Sayo Masuda’s Autobiography of a Geisha

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Sayo Masuda’s Autobiography of a Geisha

Autobiography of a Geisha was originally written for a memoir competition run by the Japanese magazine Housewife’s Companion. Sayo Masuda wrote and submitted her manuscript in hopes of winning the monetary prize offered. She won second place in the competition and came to the attention of an editor who helped her expand her story and publish it as a book. Riding on the wave of interest stirred by Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, G. G. Rowley translated Sayo Masuda’s tale for the American market.

Rowley did an excellent job of capturing Masuda’s voice in his translation. If English had been Masuda’s native language, the result might easily have been Rowley’s translation. Masuda’s tale is heart-wrenching. First sent to work as a nursemaid as a small girl, Masuda escaped the torments of that life only to be sold to a hot-springs geisha house. At the hot-springs geisha house, Masuda was again a tormented soul, barely above a prostitute. Her danna, or patron, was hardly a rescuer. Masuda chafed against her role, even attempting suicide to release herself from serving a man for whom she had neither love nor respect. The advent of World War II eventually freed Masuda from the life of a geisha, but her tale continued to be one of hardship. Masuda took on the responsibility of looking after her little brother and traded various goods on the black market to support her brother and herself. When times were hard, Masuda prostituted herself to American soldiers. She eventually found a job at a diner, but life continued to be a struggle until she wrote her autobiography. Masuda endured much during her lifetime and is unflinching in her writing. Readers should expect to come away from Autobi...

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...en from the perspective of the geisha elite and hold true for the upper echelons of the geisha world alone. Readers should enjoy Masuda’s book while keeping in mind that her experiences do not hold true for all geisha, only for the hot-springs geisha, the dregs of the geisha world.

Works Cited

“Autobiography of a Geisha (Book).” Kirkus Reviews. 71.5 (March 1, 2003).

Gavin, William F. “Irish intrigue, geisha woes, Canadian angst.” The Washington Times. <>

Masuda, Sayo. Autobiography of a Geisha. Trans. G. G. Rowley. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Napier, Susan J. “Autobiography of a Geisha Book Review.” Persimmon Magazine. <>

Palmer, Kimberly Shearer. “Geisha reality.” Women’s Review of Books. 20.12 (September 2003): 14.

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