’s when he told her how he felt about her, and she was stunned. This event turned things around, and they ended up being together after 18 years of waiting to make a move.
After Nobu heard how unfaithful she had been towards him, he completely erased Sayuri from his life. Never did he mention her name again. He had told her before that if she were to betray him, he would never forgive her. So as I mentioned before, the Chairman and Sayuri became lovers, and she became his mistress since he was married. And for the remainder of their lives, they lived pleasantly.
Theme (deeper meaning)
What I take to be the theme of this memoir is that a person can accomplish anything in life if they have set their mind to it and if they believe they can get there. Never giving up hope and always looking for a brighter day will eventually lead you to what you’re out there searching for. In Sayuri’s case, she was a slave who won the heart of a man and worked herself up to become one of the most successful geishas in all of Japan and to be united with the man she loved who motivated her all her life. I learned to be courageous from Sayuri and never give up dreaming because I believe that if you want something badly, you can transform your dreams into realities.
This could have been seen when wherever Sayuri went in the evenings, Hatsumomo followed her, and it became obvious that she was plotting to go to those teahouses and spread rumors about her to the people she had recently entertained.
Another foreshadowing can be seen when the Mother of the house adopts Sayuri because we know that Hatsumomo had been living in that house much longer than Sayuri and she had hopes of being the one adopted. So, it was apparent what would happen to her – she became enraged and fought with the Mother. Therefore, she was kicked out of the house onto the streets. The final foreshadowing I was able to see was when Sayuri was sleeping with the Minister. There were footsteps near the building, and the Minister assumed they were only birds chirping. But I figured it would either be Nobu or the Chairman, and indeed, it was the Chairman.