Translator’s Note and Chapters 1–3
The novel opens with a prefatory chapter written by a fictitious professor of Japanese history named Jakob Haarhuis. He explains that the book is the result of his interviews with a retired geisha named Sayuri.
Chapter 1 opens in the first-person voice of Sayuri, which will be sustained throughout the entire novel. She tells about her childhood in the small fishing village of Yoroido, where she (then called “Chiyo”), her older sister (Satsu), and her parents live a simple life. When Chiyo is nine and her sister is fifteen, their mother becomes deathly ill. On an errand, Chiyo falls and hurts herself. Tanaka Ichiro, the wealthy owner of the Japan Coastal Seafood Company that sustains the town, tends to her. He knows her family’s difficult situation.
Tanaka visits Chiyo’s father, and she is certain that he plans to adopt her and her sister after their mother dies. But instead, they go on a train to the faraway big city of Kyoto, where they are separated.
Chiyo’s new home is a geisha house (called an “okiya”), whose resident geisha is Hatsumomo. She soon learns that Hatsumomo’s beauty is equaled by her wickedness. Auntie, Mother, and Granny are the owners of the house. Chiyo also meets another girl, who is her age and who is currently working as a servant while she awaits geisha training. If Chiyo works hard, she may have the same opportunity.
Hatsumomo tells Chiyo that Satsu had visited weeks before, and Chiyo is desperate to know where she is. Hatsumomo holds this information over her head, manipulating Chiyo to do her every bidding.
A month into her stay, Chiyo begins lessons at the demanding geisha school. One of Chiyo’s duties at home is to wait up for Hatsumomo to return. One evening, Hatsumomo and a friend make Chiyo vandalize an expensive kimono that belongs to Hatsumomo’s rival, Mameha. Chiyo is harshly punished and learns that she can never be free until she has repaid all of her expenses, including her purchase, schooling, medical expenses, food, and the replacement of the kimono.
Hatsumomo tells Chiyo where her sister is, and she sneaks out to find her at the brothel where Satsu works. They plan their escape. Chiyo, however, is caught, and Mother decides that she can no longer study to be a geisha; she will have to work as a maid instead. Months later, Chiyo receives word that her mother and father have both died and that her sister, having returned to Yoroido, has run off with the son of Tanaka’s assistant.
One afternoon, Chiyo sits sadly along one of the streets. A man called “The Chairman” shows compassion toward her, cheering her with kind words and money to buy a shaved ice. She goes to the temple to pray that somehow she can become a geisha so she can meet men like him.
Granny is electrocuted by a space heater and dies. Hatsumomo’s rival, Mameha, comes to pay her respects. She notices Chiyo and asks her to meet privately. A few weeks later, Mameha visits Mother, and they strike a deal that Chiyo may return to her studies as a geisha with Mameha as her “older sister” (a very important mentor role), as long as Chiyo is able to repay all of her debts by the time she is twenty. If she does, Mameha will receive twice her fee; otherwise, she will receive only a fraction of her fee.
Hatsumomo takes Pumpkin as her “little sister.” Pumpkin makes her debut as a geisha first, and Chiyo is envious. When Chiyo makes her debut and...
(The entire section is 1461 words.)