Autobiography of a Geisha

New York: Columbia University Press, 2003
The UK paperback edition of Autobiography of a Geisha was published by Vintage in 2004.

Soon it would be my turn to become a fully-fledged geisha, so I devoted myself eagerly to the preparations. It wouldn’t do to play the ingénue forever. I had to study how to make customers feel that I was cute and sexy.
 – Masuda Sayo

Autobiography of a Geisha is my translation of a memoir by the former hot spring geisha Masuda Sayo (1925-2008). Accounts of geisha and their world tend to focus on the entertainment districts of Kyoto and Tokyo, and the geisha life is depicted as glamorous and devoted to the pursuit of art. Sex, some would have us believe, takes place only within the bounds of a long-term relationship with a patron. Masuda Sayo wrote against the view that the geisha life is glamorous or aesthetic; she described the hot spring where she worked in the late 1930s and early 1940s as a world in which geisha routinely engaged in sex for payment. She also tells of her life after leaving the geisha house—as mistress to a gangster, as black marketeer, prostitute, and farm worker—painting vivid panorama of life on the margins of Japanese society. Despite all that Masuda suffered, hers is not a tale told with bitterness. Her years of experience in entertaining made her a natural storyteller. Autobiography of a Geisha is as often remarkable for its humor and wit as for its unromanticized frankness.

The most recent editions of the translation include an epilogue describing my extraordinary meeting with Masuda Sayo in 2004.