Memoirs of a Geisha

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Mameha Character Analysis

Mentor to Sayuri and Hatsumomo’s chief rival in Kyoto, Mameha is a kind but cunning geisha. She takes Sayuri under her wing as a favor to the Chairman, and provides guidance to Sayuri on how to navigate the complicated terrain of geisha culture. But Mameha also relishes undermining Hatsumomo’s reputation in Kyoto, mercilessly chipping away at Hatsumomo’s confidence and social standing until Hatsumomo is forced out of the city in shame. A practical woman, Mameha believes that love for a geisha is an impossible dream. She encourages Sayuri to find a wealthy man who can provide stability and security rather than passion and love.

Mameha Quotes in Memoirs of a Geisha

The Memoirs of a Geisha quotes below are all either spoken by Mameha or refer to Mameha . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Destiny vs. Self-Determination Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Memoirs of a Geisha published in 1999.
Chapter 10 Quotes

“Those of us with water in our personalities don't pick where we'll flow to. All we can do is flow where the landscape of our lives carries us.”

Related Characters: Mameha (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto
Related Symbols: Water, Rivers, and Streams
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mameha offers Chiyo a metaphor for her life as a geisha. Mameha is teaching Chiyo about the geisha's art, and she wants Chiyo to understand the kind of life a geisha with "water" in her personality--like Chiyo and Mameha--will have. Thus she gives us another metaphor connecting water to life: water rushes around, flowing uncontrollably in response to gravity and other forces. By the same token, a geisha can't really control where she's sent or whom she sees--she just goes with the flow.

In this analogy, water is passive--it responds to the powers that be. Mameha is an experienced geisha, and her analogy conveys the contradictions of a geisha's life: geishas are essentially prisoners, and yet they're also freer, more talented, and better traveled than many other women in Japan--they're both free and not free.

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Chapter 12 Quotes

“When I say successful, I mean a geisha who has earned her independence. Until a geisha has assembled her own collection of kimono – or until she's been adopted as the daughter of an okiya, which is just about the same thing –she'll be in someone else's power all her life.”

Related Characters: Mameha (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto, Hatsumomo
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Mameha tells Chiyo about the importance of independence in a geisha's life. A geisha can be extremely popular and well-liked, but she might not be very successful. A successful geisha is one who's gained some measure of independence from her clients and patrons--i..e, a geisha who's earned enough money to support herself. A geisha with her own source of money doesn't have to rely on her clients to support her and feed her, and therefore she can be choosier with her clients, and more selective about what they do together.

In short, Mameha complicates our understanding of geishas so far. A geisha, in Golden's previous descriptions, was basically a slave. Now, we're told that geishas have a way out, at least up to a point: if they make enough money they can take some control over their destinies. Mameha is wise enough to realize that popularity counts only in the way it can bring in richer clients, which can then lead to greater independence. By passing on such a lesson to Chiyo, it's implied, she trains Chiyo to think long-term and value her own freedom.

Chapter 15 Quotes

I was hardly worthy of these surroundings. And then I became aware of all the magnificent silk wrapped about my body, and had the feeling I might drown in beauty. At that moment, beauty itself struck me as a kind of painful melancholy.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Mameha , The Baron
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

As Sayuri embarks on her career as a geisha, she finds it impossible to imagine herself even attaining much success: when she and Mameha entertain an important client like the Baron, who's seated next to her in the scene, she finds herself feeling insecure and childish. She's highly conscious of the layers of clothing and makeup adorning her body, and feels that she's never be able to live up to the standard of the other geishas.

For the time being, it's not so easy for Sayuri to adjust to her new life: she remembers her old life too vividly, and feels the contrast her current beauty and her previous sadness. This passage, then, makes another strong connection between beauty and suffering. Sayuri doesn't feel that she deserves all this beauty, and her self-doubts, a "kind of painful melancholy," return.

Chapter 17 Quotes

“I'm the one who picked it,” Mameha said. "The fortune-teller doesn't pick names; he only tells us if they're acceptable."
“One day, Mameha,” Nobu replied, “you'll grow up and stop listening to fools.”
“Now, now, Nobu-san,” said the Chairman, “anyone hearing you talk would think you're the most modern man in the nation. Yet I've never known anyone who believes more strongly in destiny than you do.”
“Every man has his destiny. But who needs to go to a fortuneteller to find it? Do I go to a chef to find out if I'm hungry?” Nobu said.

Related Characters: Toshikazu Nobu (speaker), Chairman Ken Iwamura (speaker), Mameha (speaker)
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sayuri spends time with Mameha and her clients, the Chairman and Nobu. Nobu is interested in how Sayuri chose a name for herself--tellingly, Mameha answers on her behalf, illustrating that Sayuki is still nervous around her future clients. Nobu rejects the idea that a fortune-teller is needed to choose a choose's name (a belief that was supposedly a popular part of Japanese culture at the time). Nobu implies that fortune-telling in general is an illusion--it has no real bearing on life. And yet the Chairman points out at Nobu, for all his exasperation with superstition and ritual, is just as superstitious as the average person: he believes in destiny.

What does the Chairman mean by "destiny?" Nobu seems to subscribe to the belief that everyone has a destiny, even if it's sometimes hard to see (a fortune teller who claims to be able to understand destiny is just a liar). Nobu's observations relate back to Sayuri's own: she feels that she has a destiny, although she sometimes struggles to understand it.

Chapter 22 Quotes

I would gladly have exchanged the robe the Baron was offering me for some way out of the situation. But he was a man with so much authority that even Mameha couldn't disobey him. If she had no way of refusing his wishes, how could I?... I suppose I finally came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to obey him and pay the consequences, whatever they might be. I lowered my eyes to the mats in shame; and in this same dreamlike state I'd been feeling all along, I became aware of the Baron taking my hand and guiding me through the corridors toward the back of his house.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Mameha , The Baron
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Baron--one of Sayuri's clients--takes Sayuri to his room. Inside, the Baron seems to be preparing to rape or assault Sayuri--an event that, in theory, isn't supposed to happen to geishas like Sayuri, but sometimes does. The Baron asks Sayuri to remove her clothing in order to try on the beautiful kimono he's bought her as a gift--clearly just an invitation for Sayuri to undress in front of him.

The passage shows the darker underside of the geisha world. Although geisha are cultured, sophisticated women who entertain their clients with song and conversation, they can also be sex workers (at least Golden describes it). A man like the Baron is so powerful that he can do whatever he wants with Sayuri--and he can do so because Sayuri, for all her training, is still a sexual object, purchased and traded between powerful men.

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Mameha Character Timeline in Memoirs of a Geisha

The timeline below shows where the character Mameha appears in Memoirs of a Geisha. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 6
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...Korin. Hatsumomo shows Korin a beautiful kimono that belongs to a geisha she dislikes named Mameha. Hatsumomo explains that she blackmailed Mameha’s maid into stealing it for her. Hatsumomo brings out... (full context)
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Hatsumomo and Korin walk Chiyo to Mameha’s home so that she can return the ruined kimono. Chiyo knocks on the door and... (full context)
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...from school, Mother and Granny tell Hatsumomo and Chiyo that they had a visit from Mameha. Before Mother can say anything else, Hatsumomo says in an exasperated tone that Chiyo was... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...show visitors into the reception room. On around the third or fourth day, the geisha Mameha arrives and asks Chiyo for her name. Worried that Mameha somehow found out that she... (full context)
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...funeral, a messenger arrives at the okiya and tells Chiyo that she should go to Mameha’s apartment tomorrow afternoon. At her apartment the next day, Mameha offers Chiyo tea. She says... (full context)
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Mameha tells Chiyo that she must try to become a geisha again if she ever wants... (full context)
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Mameha suggests that Chiyo read an almanac to find out what day would be most fortuitous... (full context)
Chapter 11
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A few weeks after Chiyo’s encounter with Mameha, Mameha arrives at the okiya to speak with Mother. Chiyo cleans outside the reception room... (full context)
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Shocked that Mameha shows interest in one of her maids, Mother asks why she would want to take... (full context)
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Persuaded by Mameha’s confidence in Chiyo’s ability to bring in money, Mother suggests a deal. She says that... (full context)
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...moment, Auntie tells Chiyo to go out to do an errand. When Chiyo comes back, Mameha is already gone. Chiyo goes to Mother’s room, where Mother asks her why Mameha would... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The next afternoon Mameha summons Chiyo to her apartment. Mameha says that if Chiyo is going to be her... (full context)
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The next time Chiyo visits Mameha’s apartment, Mameha says Chiyo should strive for success, not popularity. Hatsumomo and Mameha are equally... (full context)
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Mameha says the only way a geisha can make enough money to earn her independence is... (full context)
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Mameha explains that Hatsumomo hasn’t had a danna in a very long time. Generally, the female... (full context)
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Mameha tells Chiyo that dance is the most revered art form, and the most important one... (full context)
Chapter 13
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When Chiyo goes to Mameha’s apartment a few weeks later, Mameha says that she has truly grown into a lovely... (full context)
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As they continue to walk, they pass a young man carrying boxes, and Mameha tells Chiyo to look at him in a way that will make him drop his... (full context)
Chapter 14
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Finally, the day comes when Mameha and Chiyo perform the ceremony binding them as sisters. The ceremony takes place at a... (full context)
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Mameha’s fortuneteller had helped picked out the name “Sayuri.” The name comes from the characters sa,... (full context)
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For the rest of the afternoon, Mameha takes Sayuri around Gion, introducing her to the mistresses at various okiya and teahouses. Though... (full context)
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...men drink heavily, tell jokes, and listen to the geisha tell humorous, somewhat suggestive stories. Mameha tells a story about a male wig maker who overheard her urinate and then wrote... (full context)
Chapter 15
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The next night, Mameha and Sayuri go to another party, but Hatsumomo and Pumpkin show up shortly after they... (full context)
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A few weeks later, Sayuri receives a note from Mameha telling her to come to her apartment immediately. At the apartment, Mameha says that her... (full context)
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The Baron, Mameha, and Sayuri sit together, but the Baron and Mameha do all the talking. Feeling that... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...few weeks later, a messenger arrives at the okiya and hands Sayuri a note from Mameha that says Sayuri should come to Mameha’s apartment that afternoon. When Sayuri arrives, Mameha gives... (full context)
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Mameha leads Sayuri to the front row of the stadium, where she introduces Sayuri to Nobu.... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...to her cheek and imagining his face, so she feels confident that it is him. Mameha introduces Sayuri to the men, and as Sayuri pours the Chairman his tea, she notices... (full context)
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...will try to embarrass her in front of the Chairman, Sayuri points her out to Mameha. Mameha and Sayuri excuse themselves from the men so they can talk about what to... (full context)
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Mameha tells Sayuri that Hatsumomo will leave her alone if Hatsumomo thinks that Sayuri is already... (full context)
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...ring. With his opponent out of the ring, Miyagiyama wins the match. Seeing this occur, Mameha whispers to Sayuri that she just got an idea for how to throw Hatsumomo off... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...pass, and then one day Sayuri receives a note that tells her to come to Mameha’s apartment. Mameha tells her to put on a beautiful kimono that has a tear near... (full context)
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Mameha then leads Sayuri to a little room where the cook is waiting. Mameha says that... (full context)
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Sayuri and Mameha wait for the doctor inside an examination room. When the doctor comes in, Sayuri notices... (full context)
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Back in the rickshaw, Sayuri tells Mameha that the plan didn’t work because Dr. Crab didn’t show any interest in her. Mameha... (full context)
Chapter 19
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Over the next few weeks, Sayuri and Mameha attend small parties and gatherings with Nobu and the Chairman. Before going out every night,... (full context)
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At the parties, Sayuri follows Mameha’s instructions by continuing to cultivate a relationship with Nobu. At one party, Sayuri kneels closer... (full context)
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A few months after Mameha and Sayuri’s encounter with Dr. Crab, he invites them to have tea with him. Mameha... (full context)
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...gives Sayuri a suspicious look and then walks off. A few days later, Sayuri and Mameha go to the teahouse to meet Dr. Crab. As they’re about to enter, they see... (full context)
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Distressed that her plan is falling apart, Mameha tells Sayuri to ask Pumpkin how Hatsumomo found out about Dr. Crab. Sayuri asks why... (full context)
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Mameha explains that Dr. Crab paid a record amount in Gion for Mameha’s mizuage years before.... (full context)
Chapter 20
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On the night Sayuri has this conversation with Mameha, she stays up until Pumpkin and Hatsumomo come home from entertaining. Hatsumomo tells Pumpkin to... (full context)
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Pumpkin says that Hatsumomo suspected that Sayuri and Mameha were planning something when Sayuri didn’t seem dejected about Hatsumomo leading the German Ambassador around... (full context)
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At Mameha’s apartment the next day, Sayuri tells her what Pumpkin said. Mameha says that if they... (full context)
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Giving the cake to Nobu is a simple matter, but Mameha and Sayuri have to find a way to contact Dr. Crab, who hasn’t called upon... (full context)
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Mameha tries to laugh off the matter, saying that Hatsumomo has been spreading this rumor out... (full context)
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At first Sayuri thinks that Mameha lied about the dance, but the next day she learns that Mameha used her connections... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...few weeks later, Sayuri is taking a break at rehearsals for the dance performance when Mameha comes up to her. Mameha says that the Baron is throwing a party in honor... (full context)
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At the Baron’s luxurious house later that week, Mameha and Sayuri serve tea to the Baron’s guests around a pond. Nobu watches Sayuri as... (full context)
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...her, now he ogles her, perhaps because Sayuri has grown into an attractive woman. When Mameha says that they should spare the apprentice geisha this conversation, the Baron waves her off,... (full context)
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After dinner, the Baron suggests that Mameha wear one of Arashino’s kimonos to the Baron’s party next week. Mameha says she can’t... (full context)
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On the rickshaw ride back, Mameha tells Sayuri to be cautious at the party. She says that “an apprentice on the... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...Hakone, a few hours away from Kyoto by train. Sayuri is accompanied by Mr. Itchoda, Mameha’s dresser, who is coming to help Sayuri tie her intricate obi in preparation for the... (full context)
Chapter 23
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...after being struck by a stone. A few days after her return, Sayuri goes to Mameha’s apartment. Sayuri assumes that Mr. Itchoda told Mameha about what happened between Sayuri and the... (full context)
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...with a water design in grey. After she gets ready, Sayuri goes backstage to watch Mameha’s performance. (full context)
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Mameha’s dance tells the story of a married courtier who carries on an affair with another... (full context)
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...own dance, Sayuri feels a heavy weight descend on her from the sadness of seeing Mameha dance. As Sayuri goes out on stage, she uses this feeling to dance elegantly without... (full context)
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One afternoon a few days after the first performance, Sayuri visits Mameha at her apartment. Mameha tells her that bidding has begun on her mizuage. Back at... (full context)
Chapter 24
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The following day at Mameha’s apartment, Sayuri tells Mameha what happened at the okiya. Mameha says that she knew Mother... (full context)
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To Sayuri’s surprise, Mameha doesn’t seem that pleased about this turn of events. Years later, Sayuri would come to... (full context)
Chapter 25
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Now that Sayuri is free to go to parties with Hatsumomo following her, Mameha takes her around Gion, introducing Sayuri to her wealthiest clients. Sayuri finds most of the... (full context)
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The next day, Sayuri goes to Mameha’s to tell her what Mother said. Mameha says she should be proud to have a... (full context)
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Mameha ends the conversation by saying that Nobu and Sayuri have an en – the Japanese... (full context)
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In the days after her conversation with Mameha, Sayuri loses hope that the Chairman will ever become her danna. While entertaining at a... (full context)
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A few weeks pass, and then one day Mameha tells Sayuri that the time has finally come for her to collect her winnings from... (full context)
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After the accounts are settled, Mameha asks Mother about how the search for a danna is going. Mother says that she... (full context)
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Mameha tells Mother that with the war in Manchuria, it could be helpful to have a... (full context)
Chapter 27
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At Mameha’s apartment the next day, Sayuri tells her what happened with Hatsumomo. Mameha says they should... (full context)
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Almost every evening, Mameha comes to the okiya around dusk and waits to walk out the door behind Hatsumomo.... (full context)
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...of her most loyal clients, a Kabuki actor named Shojiro. At the event, someone asks Mameha to dance. Mameha’s exquisite dancing wins over Shojiro’s affection, and he starts fawning over Mameha,... (full context)
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...center of the room and tries to kiss her in the same way he kissed Mameha. Still angry, Hatsumomo bites his lip hard enough to make him bleed. Shojiro is shocked,... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...a strong woman. The next day they leave for Gion. In Gion, Sayuri calls on Mameha, who survived the war as a nurse in a military hospital. Without a danna, she... (full context)
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After the engagement, Sayuri meets up with Mameha at a party where a group of drunk, rowdy American GI’s are entertaining the geisha... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...she is still a beautiful woman, but before they have time to talk, Pumpkin and Mameha arrive. (full context)
Chapter 32
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...Nobu brings Sato to Gion on a weekly basis to drink and talk with Sayuri, Mameha, Pumpkin, and the Chairman. During these months, Sayuri sees more of the Chairman than ever... (full context)
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After Sayuri finishes the dance and sits back down, the Chairman asks about Pumpkin. Mameha says that she is ill and won’t be joining them tonight. The Chairman glances at... (full context)
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One night a few months later, Pumpkin, Mameha, and the Chairman cannot attend the party, so Sayuri entertains Nobu and Sato alone. Nobu... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...her danna. Mother also says that Nobu and the Chairman have arranged for Sato, Pumpkin, Mameha, and her to fly this coming Friday to a small resort island near Okinawa in... (full context)
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Sayuri decides to bring Sato to the abandoned theater that night. All she needs is Mameha or Pumpkin to bring Nobu to the spot and have him open the theater door,... (full context)
Chapter 34
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The Chairman says that after meeting Sayuri that day, he asked Mameha to find and mentor the beautiful young girl with blue-grey eyes. The Chairman did this... (full context)