Saturday, 11 August 2012

Autobiography of a Geisha

Date of Reading: 25/10/2007
Author: Sayo Masuda
Translated by: G. G. Rowley
Publisher: Vintage
Place: Great Britain
Year: 2004

        This is my third reading of a book on Geisha and as a true story this is much more valid than others, even more entertaining. In Masuda's view a Geisha's life is not as glamorous as seen by the outside world, so her writings concentrate on the contempt faced by an ordinary Geisha from her own society. A simple and beautiful work which everyone will love!
        Masuda was born on 1925 near the town of Shiojiri in Japan's mountainous Nagano Prefecture. Her parents were not legally married, and she was left with an uncle till the age of five. She never knew her father. At an age when she  should have begun to attend primary school, her uncle sent her to work as a nursemaid for a landowning family.
        When Masuda was about twelve, her mother, by this time married with four small children, is in need of money for her husband's medical treatment and so this non-wanted daughter is sold to a Geisha house in the hot - springs resort of Suwa, a former castle town on the shores of Lake Suwa in Nagano Prefecture.
         Masuda gives a full account of her painful days as a novice when she had to suffer the cruelties of Elders and the mastering of the Geisha arts of dance, song, shamisen and  drum is none too easy. In her sixteenth year, ie. in 1940, she made her debut as a Geisha. She gets a danna (the man who keeps her as mistress) nicknamed Cockeye and the days in the Geisha house are finally over. When she begins to work in a factory and meets Motoyama - san, who has come from the army to regain his health, seeds of true love are planted too.
         It is not her physical beauty that attracted Motoyama-san as he believed love is in the heart, not in sexual pleasures. He is more than willing to marry her but as a soldier his life is not secure, and his death may give her unwanted grief. On the night he left she attempts suicide but is timely saved by a fisherman. When Cockeye gets a wind of this affair, he leaves.
        Masuda goes to Shijori to her house; her mother is now with another man as her husband is dead. She takes her younger brother from the aunt and they go to Chiba. There she conceals the fact of her life as a Geisha and is immediately accepted by others; she even begins to get marriage proposals. Her sole aim is to give some primary education to her brother and together they plan to start a shop. But all is in vain, when brother comes down with intestinal tuberculosis.
         Masuda doesn't have enough money for medicine and she takes the old job as a Geisha. Nowadays their position is nothing better than a prostitute. On finding this out brother commits suicide as he was aware that he has no cure. Masuda turns mad with grief for a few months but then returns to Suwa and meets Motoyama-san who is now a city counsellor. He has looked for her four years on his return from the army but now he is married and has a child. They begin to spend their days together, but soon rumours begin to spread on his reputation and she leaves.

Masuda with her translator

            On trying to find a way to death she meets an old man who advises her to live for others. At Toyoshina she begins to work in a restaurant. In the memory of her brother, Masaru, she buys books for children and makes nice stories for them. She helped farmers in rice planting and soon people began to ask her help on looking after the children.
         Sayo Masuda died on 26 June 2008, a few months before her eighty-third birthday. She barely knew her letters and wrote this with the help of others. 

1 comment:

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