Over the next few weeks, Sayuri and Mameha attend small parties and gatherings with Nobu and the Chairman. Before going out every night, Sayuri tells Auntie – in Hatsumomo’s presence – that she’s going to meet Nobu. Since she thinks Sayuri is embarrassing herself by spending time with “Mr. Lizard,” Hatsumomo doesn’t follow her to the parties.
Since Hatsumomo puts value only on superficial appearances, she seems unable to see the deeper motives behind people’s actions (unless they are motivated by revenge or greed). Thus, she cannot recognize Sayuri’s true motives for entertaining Nobu.
At the parties, Sayuri follows Mameha’s instructions by continuing to cultivate a relationship with Nobu. At one party, Sayuri kneels closer to Nobu than she intended, causing Nobu to slam his sake cup onto the table in annoyance and shift away from her. When Sayuri and Mameha leave the party, Sayuri says that Nobu must not like her very much. Mameha responds that if Nobu didn’t like her, he wouldn’t keep inviting her to parties. Mameha says that though Nobu’s temperament seems as “gentle as a sack of gravel,” he is actually a kind man in his own way.
Nobu’s external “gravel-y” personality further contrasts with Hatsumomo’s sweet outward one. In public and in front of her clients, Hatsumomo acts as a proper geisha, concealing her cruel, hateful personality. In contrast, Nobu is harsh and rude in public, perhaps concealing the softness and kindness of his character. Once again, this contrast in character traits suggests that we shouldn’t mistake appearances for reality.
On one occasion, Sayuri and a group of geisha are entertaining Nobu, the Chairman, and some other businessmen at a teahouse when Hatsumomo appears. All night, Sayuri doesn’t even look at the Chairman for fear that her eyes will reveal her attraction to him. Sayuri knows that if Hatsumomo sees that she has feelings for the Chairman, then Hatsumomo will immediately try to ruin any chance Sayuri has with him.
While Sayuri used her eyes to create the illusion that she was in love with Nobu at the sumo match, here Sayuri’s eyes fail to convey anything but the truth of her affection. The truth of her love for him will break through any deception she tries to create, and so she must avoid looking at him at all when in Hatsumomo’s presence.
To convince Hatsumomo that she likes Nobu and not the Chairman, Sayuri loosens one of her ornaments so it lands in Nobu’s lap. At first, Sayuri was planning to pick it from between his legs, but she feels too embarrassed to continue with her plan. All the guests watch as Nobu picks up the ornament and then tells a maid to fetch a package he has brought. Inside the package is a beautiful ornamental hair comb. Nobu tells Sayuri that he was going to give her this gift at the end of the night, but Sayuri’s hair ornament falling out seemed like a sign that he should give it to her now. Hatsumomo helps Sayuri put it in her hair and then gives a theatrical sigh, as if she were watching a budding romance.
Nobu’s gift shows that he has a kinder, more sentimental side. Though in the earlier passage he insulted fortunetellers, here he suggests that people can read the signs of their environment (like Sayuri’s hair ornament falling) to interpret how they should act. As we will learn later, Nobu’s view of destiny is less about a preordained future and more about working towards achieving what one wants in life. Thus, Nobu takes the opportunity that presents itself here to flatter Sayuri with a gift in an attempt to get what he wants: Sayuri’s affection.
A few months after Mameha and Sayuri’s encounter with Dr. Crab, he invites them to have tea with him. Mameha suggests they meet at a small teahouse that Hatsumomo would feel too embarrassed to be seen in. At the teahouse, Mameha tells stories while Sayuri pours tea for the Doctor. Dr. Crab is quiet all night. Though Sayuri thinks that they are boring him, he begins inviting them to tea every week.
Sayuri’s confusion about the Doctor shows how naïve she still is about the role of the geisha. Dr. Crab is not interested in conversation or stories. As will soon become clear, he wants a single thing: to take Sayuri’s virginity.
A few months later, Hatsumomo brags to Sayuri that she and Pumpkin will be leading the German Ambassador around Gion. Feeling satisfied that she has been tricking Hatsumomo this whole time, Sayuri shows no expression when Hatsumomo says this. Hatsumomo 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 Hatsumomo and Pumpkin leaving. When Mameha and Sayuri enter the teahouse, Dr. Crab brushes past them, saying he doesn’t like it when people deceive him.
Hatsumomo finally figures out the truth behind Sayuri’s actions when Sayuri fails to keep up the superficial charade. Because Hatsumomo can only interpret appearances and selfish motives, Sayuri should have acted distraught at hearing about Hatsumomo’s meeting with the ambassador. Since Sayuri shows no outward distress or jealousy, Hatsumomo assumes she must be hiding something that is making her more confident.
Distressed that her plan is falling apart, Mameha tells Sayuri to ask Pumpkin how Hatsumomo found out about Dr. Crab. Sayuri asks why they need the Doctor’s help anyway. Though worried that Sayuri will let something slip to Hatsumomo, Mameha agrees to her tell her plan. Mameha says it all has to do with Sayuri’s “mizuage.” Mameha explains the term by saying that men have an “eel” that likes to wiggle around in a woman’s “cave.” A “mizuage” is when a woman has an eel inside her cave for the first time – when she loses her virginity.
Mameha speaks in euphemisms – indirect expressions used to talk about embarrassing or unpleasant things – yet by comparing sex to an eel wriggling around in a cave, Mameha actually makes sex seem more unpleasant. This is understandable, however, since most geisha have sex with their danna rather than with people they actually love or find attractive. Mameha’s euphemism suggests that when sex is an economic transaction – as it is between danna and geisha – all the physical and emotional pleasure of sex disappears.
Mameha explains that Dr. Crab paid a record amount in Gion for Mameha’s mizuage years before. Mameha says that she hopes to start a bidding war between the Doctor and Nobu over Sayuri’s mizuage. If the bidding gets high enough, then Sayuri will be able to pay off her debts. Mameha hopes that this success will throw Hatsumomo off balance, possibly even making Hatsumomo do something rash that will sully her own reputation. If Hatsumomo dishonors herself, then people will be less likely to heed her rumors about Sayuri.
Mameha’s explanation illustrates that the mizuage is basically a highly ritualized and socially-sanctioned form of rape. Men will pay the mistress of an okiya to have sex with an underage apprentice geisha. These girls have no say over who will take their virginity or when it will happen. This tradition shows just how oppressive geisha culture (at least as it is portrayed in Golden’s book, which at least real geisha has disputed) is for young women.