Autobiography of a Geisha
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"Autobiography of a Geisha" Summary

By Sayo Masuda

nonfiction | 186 pages | Published in NaN

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.


Estimated read time: 5 min read

One Sentence Summary

A geisha recounts her life story, filled with hardship and resilience, in this captivating autobiography.


"Autobiography of a Geisha" is a compelling memoir by Sayo Masuda, offering a rare and intimate glimpse into the hidden world of a geisha in Japan. The book provides a unique perspective on the life of a geisha, shedding light on the challenges, triumphs, and personal experiences of the author. Set against the backdrop of post-war Japan, the memoir delves into the complexities of traditional geisha culture and the social dynamics of the time. Masuda's narrative is both poignant and illuminating, offering readers a captivating journey through the life of a geisha.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The story unfolds in the rural town of Shizuoka, Japan, where Sayo Masuda grows up in poverty-stricken conditions. At the tender age of twelve, she is sold to a geisha house, embarking on a tumultuous journey into the world of geishas. Masuda faces numerous trials and tribulations as she navigates the demanding and often exploitative geisha lifestyle. The memoir provides a vivid portrayal of her struggles, relationships, and the internal conflicts she grapples with in the pursuit of independence and self-discovery.


The narrative is predominantly set in the post-war era of Japan, offering a glimpse into the societal upheavals and cultural shifts that marked the period. Against the backdrop of a rapidly modernizing Japan, Masuda's experiences as a geisha shed light on the traditional values, gender dynamics, and the challenges faced by women in a rapidly changing society.

Main Characters

The memoir features several key characters who play pivotal roles in shaping Masuda's journey as a geisha.

Sayo MasudaThe author and protagonist of the memoir, who recounts her experiences as a geisha with raw honesty and resilience.
OkichiA fellow geisha who becomes a close friend and confidante to Masuda, offering support and companionship amid the challenges they face.
OkaasanThe strict and formidable proprietress of the geisha house, whose authority and control over the geishas dictates their lives and choices.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapter 1-3: A Life Transformed

  • Introduction to Sayo Masuda's impoverished upbringing in Shizuoka.
  • Her abrupt transition into the world of geishas at the age of twelve.
  • Initial struggles and adaptation to the rigorous geisha training and lifestyle.

Chapter 4-6: Bonds and Betrayals

  • Masuda forms a close bond with Okichi, another geisha, as they navigate the challenges of their profession.
  • Betrayal and heartbreak as Masuda's trust is shattered by individuals close to her.
  • The complexities of relationships within the geisha house and the emotional toll it takes on Masuda.

Chapter 7-9: Struggles and Resilience

  • Masuda's resilience and determination to assert her independence amidst societal constraints.
  • The internal conflicts and moral dilemmas she faces as she seeks autonomy and personal fulfillment.
  • Continued hardships and the pursuit of identity and purpose beyond the confines of the geisha world.

Chapter 10-12: Reflection and Redemption

  • Reflection on the transformative experiences and personal growth throughout her years as a geisha.
  • The impact of historical and societal changes on the geisha culture and its traditional values.
  • A sense of redemption and empowerment as Masuda finds her voice and asserts her individuality.

Main Events

  • Sayo Masuda's induction into the geisha house at the age of twelve marks a pivotal event that sets the course of her life.
  • The formation of a deep and enduring friendship with Okichi provides emotional support amid the challenges faced as a geisha.
  • Betrayal and heartbreak from individuals within the geisha community deeply impact Masuda, testing her resilience and spirit.
  • Masuda's gradual realization of the limitations and injustices within the geisha world fuels her determination to seek autonomy and self-empowerment.

Themes and Insights


Gender and Power

The memoir delves into the power dynamics and gender inequalities prevalent in the geisha world, offering insights into the struggles and resilience of women in a patriarchal society.

Identity and Autonomy

Masuda's journey towards self-discovery and assertion of identity forms a central theme, highlighting the complexities of personal autonomy within traditional societal structures.

Friendship and Betrayal

The exploration of friendships and betrayals within the geisha community provides a poignant portrayal of trust, loyalty, and the emotional toll of fractured relationships.


The memoir offers a nuanced portrayal of the geisha culture, shedding light on its intricacies, challenges, and the personal experiences of those involved. Masuda's introspective narrative provides valuable insights into the human spirit, resilience, and the pursuit of individual freedom and fulfillment.

Reader's Takeaway

"Autobiography of a Geisha" offers readers a deeply intimate and illuminating account of the geisha world, inviting empathy and understanding for the challenges faced by women in traditional Japanese society. The memoir's raw honesty and emotional depth resonate with readers, leaving a lasting impression of resilience, friendship, and the enduring pursuit of self-empowerment.


Sayo Masuda's "Autobiography of a Geisha" stands as a testament to the strength and indomitable spirit of women, offering a poignant and revealing narrative that transcends time and cultural barriers. The memoir's enduring relevance lies in its portrayal of the human experience, the pursuit of identity, and the unwavering resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. Masuda's compelling story continues to captivate readers, offering a profound and intimate understanding of the geisha world and the complexities of personal autonomy and empowerment.

Autobiography of a Geisha FAQ

  1. What is the book 'Autobiography of a Geisha' about?

    The book is a memoir of Sayo Masuda, who was a geisha in post-war Japan. It provides an intimate look into the life of a geisha, detailing the challenges and experiences she faced.

  2. Is 'Autobiography of a Geisha' a work of fiction or non-fiction?

    The book is a non-fiction memoir, providing a firsthand account of the author's life as a geisha.

  3. What themes are explored in 'Autobiography of a Geisha'?

    The book delves into themes of identity, societal expectations, gender roles, and the challenges faced by women in traditional Japanese culture.

  4. Is the book suitable for all audiences?

    The book contains mature themes and may not be suitable for all audiences. It is best suited for mature readers who are interested in learning about the life of a geisha in historical Japan.

  5. What makes 'Autobiography of a Geisha' a compelling read?

    The book offers a rare and personal insight into the world of geishas, providing a captivating and thought-provoking narrative that sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of Japanese culture.