A couple of months later, Sayuri and General Tottori perform the ceremony that makes the General her danna. It’s the same kind of sake ceremony that Sayuri performed with Dr. Crab. Afterwards, Sayuri meets the General in a private room at a small shabby inn. The General gets undressed and she finds his potbelly and his tiny “eel” repulsive. Sayuri feels a queasiness rather than a terror when he gets on top of her. After a few months of meeting with him at this inn, the queasiness slowly goes away, and her encounters with the General become “nothing more than an unpleasant twice-weekly routine.”
Sayuri is so numb to the appalling reality of her life as a sexual object that the weekly encounters with the General give her little anxiety or worry. But, once again, we should be aware that Golden, as a male author, might be writing off Sayuri’s emotional concerns, not realizing the trauma or turmoil of having little agency over one’s sexual life.
Other than these encounters with the General, Sayuri sees little of him, but he does supply the okiya with food, medicine, and other essentials. During that fall when the General became her danna, Nobu ceased inviting her to parties. Sayuri assumes that Nobu must feel betrayed that Mother picked the General over him. Sayuri feels that she played a part in wronging a man who had treated her kindly – a man she had come to think of as a friend. Moreover, since Nobu has stopped inviting her to Iwamura Electric events, Sayuri hasn’t seen the Chairman in months. Sayuri worries that if Nobu stays angry at her, then she will never see the Chairman again.
Sayuri’s betrayal of Nobu foreshadows the climactic betrayal at the end of the novel, where her love for the Chairman will surpass any concern she has for Nobu and his friendship. Here, Sayuri hints at her lack of regard for Nobu’s feelings by saying that, ultimately, she cares about seeing Nobu not because he is her friend, but because his friendship provides the only way for her to see the Chairman. Sayuri and Nobu are presented as sympathetic characters who have a real sense of friendship and love, but ultimately their relationship, too, is economic in nature.
One day in April, a young apprentice approaches Sayuri while Sayuri is preparing for a recital for the spring dance in Gion. The girl introduces herself as Takazuru, and says that she has been entertaining Nobu at the Awazumi Teahouse. Beginning to weep, the girl says that all he talks about is how dumb and ugly she is compared to Sayuri. Takazuru asks how Sayuri pleased him so that she can learn to do the same. Sayuri tells her that Nobu is actually a kind man, but that she can try to impress him by reading a book about a historical event and telling him the story bit by bit. Sayuri isn’t sure this suggestion will work with Nobu, but Takazuru seems grateful for the idea.
Takazuru’s request for advice shows how Sayuri has established herself as an eminent geisha in Gion. Not so long ago, she was the young apprentice unsure about how to impress and entertain powerful men, but now an interaction like this shows how much Sayuri has grown up since arriving in Gion.
Feeling bad for making Nobu angry by taking the General as her danna, Sayuri decides to wait outside of Awazumi Teahouse in order to run into him and apologize. On the ninth night that she comes to wait for him, she sees him walking to the teahouse. Sayuri acts happy and surprised to see him. When Sayuri asks why he hasn’t come to see her in so long, he bluntly states that he lost respect for her after discovering the identity of her danna. Nobu says that no one trusts the General with anything important because he is a useless, foolish man. Nobu then says that geisha care so much about their silly almanacs and traditions, but when something really important happens – like picking a danna – they simply look away as if they have no control over the matter.
Sayuri’s love for the Chairman makes her motives for meeting with Nobu less pure. She does not simply want to repair their relationship because she feels guilt for hurting a friend, but also because she hopes to find a way back into the Chairman’s life. Nobu’s beliefs about the geisha conception of destiny imply that he thinks that their rituals are simply excuses for passivity elsewhere in their lives. These rituals distract the geishas from any efforts at controlling their own destinies. Nobu suggests that they should instead be more assertive in matters where their actions can actually make a difference, like when choosing a danna.
Sayuri responds by saying that life is like stream carrying everyone along belly up. Nobu says that if life is truly like a stream, then water can still move freely within the stream. He says that she should have fought and used whatever advantages she had in order to avoid being with the General. Sayuri says that as a geisha, she has no advantages. Nobu responds that if Sayuri had any sense, she would realize that her destiny does not lie with the General, and she will do anything she can to leave him. Before going inside the teahouse, Sayuri asks if she can visit him here again. Nobu says no and explains, “I don’t like things held up before me that I cannot have.”
In his description of water, Nobu implicitly makes a counterargument to Mameha’s claim that “watery” people can only flow where the landscape of their lives lead them. While Mameha argued that destiny controls everyone’s lives, Nobu argues that people can help determine their own destiny. Even if outward forces push Sayuri in a certain direction, she can still maneuver her exact location within that direction. According to Nobu, Sayuri’s role as geisha means that she has to have a danna, but she can still pick who that danna will be. In this way, Nobu suggests that destiny and self-determination can coexist.