Stolen Memories

If you know nothing about geisha, you might want to move along. (Unless you’ve read Memoirs of a Geisha, of course…then you might be okay.)

I’ve been having a hard time figuring out how to organize this since I started it…oh, I’m not sure. November, I think. Basically, I wanted to compare Geisha of Gion (Mineko Iwasaki) and Memoirs of a Geisha, to show what was from Mineko and what was actually made up.

(If you weren’t aware, Memoirs was cobbled together from Mineko’s life, information Arthur got from other geisha and some of his own creativity. However, since he stole names and events from her, she filed a lawsuit—which was settled, I believe.)

Stolen Fiction
Chiyo: was a maiko who screws over the Iwasaki okiya when she elopes. (Actually Chiyoe) Nobu, the Chairman, Dr. Crab, the General (and all related interactions)
Pumpkin: probably somewhat based on Kuniko, except Kuniko was never a geisha (and he went off and used her name on a minor character earlier in the book) Mineko didn’t have a sister that was sold to a brothel—most of her sisters became geisha (and it was their choice). There was also no bet on her success, as she joined the okiya willingly.
Hatsumomo: clearly based on Yaeko
Mameha: probably theorizing what it would’ve been like if Mineko had been paired with Satoharu
Mother/Auntie/Granny: clearly threw out the whole Mother Sakaguchi/Auntie Oima/Mama Masako angle for these assholes. (“Kayoko Nitta” comes from “Kayoko Sen”, the wife of a former Urasenke Tea School director.)
Hatsumomo made Chiyo draw on one of Mameha’s kimono: was actually taken from an angry customer doing the same to a bitchy geisha
Hatsumomo bringing boyfriends into the okiya: Yaeko did this on a number of occasions. Mineko ran into one in the middle of the night once and the whole okiya went into an uproar
Hatsumomo accused Chiyo of stealing an emerald obidomeprobably Arthur’s twist on Yaeko paying interest on a loan with an amethyst obidome
Mameha plays Lady Shikibu Murasaki during the Festival of the Ages near the end of the book. The same role Mineko played at age eighteen—there’s a photograph of her in costume.

Is it still plagiarism if you steal someone’s life to write your book and simply padded out with fiction? Probably.

The most controversial bit wasn’t even stolen—it was the truth. Mineko says at one point that only oiran/tayu/other types of prostitutes have a mizuage that involves sex, leading the reader to believe (if she has finished Memoirs before this, of course) that Arthur just put the sex part in to spice things up a bit. However, Lesley Downer refutes this point (in her book Geisha), saying that all geisha had mizuage like that before the anti-prostitution law of 1958—even the daughters of geisha and ochaya owners. It was a way of life that no one could escape.

So we can call that a lie that wasn’t really.

And now for the Parade of Errors! (Including a few things I’m not sure about…)

1. The inter-okiya phone system probably wasn’t installed in real life until after the book was over. Even if it was in place, the okasan would’ve done all the bookings—there would be no need for Yoko to answer the phone. (What did Mother do all day if there was someone answer the phone for her? Other than the books. And play mahjong with friends.)

2. Nobu was right—Chiyo should’ve been “Mame-something-or-other”, not Sayuri. (The fortuneteller saying that every other name wasn’t auspicious is a good foil, but it still doesn’t excuse it.) Except Mineko was the adopted daughter of Yaechiyo. (Unless she never told us her geisha name?)

3. All through the novel, Arthur acts like Miyagawa-cho only has prostitutes. Yet I feel fairly confident that by the time the story begins, geiko work there, too.

4. The inherited part of the geimei doesn’t change places. (I read that somewhere just recently.) Mameha says that Hatsumomo was trained by Tomihatsu, but if that’s the case, her name would have had to have been something like Momohatsu. (Or if that violates Japanese grammar, then something else entirely.)

5. Not sure if Hatsumomo and Hatsuoki were actually sisters (in the way Arthur makes it sound). Theoretically, two geiko trained by the same onesan could be considered sisters, but I think it’s far more likely that Hatsumomo mentored Hatsuoki and then ran her out of town.

6. Arthur calls the first hairstyle worn by maiko wareshinobuonce, then calls it by the fictitious name of “momofuku” the rest of the time. Probably because—unlike the wareshinobu—the momofuku can be compared to ladyparts, which is exactly what men are supposed to think about when they see maiko (according to him), even though they’re only available for sex once—and to the highest bidder, at that.

7. He says that the traditional commencement date of arts education is three years, three days. The only people I know who start at three years are Westerners. The actual date is six years, six months and six days, with the time spent in the womb counting as a year (according to Mineko Iwasaki), thus the start actually being 5/6/6. (In my case, it would probably have been July 13, 1991 [if I’ve calculated correctly].)

8. He mentions that a geisha is in a startling hairstyle when she wakes up. Since wigs are older than old, geisha probably started using them earlier than the twentieth century. The only ones who wake up with their hair already done, therefore, are minarai and maiko/hangyoku.

9. He misses something when he mentions the darari obi. Arthur talks about Chiyo wearing the dangling obi, but he forgets that she’s still a minarai and would therefore only be wearing one of half-length. (I’ll give him the bit about the taiko knot being because it’s square, like a drum…I just read the other day that even most Japanese people don’t know that the name comes from the way geisha wore their obi to a bridge opening at some point in time.)

10. He says that one of Chiyo’s misedashi kanzashi is of unhusked rice, but gives no indication that she’s debuting near the new year—the only time such kanzashi are worn. In fact, Chiyo would never start as a minarai near the new year, because with Shigyoshiki and all the traditional visits around that time, Mameha would be far too busy. (Not only that, but Mother would bitch about how it’s too much work to send Hatsumomo and Hatsumiyo [Pumpkin] out the door every night and help Chiyo get ready to become a minarai, at the same time.) [Again with the incorrect name format! Tomihatsu should’ve begat Momohatsu, who should’ve in turn trained Miyohatsu.]

11. The atotori is not selected based on whichever maiko takes in the most money during mizuage; she’s appointed at a very young age to be adopted and trained as soon as possible. Chiyo and Pumpkin would’ve been too old by the time it went down, considering Mineko was five when Mother Sakaguchi took her in.

12. Sayuri says that Nobu has been around Gion a lot lately, but she hasn’t seen him. But a few paragraphs before, Takazuru tells her that Nobu has been attending ozashiki in East Gion. That’s not the same thing! I can’t find an exact year, but I’m guessing the hanamachi split into Gion Kobu and Gion Higashi before 1939, which is the year in which that conversation took place.

13. Mameha mentions that the kaburenjo has been turned into a kyaberei, which Sayuri remembers is the Japanese translation of the English word “cabaret”. Except cabaret is French.

14. The case of the confused geisha. Toward the end of the book, Sayuri goes on a trip with people from Iwamura Electric and some other geisha, including one named Shizue. As she boards the plane, she notices a bespectacled young man in his thirties, which she learns is the son of Shizue and a bank director, as Shizue has been his mistress for quite some time. But before the war (roughly five years before that scene), Shizue is mentioned as having had a pharmacist as a danna, because they had been marvellously happy together for a number of years, and Mameha accused Sayuri of wanting such a relationship just like Shizue’s when it looked like Nobu was going to become her danna. So whose mistress was she?¹,²



¹ I thought about Shizue being with the director for a while, having her baby, pairing off with the pharmacist for ten or twenty years, then going back to the director after the war, but all that seemed highly unlikely.

² Another unlikelihood: there being two Shizues in all of Kyoto, much less the same hanamachi—I doubt there would be two geisha with the same geimei. I can see one being a Kyoto geisha and one being from Tokyo, but no mention is made of Iwamura Electric inviting anyone on the trip except Kyoto geisha. The first Shizue mentioned had to be from Kyoto, because how would Sayuri know of her and want a relationship like hers, otherwise?

So that’s the end of that ill-conceived mess.

It’s the end of my blog entry, too. 😉

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