1. Many people in the West think of geisha simply as
prostitutes. After reading Memoirs of a Geisha, do
you see the geisha of Gion as prostitutes? What are the
similarities, and what are the differences? What is the difference
between being a prostitute and being a "kept woman," as Sayuri puts
it [p. 291]?
2. "The afternoon when I met Mr. Tanaka Ichiro," says Sayuri,
"really was the best and the worst of my life" [p. 7]. Is Mr.
Tanaka purely motivated by the money he will make from selling
Chiyo to Mrs. Nitta, or is he also thinking of Chiyo''s future? Is
he, as he implies in his letter, her friend?
3. In his letter to Chiyo, Mr. Tanaka says "The training of a
geisha is an arduous path. However, this humble person is filled
with admiration for those who are able to recast their suffering
and become great artists" [p. 103]. The word "geisha" in fact
derives from the Japanese word for art. In what does the geisha''s
art consist? How many different types of art does she practice?
4. Does Sayuri have a better life as a geisha than one assumes
she would have had in her village? How does one define a "better"
life? Pumpkin, when offered the opportunity to run away, declines
[p. 53]; she feels she will be safer in Gion. Is her decision
5. How does Sayuri''s status at the Nitta okiya resemble, or
differ from, that of a slave? Is she in fact a slave? Are Mother
and Granny cruel by nature, or has the relentless life of Gion made
them what they are? If so, why is Auntie somewhat more human? Does
Auntie feel real affection for Sayuri and Pumpkin, or does she see
them simply as chattel?
6. "We must use whatever methods we can to understand the
movement of the universe around us and time our actions so that we
are not fighting the currents, but moving with them" [p. 127]. How
does this attitude differ from the Western notion of seizing
control of one''s destiny? Which is the more valid? What are
Sayuri''s feelings and beliefs about "free will"?
7. Do you see Sayuri as victimized by Nobu''s attentions, or do
you feel pity for Nobu in his hopeless passion for Sayuri? Do you
feel that, in finally showing her physical scorn for Nobu, Sayuri
betrayed a friend, or that real friendship is impossible between a
man and a woman of their respective stations?
8. How do Japanese ideas about eroticism and sexuality differ
from Western ones? Does the Japanese ideal of femininity differ
from ours? Which parts of the female body are fetishized in Japan,
which in the West?
9. The geisha''s ritual of preparing herself for the teahouse is
a very elaborate affair; how essentially does it differ from a
Western women''s preparation for a date?
Why might Golden have chosen to begin his narrative with a
"Translator''s Note"? What does this device accomplish for him? In
Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden has done a very daring thing:
he, an American man, has written in the voice of a Japanese woman.
How successfully does he disguise his own voice? While reading the
novel, did you feel that you were hearing the genuine voice of a
10. Does the way in which the Kyoto men view geisha differ from
the way they might view other women, women whom they might marry?
What are the differences? How, in turn, do geisha view men? Is the
geisha''s view of men significantly different from that of ordinary
women? Do you find that the relationship between a geisha and her
danna is very different from that between a Western man and his
mistress? What has led Sayuri to think that "a geisha who expects
understanding from her danna is like a mouse expecting sympathy
from a snake" [p. 394]?
11. As the older Sayuri narrates her story, it almost seems as
though she presents Chiyo and Sayuri as two different people. In
what ways are Chiyo and Sayuri different? In what ways are they
recognizably the same person?
12. Pumpkin believes that Sayuri betrayed her when she, rather
than Pumpkin, was adopted by the Nitta okiya. Do you believe that
Sayuri was entirely blameless in this incident? Might she have
helped to make Pumpkin''s life easier while they were in the okiya
together? Or has Pumpkin''s character simply been corrupted by her
years with Hatsumomo and the entire cruel system that has exploited
13. Sayuri senses that she shares an en, a lifelong karmic bond,
with Nobu [p. 295]. How might a Western woman express this same
idea? During Sayuri''s life, Japan goes through a series of traumas
and unprecedented cultural change: the Great Depression, the War,
the American Occupation. How do the inhabitants of Gion view
political events in the outside world? How much effect do such
events have upon their lives? How aware are they of mainstream
Japanese culture and life?
14. What personal qualities do Sayuri and Mameha have that make
them able to survive and even prosper in spite of the many
cruelties they have suffered? Why is Hatsumomo, for example,
ultimately unable to survive in Gion? Is Sayuri the victim of a
cruel and repressive system, a woman who can only survive by
submitting to men? Or is she a tough, resourceful person who has
not only survived but built a good life for herself with
independence and even a certain amount of power?