Autobiography of a Geisha

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9780099490777: Autobiography of a Geisha

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.

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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

Book Description:

Sayo Masuda was a geisha at a hot springs resort, where the realities of sex for sale are unadorned by the trappings of wealth and power. Remarkable for its wit and frankness, the book is a moving record of a woman's survival on the margins of Japanese society―in the words of the translator, "the superbly told tale of a woman whom fortune never favored yet never defeated."

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Sayo Masuda
Published by Vintage Books (2006)
ISBN 10: 0099490773 ISBN 13: 9780099490777
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Masuda, Sayo
Published by Random House Uk Ltd (2006)
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