Autobiography of a Geisha, by Sayo Masuda

This is the true story of story of Sayo Masuda, who talks about her life up to the age of 32 (when the book was published; however there is an afterword, which explains more about Masuda’s life after publication).  Masuda explains how as a six year old she was sent by her poverty stricken family to work as nursemaid in a harsh family.  At the age of 12, she was then sold to a geisha house, where she started her training to be a geisha.  I came to this book after developing an interest in the geisha life, due to reading Arthur Golden’s ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, which was a fictionalised account of the life of a geisha.  Masuda’s autobiography, which was published in the 50s, tells of a harsher and crueler life than that depicted in Golden’s book.  Masuda explains how for some, there is a very faint line between geisha and prostitutes (although there is a line).  She also tells about the treatment that geisha receive at the hands of certain customers and the geisha house to which they belong.

This is not a long book – less than 200 pages – but it tells the story of Masuda’s life, without it feeling hurried.  Masuda had never been formally taught to read or write when she wrote her book, and as a result, the book is written in an almost childlike – although never childish – manner.  (The translation is excellent too; the translater explains how both she and the editor wanted to keep the spirit of Masuda’s manuscript).  Masuda tells of some horrible situations without ever seeming self pitying – although it is impossible not to feel compassion for her.

This is a compelling insight into a woman’s life and another culture, and a highly recommend read for anybody with an interest in geisha.

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