Sayuri (novel) (さゆり (小説))

"Sayuri" (Memoirs of a Geisha) was a novel by Arthur GOLDEN, published in 1997. The story was set in Kyoto, Japan before World War II and was about the eventful life of a woman who was sold at the age of nine and lived as a geisha (Japanese professional female entertainer at parties).
The novel was made into a film that was released in 2005 (Japanese Title: 'SAYURI.')
The film was directed by Rob MARSHALL, starring Ziyi ZHANG in a leading role. The Japanese translation was published by Bungeishunju Ltd. The book was translated by Takayoshi OGAWA.


After the novel was published, Mineko IWASAKI (岩崎峰子, renamed 岩崎究香 later) sued Arthur Golden for breach of contract and defamation of character. The plaintiff asserted that the contract that was agreed upon states that all characters in the novel were to be kept anonymous. This was because there was a code of silence in the geisha community and breaking the code was a serious offense. Once the plaintiff's name was published, she received many death threats, and faced pressure to commit suicide for insulting the geisha community; but she decided to sue Golden. In 2003, Iwasaki won an out of court settlement ensuring that Golden would pay compensation to her.

Although Iwasaki never mentioned it in public, she suggested in her autobiography 'Geisha, A Life' (title for the US edition; 'Geisha of Gion' was the title for the UK edition) that she was offended by the novel 'Memoirs of a Geisha' because it did not provide a faithful description of the life of a geisha. Above all, she said that she could especially not overlook the description of 'Mizuage' (coming-of-age ceremony for an apprentice geisha) as selling of the right of deflowering an apprentice geisha, which was far removed from the fact.

Many of the characters in 'Sayuri' corresponded to those she knew and those close to her. Although the novel describes them as spiteful and malevolent, in real life they were very kind to her; besides, the novel described Chiyo as being treated like a slave when she entered the okiya (geisha dwelling), when in fact, Iwasaki was treated kindly and preferentially. She also wrote that 'Sourpuss' was, in fact, a sister she developed a close relationship with and 'Nobu' was her patron and lover. Although Iwasaki never mentioned this in public (it is believed in the West that a traditional Japanese woman would not show her innermost personal feelings), Golden's book was a distorted description of the happiest events in her past. She trusted Golden with her secrets, but Golden betrayed her in order to write a bestseller.

[Original Japanese]