Autobiography of a Geisha, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (3 ratings)


Sayo Masuda's story is an extraordinary portrait of rural life in japan and an illuminating contrast to the fictionalised lives of glamorous geishas.

At the age of sis Masuda's poverty-stricken family sent her to work as a nursemaid.

At the age of twelve, she was indentured to a geisha house.

In Autobiography of a Geisha, Masuda chronicles a harsh world in which young women faced the realities of sex for sale and were deprived of their freedom and identity.

She also tells of her life after leaving the geisha house, painting a vivid panorama of the grinding poverty of rural life in wartime Japan.

Many years later Masuda decides to tell her story. Although she could barely read or write she was determine to tell the truth about life as a geisha and explode the myths surrounding their secret world.

Remarkably frank and incredibly moving, this is the record of one woman's survival on the margins of Japanese society.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224 pages, illustrations
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Autobiography: general
  • ISBN: 9780099462040



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Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.

Review by

The most remarkable thing about this book is the author's voice. Although you have to wonder how much was altered in translation from Japanese to English, it is still very compelling. I think with memoirs you can always tell whether the author is trying to gloss over negative aspects of their life, but Masuda is unapologetic and genuine. This is not the soft, lyrical story of Arthur Golden, but the real thing, expressed by someone who was there. A very rich and evocative memoir.

Review by

An absolute must for anyone that's lived in Japan. I've read a lot about Japan (lived there), tho know much more about China in this era. Yet this memoir perhaps best conveyed to me the depths of poverty in 1930s Japan. I didn't even know that Nagano was the source of so many "emigrants" to Manchuria. (To think that many people today in pampered, well-fed, kitsch-burden Japan are living with these memories. And they were still middle-aged when I lived in Japan.)I suppose a great deal of credit goes to the editor, who coached such moving details from this unschooled, illegitimate girl, whose first memories were of being a "nursie" babysitter to a landowner's children. She didn't know her own name when her mother turns up when she was about 12--only to indenture her onward to become a hot springs geisha. (The indentured terms--still like that in Thailand, in the massage parlors and the lower brothels that aren't quite the slave quarters.) But Sayo did have these acute feelings. Especially with her affectionate little brother, she conjures up the details that made him so precious to her.Anthropologist Lisa Dahlby and later, Arthur Golden in his novel (Geisha) made a persuasive case that there certainly were much worse alternatives for poor women than becoming geisha of the high end Kyoto district. A hot springs geisha in a tourist town was much more low rent; it was questionable whether a woman picked up much in the way of musical skills and the patron possibilities were, as we see here, more on the order of local yakuza. But it wasn't the lowest rung on the prostitute ladder, not by a long shot. Yet we have one young woman allowing herself to die untreated of a venereal disease, another committing suicide, and Sayo herself attempting to kill herself. The good old days were better for women, right? The houses were closed down in 1943 and it doesn't occur to Sayo to go back to the trade--instead she scrabbles for food in the countryside (!) of Chiba that she can being back for sale in the city. She works alongside Koreans, a reformed murderer (who had done despicable things in China) and of course has to deal with gangsters.When she needs money for her ill brother in the postwar period, she does sell herself again, without providing any details, she does turn to prostitution briefly, though whether this was brothel work or what, she doesn't tell.I think anyone familiar with Japan will be very surprised that such a sympathetic memoir, of a despised woman and class, was first published in the 1950s as a piece in a woman's magazine--and later in the early 1960s, as a short, page turner of a book. Amazing to me that she was in her early 30s when she "wrote" this, with an attitude that her life was just about over and yet in 2002, at the time of translation, she was still alive, living anonymously in Tokyo. I respect the translator and Japanese editor for protecting Masuda-san's privacy but I so want to know what happened to her after the book was published, enabling her to live comfortably for the rest of her life. I'm sure that her mother, if alive, and the other half-siblings (whom she must have met for a few days at age 12) rediscovered her. I hoped she found some children to adopt.And there must be loads of movie and TV adaptations?

Review by

An interesting contrast to Memoirs of a Geisha and other contemporary accounts of this nature. This is the autobiographical story of a woman who, as a young girl, is indentured out as a nursemaid and then as a Geisha. She worked as a Geisha and then in a number of different roles during and after World War II, and the memoir is another interesting window into life in Japan in the post-war period.

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