View Full Version : Memoirs of a Geisha

Aug 18, 2002, 22:27
Let me introduce this great book to those of you who don't know it yet. Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden, is a must-read for anyone with an interest in traditional Japan or, of course, geishas.

Here is my personal review I posted on Amazon.co.uk (and that was, to my stupefaction, selected as the first out of 161 reviews so far) :

When I first started to read Memoirs of a Geisha, I had forgotten to read on the back of the cover that this was a fiction and not a true story. I only came to realise it after having read 100 pages. The story is so deep in feelings and feel so much as if you were in Chiyo/Sayuri's mind that I was wondering how one can remember things with such an intensity. The book is beautifully written and though I usually don't read fictions, I couldn't help but turn pages after pages in the suspense of the following events.

At times, I remember having been moved so deeply that it influenced my social behaviour in the real life - until I finished the book ! Maybe because I am living in Japan and am married to a Japanese. I have been shocked by the accuracy with which is rendered the meanest traits of the Japanese mentality. Arthur Golden portraits the psychology of a very sensitive world, where the greed, passions and suffering can destroy the humanity inside us, or at contrary show how nearly lost hopes can make one survive the hardships of life.

But don't be fooled if you think you'll find such a world for real in present day Japan; it has all but vanished, like most of the traditional Japanese culture. I have recently bought a Japanese translation of the book for my wife who, like most people nowadays, know very little about Geishas. But it is not so much for the historical background as for the griping, deeply emotional story that I recommend it.

Aug 19, 2002, 04:22
I devoured the book at once, Mr. Golden certainly did his homework! Nice review, Maciamo.

There are more Geisha books mentioned in this thread (http://forum.japanreference.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=190). I've ordered a new title from Amazon, "Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha", still waiting for it.

Aug 27, 2002, 03:28
@Thomas And Maciamo
both are excellent books. I don't read much, don't normally have time to. For the Golden book, I made an exception.

Excellent, excellent review Maciamosan

Sep 22, 2002, 16:09
I've posted this article before, but forgot where.

Ex-geisha takes objection to "Memoirs of a Geisha"

=> http://mdn.mainichi.co.jp/japano/0111/011130ex-geisha.html

Sep 24, 2002, 03:07
The water world is an extension of the floating world.

You are taken into a dream like world were the girls treat men and play to thier wildest fancies yet, touching and what not is limited by both the gals and the men.

All for a nice price though :D

Sep 24, 2002, 04:39
Add soap to the water, and you'll get everything. Cheaper.

Sep 24, 2002, 09:50
The other night. At a midly relative regular "club" me and this other guy blew $200 for 90 minutes of a few drinks and chit chat. For another $30-40 probably would've got a hell alot more than just chit-chat.

Sep 24, 2002, 23:44
It's about time your wife returns home.

Sep 25, 2002, 00:19
I've got till about the 14th of October. But ever since she got out of the hospital I've been a good boy and have stuck to watching loosy Japanese horror movies and hanging out here.


Sep 25, 2002, 01:05
Don't forget to vacuum-clean before she's coming home, lol. Hope they are both fine!

Sep 25, 2002, 03:22
OH yes, I do that and more.
Gold Fish (food + tank)
Cats (food + toile)
Vacuum + Roll tape the carpet (kuru kuru carpet - is what we call those roll things)

And anything else my wife can dream up!

They're both doing great! Thanks :)

Mar 25, 2003, 06:04
Hey kids, I just finished reading "Memoirs of a Giesha" by Arthur Golden, and I loved it so much!! I was just wondering if anyone else has read it or has anything at all to say about the book, how realistic it is or isn't, or whatever.... :happy:

Mar 25, 2003, 06:09
I really enjoyed that book!

Maciamo came up with an excellent review, check out the following thread

=> http://forum.japanreference.com/showthread.php?s=&threadid=643


Maciamo => I have merged the threads

Iron Chef
Mar 25, 2003, 06:20
I've not yet had the chance to read it although from all accounts it appears to be extremely well-written. Recent hollywood rumours abound that Steven Spielberg has been eyeing possibly bringing an adaptation of it to the big screen although i'm not sure of the status of that project and whether or not he is still involved. I'll try and find out more.

This 1998 story shows Spielberg's burgeoning interest to develop the film in English using a Japanese cast and shot in Japan...


This 2002 story shows Spielberg moving away from bringing Memoirs to the big screen in favor of doing A.I. and eventually Minority report...


After that, it's a bit confusing as to what the staus of the greenlighted project currently is. From what i've gatherd, Spielberg's studio (Dreamworks) bought the film rights to Geisha although the film has also been reported to be in development by Sony and Columbia pictures. Furthermore, Spileberg may still direct now that he has the time or take a more backseat role as a producer for the film. At any rate, should be interesting and with Spielberg's background in film making I think he would do it justice.

Mar 25, 2003, 06:38
Iron chef, you should read this book as soon as you have the chance, i could not put it down! i would be interested to see a movie based on "memoirs" though i think it would be a challenge to convey the book in a similar way to the beautiful style which it is written. Spielberg usually does do a wonderful job though.... ;)

Mar 25, 2003, 06:41
I also read it recently and found it quite good but found the second half where it gets into this whole mizu-age thing and romantic intrigue, well, kind of boring. I also felt kind of let down because at first I believed the premise and didn't realize it was all fiction. I was, however, very impressed with the amount of detail and research that went into it. Most of it seemed factual and believable. Definitely a good read.

But right afterwards I read Liza Dalby's book, Geisha. Out of the two, I find Geisha far more interesting and satisfying. But, then, I much prefer non-fiction over fiction. There are so many fantastic true stories that it seems like a waste of time to read fiction.

That reminds me, I still haven't read Iwasaki's Geisha: A Life. She was one of Golden's primary sources and she has publicly debunked Memoirs.

Mar 25, 2003, 06:43
Gus, thanks for the info! :)

At the moment, I'm reading Lesley Downer's "Women of the Pleasure Quarters (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0767904907/qid=1048542115/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/104-4829641-1485510?v=glance&s=books)", I'll post a review in our book section once I've finished it.

Apr 2, 2003, 01:07
After I made that last post, I went to the library and got Minesako Iwasaki's book, Geisha: A Life. I found it to be a very interesting read and found it much more interesting than Golden's book simply because it was nonfiction and talked about somebody's real life. Although Golden's prose was to be admired and his skill at telling the story from a woman's point of view was outstanding, after a while I found his prose to be over-to-the-top. Research has shown that when people lie they add a bunch of extra details to make their lies appear true -- Golden's book struck me in this way with his over the top descriptions of the "crab-like" doctor and disfigured love interest as well as the protagonists own emotions and experiences.

If you read Iwasaki's book as well as Dalby's book after reading Memoirs, a lot of the people and tales will ring familiar.

If anything, though, both of these books will show you that Golden did a good job of capturing the reality of how life really was. However the main thing that I believe probably got Iwasaki upset was Golden's premise that geisha sell off their mizuage (virginity) to the highest bidder. Iwasaki barely touched on it in her book but basically said this was a practice of prostitutes or courtesans, not geisha.

Jun 16, 2003, 13:59
I read that book few months ago..and I also think it was really well written. awesome book!

Jun 17, 2003, 03:49
Wonderful book

Aug 30, 2003, 12:16
I really enjoyed Memoirs, and thought it really well written. Actually, for the first few chapters I'd assumed Arthur Golden was the translator.. ^^

@ mdchachi ~ I'm not sure I agree with you about real life accounts making fiction redunant. Maybe from a historian's perspective, but fiction has it's values. Allegory, escapism, artistry, and so on. Things not always present in writing limited by facts. Still, that's just my opinion. : )

Oct 30, 2003, 00:18
wonderfully put kakesu-san

Nov 22, 2003, 01:54
You might want to check out Geisha by Liza Dalby. She is one of the few foreigners that's actually been a geisha in Kyoto. I read her book before Memoirs and almost liked it more.

I've heard the rumors about Spielberg for a long time. It was also rumored that Madonna was trying to get the lead part. That's why she went through that phase of having dark, straight hair and wearing kimono-like costumes for her videos. I think that album was Ray of Light or shortly thereafter. She didn't get the part, as far as I've heard, thank goodness!

Nov 24, 2003, 05:30
i read "memoirs of a geisha" some years ago and i liked it

Onigiri Chan
Dec 2, 2003, 13:18
I read Memoirs Of a Geisha, a beautifully written story and very convincing. I even went out to see if some of the references made in the story (ie: angry artist) were real or at least based on someone who once lived. I was wrong and right, unfortunately.
Anyone who hasn't read this book is deffinately missing out.
Read it everyone! :box:

Dec 11, 2003, 10:40
That's a quite untertaining book, :blush:

I will remember the "game of truth". To keep the audience attention on, Gaishas use sometime this technique. By turns,each participants should tell two stories: one is supposedto be true the other is supposed to be false; The other participants have to find which of the two versions is true. Meditate on it :confused: :sorry:

Dec 14, 2003, 08:17
i found this in the school library a month ago... it is so interesting I read it in two days~ The story is realistic indeed, but I feel the after-war description is not as detailed and descriptive as the first part of the novel.

Onigiri Chan
Dec 14, 2003, 17:22
I agree with you Madp, it really seems that the end of the book was written in more of a hurry and with much less detail then the first half.

Jan 23, 2006, 06:20
Book good. Film bad.

And I was very disappointed that Chinese actors were cast.

Ma Cherie
Jan 23, 2006, 08:48
I read this novel, and what I really liked was Golden's insight on some aspects of Japanese culture.

Jan 23, 2006, 09:45
great novel. the story was awsome. But i kinda dissappoint with the film...it have much less details than the novels. not so bad film i guess, Gong Li was awsome in her performance :p

Jan 31, 2006, 10:34
I have it in my shelve - it's one of my favorites. Haven't seen the flick yet though.

If time can talk...
Jan 31, 2006, 16:51
You should not read the book before watching the movie...lol otherwise you will get disappointed.

Almost all the movies ruin the original works.

Feb 3, 2006, 02:24
I saw the movie last night and was rather impressed, it wasn't that bad as I imagined.One thing that annoyed me was the rather poor English, they might as well make the movie in Japanese with Japanese actors if the result is the same :p
The storyline was good so I think that's what makes the movie worth watching.
8 points out of 10 :)

Dutch Baka
Feb 3, 2006, 02:25
I saw the movie last night and was rather impressed, it wasn't that bad as I imagined.One thing that annoyed me was the rather poor English, they might as well make the movie in Japanese with Japanese actors if the result is the same :p
The storyline was good so I think that's what makes the movie worth watching.
8 points out of 10 :)


Feb 8, 2006, 09:00
Because of its intricate method of writing that made the story seem real, I never thought the whole book was solely fiction until I read the editor's note at the very end of the book :blush: It felt like every single thing that I found astonishing (since I thought it was real) in the story was taken back, but nevertheless a very good read. I don't remember myself yawning at any point as I do otherwise to any other book. It takes great writing creativity and a deep sense of curiosity to drive you through the last page.

Feb 10, 2006, 06:42
I've heard this book is really good, and I've now seen some of my friends reading it. I agree with you, Maci! I'm really interested in Japan's culture and tradition, and am very sad that it was all bulldozed 100 years ago. I feel I really ought to check this book out.

Han Chan
Apr 19, 2006, 01:13
I saw the film and except some beautiful images I found it tasteless and boring. As the book does not have any pictures I do not think that I will waste any time on trying to read what I understand as a "middle-aged American man's fantasy".

Apr 19, 2006, 05:16
I enjoyed only one part of the film, which was about 5 min long - when they were doing Chiyos make-up. I found that there was way too little of the gei... How could sm, who didn't read the book understand the meaning of the scene when Sayuri puts her fingers into the ice and plays afterwards on the shamisen?
The book was quite amuzing, though I can't figure out what the true ceremony of mizuage looked like - maybe you have a clue? In the Memoirs it was written that they simply slept with eachother, but I read in Liza Dalby's book (I recomend it if you haven't read it - it's the story of an american antropologist, who becomes a Geisha - the only non-Japanese Geisha ever; oh and it's a true story written by the antropologist herself) that it was a ceremony that took several days (I won't go into details). Do you know how it was in fact?

Apr 21, 2006, 19:01
I read that book few months ago..and I also think it was really well written. awesome book

Dutch Baka
Apr 21, 2006, 20:10
my mom is reading the book, and she is loving it. she was reading the part about kimono's and their make up. so she got some pictures and just looked at it for minutes haha. Cute

Apr 22, 2006, 15:28
I've been told that most japanese reviews were really harsh however... ^^;

May 6, 2006, 18:12
The movie was a great comedy experience-mainly due to my boyfriends caustic comments about the "middle-aged-white-man-fantasy" aspects!:-)

May 6, 2006, 23:56
I got the book on holiday, and read it within a week, though I rather let myself time with reading books. Absolutely love this book. Really well written. Would like to watch the film soon, though I don't think it'll be as good as the book. Really enjoyed reading Memories of a Geisha. :cool:

May 7, 2006, 22:13
I loved the book and hated the movie...

@Han Chan - I really like that picture you posted... that fan is cool!

May 26, 2006, 20:46
My wife enjoyed the book but thought the film was a little drab.


Jul 18, 2006, 12:36
Let's remember that Mineko Iwasaki actually trashed this book--she claimed it was not representative of what she had tried to convey to Golden (who, unlike his fictional narrator-within-a-narrator, did not have an extremely close relationship with his subject).
In particular she said the custom of mizuage did not exist in Gion, and that she never mentioned any of this to Golden. Make of that what you will, but whatever you make of it, it will be speculation.
I enjoyed the book, too, when I read it a few years ago. The movie was interesting on its own terms--i.e. complete Hollywood fabrication with numbingly unrealistic sequences and improbably beautiful characters.
Kaori Shoji of the J Times wrote a funny review here. (http://search.japantimes.co.jp/print/ff20051215a1.html)

EDIT: corrected the Japanese term: Thanks for the shout out, undrentide!

nice gaijin
Jul 18, 2006, 12:59
ahh, seems that you need a subscription to view the article. Any way you could quote some of it for us?

Jul 19, 2006, 17:46
The original article is linked to two posts above. (A JT subscription requires only a minute of registration, as annoying as it is.)

Welcome To Kyoto, California
by Kaori Shoji
JAPAN TIMES Thursday, Dec 15, 2005

It's a tough job but someone's gotta do it. It all strikes me as a bit perverse, though, having me -- a Japanese woman who spent part of her childhood in a hanamachi (geisha district) -- write a review of "Memoirs of a Geisha" (released in Japan as "Sayuri").

There are just so many things wrong with the whole package, which is plastered with kitschy oriental cliches. We're talking about a Chinese actress speaking in that stilted Hollywood Asian-English (immortalized by Mr. Yuniyoshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's") in the role of a Japanese geisha during the Sino-Japanese conflict of the 1930s. It's hard to know how to handle this: go ballistic, start apologizing, giggle nervously or what?

Late into the movie, when American G.I.'s are in control of Kyoto, seasoned geisha Mameha (Michelle Yeoh) wonders out loud to her protege Sayuri (Zhang Ziyi): "What do we know about entertaining Americans?" This pretty much sums it all up. From start to finish, "Memoirs" is hot in pursuit of entertaining a U.S. audience, certain in the conviction that if it can wow the folks in America, it can wow the world.

And who better to helm such a project than Oscar-winning director Rob Marshall ("Chicago")? Marshall can slap show-biz extravaganza onto the screen like no other; he probably shouts "Give 'em the old razzle dazzle!" in his sleep. And to that end, most of what made Arthur Golden's original novel compelling has been trashed -- stuff like subtlety, historical context and detail. But most jarring of all is the plain-as-day, glaring disrespect for a foreign (as in non-U.S., and as such, incomprehensible) culture. Really, is super-entertainment so important as to justify the trampling of what made the story so fascinating in the first place? Well, according to "Memoirs" that's a resounding "Yeah!"

Marshall and his crew (and let's not forget that Steven Spielberg is the executive producer) never pause for breath as they bombard us with pathos, intrigue, fury, sex and passion. The capper is a geisha dance scene that's straight out of Broadway. Never mind that no young geisha in the prewar period would wear glitter eye-shadow and dance solo, on a stage with artsy blue lighting, her hair flowing hip and loose and her limbs contorting to snazzy, modern ballet movements.

In the same way, Marshall turns a renowned Kyoto hanamachi of the 1930s into a cacophonous, chaotic confusion that's more Chinatown, L.A. (or the Hollywood rendition thereof). According to the production notes, Marshall felt that the present-day Kyoto was too "modern," and so he created an impressively colossal geisha-district set in Southern California, complete with tile-roofed houses, wooden bridges and cobblestone streets.

Unfortunately, the whole thing reeks of a souvenir shop extravaganza, like they upended the shelves of Oriental Bazaar right onto the streets. There's just no regard here for hanamachi aesthetics that disdained all that was obvious, conspicuous or abundant; the atmosphere depended on how much was hidden and how much was subtly suggested. But apparently, that's no way to razzle-dazzle 'em.

All is not lost, though, for some of Asia's best actresses pull off top-notch performances. Zhang Ziyi is superb as the passive/aggressive Sayuri who was sold by her impoverished parents into an okiya (geisha house) at the age of 9 and, against all odds, flowered into the most celebrated geisha in Kyoto. Zhang adds a cold steeliness to her fragile, demure demeanor, which, of course, is the prerequisite trait of a true geisha.

The way she can go from casting down her eyes, saying, "Do I please you?" to a wealthy client, to exchanging sarcasm gunfire with older rival Hatsumomo (Gong Li) is excellent.

But it's Gong who steals every scene she's in, decked out in punkish hairdos and fantastic avant-garde kimono garb that have no connection to historical reality, but look sizzling and, with Marshall-san at the helm, that's all that matters. Sayuri is likened to water ("You have eyes like the rain"), but Hatsumomo is all burning flames. She unleashes her fury against anyone who dares to cross her and is fearless about the consequences.

Michelle Yeoh is also wonderful as ex-geisha queen Mameha, who takes Sayuri under her wing and coaches her on all aspects of the geisha aesthetics ("For us, pain and beauty always come side by side"). Mameha is, perhaps, the most thankless and difficult character to play, for she must mute her beauty and femininity in order to enhance Sayuri's.

Yeoh is brave enough to go for camp. The night Mameha auctions off Sayuri's virginity to the highest bidder (a sleazy old doctor), she tells her despairing young disciple in a deeply profound tone, "Celebrate this moment, Sayuri. Tonight, all the lights of the hanamachi burn for you."

On occasion, "Memoirs" dips into the spirit of the original novel, which stressed, above all, that geisha were not prostitutes but "moving works of art in the floating world." In an age when very few women could find employment, becoming a geisha was practically the only "profession" available, and the okiya the only place where women could live and exist, independent of their families.

An okiya functioned like any company, and a good geisha was the one who knew how to promote herself, worked hard at pleasing her clients and brought back the earnings (and connections) that would keep her colleagues and the mother-boss, "Okaasan" (played by a stunning Kaori Momoi), fed and clothed.

Being a geisha was a business, and a ruthless one at that. There was simply no room for concepts like equality, rights and ethics -- either a geisha was good at what she did, in which case she brought success and prosperity to the okiya, or she didn't, and ran the risk of starving.

Momoi's Okaasan portrays this excellently -- forever balancing the books and worrying about funds, she makes it extremely clear that nothing with her is ever personal, but strictly business.

Still, "Memoirs" has too much that's hard on the eye (and mind), not least of all the love scenes between Sayuri and her protector, who goes by the name of Chairman (played by Ken Watanabe at his most insipid). It's one thing to see the city of Kyoto misrepresented, but when we're asked to believe that a much older Japanese businessman and a young geisha during the 1940s would engage in physical contact in broad daylight, standing under a willow tree in a Japanese garden . . . surely that was when the theater should have released some emergency oxygen masks from the ceiling to save us all from hyperventilating.

I looked around to see if everyone else felt the same, but no. This being Japan, the audience was restrained, respectful, polite. If only the movie had some of the same qualities.

Kei Kusanagi
Aug 1, 2006, 17:18
woot go geisha!!!

Aug 17, 2006, 16:01
one of my favorite books!!!

Aug 27, 2006, 16:58
How do you guys feel about the movie? I mean I didn't read the book but I saw the feature and I think it was really well done in the fact that could still comunicate feelings but ,again, I didn't read the pages of Memoirs of Geisha..well at least not yet :okashii:

Aug 27, 2006, 17:28
I've seen the 1 hour documentary-format program of this book aired on Biography Channel several years ago in the US,with interview clips of the author.I was enlightened by mystery and intrigue of the geisha profession and their pratices,it's an added knowledge to my personal interest in Japanese traditional culture.

The all-Chinese female cast was a big " turn-off ",so I wouldn't bother ever to watch it on cable TV or rental DVD.Hollywood should've casted REAL Japanese actresses for those 3 female roles,for the sake of authenticity in appearance.

Aug 27, 2006, 19:27
I am reading right now the book in Greek.
Expressions like o-tsaya and o-kiya and the suffixes are not changed so i guess it is the same as the english version.
I;m hoping in getting it done soon and rent the movie.

Aug 28, 2006, 15:09
Nowadays,full-fledged professional Geishas are bankrolled by Japanese industrialists and a handful of deep-pocket Japanese men..

Aug 28, 2006, 15:23
well...the movie is out on DVD, at least for rental, and the fact that the 2 main characters are played by chinese actresses doesn't bother me at all, I mean they are really good and the production took care of the accent let them study!!! so the impression to look at a japanese environment it's fully fullfilled. On top of that the lill' kid who plays the "young" geisha it's amazingly good ...and she's japanese btw. On top of that the soundtrack is done by J.Williams and Tan Dun...if anyone has interest in the japanese world I think it's a must, you gotta see it...

But that's just me =)

Han Chan
Aug 29, 2006, 01:53
It seems that the viewers of this film are very split. I for one really disliked it!

The users of the Internet Movie Database are also very split. While more than 20% find the film excellent , the average rate is only 6.9 on a scale form 1 to 10. Interesting is to notice that the demographic group who likes the film best is the young women, while those who dislike it most is the top 1000 users who are either professional film makers and movie fanatics.

14440 'IMDb users' have given a weighted average vote of 6.9 / 10
Rating Votes Percentage
10 2939 20.4%
09 1709 11.8%
08 2964 20.5%
07 2935 20.3%
06 1765 12.2%
05 799 5.5%
04 399 2.8%
03 250 1.7%
02 165 1.1%
01 515 3.6%
Arithmetic mean = 7.4. Median = 8

See user ratings report for:
...........................Votes Average
Males.....................8819 6.8
Females..................4359 7.5
Aged under 18.........1049 7.8
Males under 18..........458 7.4
Females under 18.......590 8.3
Aged 18-29.............8184 7.0
Males aged 18-29.....5356 6.9
Females aged 18-29..2789 7.5
Aged 30-44.............2736 6.7
Males aged 30-44.....2072 6.7
Females aged 30-44...637 6.9
Aged 45+................1168 7.0
Males aged 45+.........851 6.9
Females aged 45+......308 7.1
Top 1000 voters........190 5.7
US users.................5084 7.0
Non-US users...........8088 6.9
All votes................14440 6.9

For more info reg. the film and link to trailer: