In the present, Sayuri says that this conversation marked a shift in the way she viewed the world. Before this, she had been naïve about why men showed so much interest in talking with her, but this conversation revealed to her what men truly desire.
Learning about men’s sexual desires is a key moment in Sayuri’s growing up. She now knows that while men appear interested in geisha for their stories or arts, they often just want one thing: sex.
On the night Sayuri has this conversation with Mameha, she stays up until Pumpkin and Hatsumomo come home from entertaining. Hatsumomo tells Pumpkin to go out and buy her some noodles. When Pumpkin leaves the okiya, Sayuri slips out behind her. Sayuri asks Pumpkin what Hatsumomo said to the Doctor. At first nervous to be talking with Sayuri against Hatsumomo’s wishes, Pumpkin says that Hatsumomo will be very angry if she tells Sayuri anything. Pumpkin is exhausted from the day’s work, and she begins to cry because she hates spending so much time with the cruel Hatsumomo. Wanting to do something good to set herself apart from her older sister, Pumpkin decides to tell Sayuri what Hatsumomo said.
Pumpkin’s disobedience to Hatsumomo shows that Pumpkin wants to be more independent and take more control over her life choices. As the younger sister to Hatsumomo, Pumpkin has to spend her days following Hatsumomo around and obeying her every command – something that can’t be much fun, considering Hatsumomo’s cruelty. However, by telling Sayuri the truth, Pumpkin takes a small amount of control and independence back.
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 Gion. Pumpkin says Hatsumomo asked around Gion and learned that Sayuri and Mameha had been going to one specific teahouse together. When Hatsumomo and Pumpkin went to investigate, they saw Dr. Crab. Since the Doctor is known around Gion as a lover of mizuage, Hatsumomo immediately figured out their plan. Hatsumomo told the Doctor that Sayuri had a boyfriend who often visited their okiya at night, thus insinuating that Sayuri was not a virgin and her mizuage was worthless.
Pumpkin’s story reveals how a geisha’s worth in this society is often tied up with her virginity. This belief objectifies women, making them into commodities that decline in value, rather than human beings with the right to control when and with whom they have sex. It should be noted, however, that Iwasaki, a geisha Golden interviewed for the book, claimed that his portrayal of mizuage was wrong, and that no such practice took place in Gion when she was a geisha.
Sayuri thanks Pumpkin for the info. Sayuri apologizes that Pumpkin is stuck with Hatsumomo as an older sister. Pumpkin says that at least some good has come from it: Mother has decided to adopt Pumpkin. Sayuri feels sick at these words, because she was hoping to be adopted by Mother.
Sayuri’s jealousy at hearing this shows a surprising lack of compassion. If Sayuri truly sympathized with all that Pumpkin had to go through as Hatsumomo’s apprentice, then she would recognize that Pumpkin deserves to be adopted as much as she herself does.
At Mameha’s apartment the next day, Sayuri tells her what Pumpkin said. Mameha says that if they convince the Doctor that Hatsumomo was lying, then perhaps they can still start a bidding war. If the price gets high enough, then Mother might consider adopting Sayuri instead. They go to a confectionary shop where they buy two “ekubo” – white cakes with a red dimple on top. According to tradition, an apprentice geisha presents these cakes to men to show that she is eligible for mizuage.
With their red dimples on top, the ekubo look like breasts, and so in essence they act as visual euphemisms. The men don’t want to have awkward conversations about bidding on a girl’s virginity, so geisha give men these subtly erotic cakes instead. By avoiding the conversation, men keep up the appearance that they are interested in more than just sex.
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 their company since talking with Hatsumomo. After asking around town, Mameha finds out that Dr. Crab is at a party being thrown that evening. The women go there and wait for him to come out of the reception room. When he does, the women approach and present him the cake. The Doctor says it’s a poor reflection on Mameha’s character to have Sayuri as a younger sister. When Mameha asks why he would say such a thing, he responds that she should ask the boy in Sayuri’s neighborhood.
A geisha’s livelihood depends almost entirely on her reputation. Without a good reputation, men will treat her as if she is worthless. In this way, the male clients assert an oppressive amount of control over a geisha’s life. Geisha cannot sleep with men for pleasure without risking sullying their reputations, and thus their livelihoods. This means that geisha have to make the tragic choice between sexual freedom and economic security.
Mameha tries to laugh off the matter, saying that Hatsumomo has been spreading this rumor out of jealousy, because Sayuri took a major part in the upcoming spring Kyoto dance performance. Mameha says that Hatsumomo hoped the role would go to Pumpkin. Mameha says she is willing to stake her reputation on Sayuri’s honor, and that the Doctor must decide who is lying – Mameha or Hatsumomo – because they both can’t be telling the truth. After pondering for a moment, the Doctor accepts the cake.
Mameha is able to use her good reputation to convince the Doctor of Sayuri’s sexual chastity. The Doctor knows that Mameha wouldn’t risk sullying her own reputation by lying, because she would, as a result, lose her prestige among the men and the other geisha. In this way, reputation can be a powerful asset for a geisha to get what she wants.
At first Sayuri thinks that Mameha lied about the dance, but the next day she learns that Mameha used her connections to get Sayuri a role in the performance. Mameha, one of the best dancers in city, will also be performing. Sayuri has a month to rehearse the role. Mameha tells her that this will be her first opportunity to shine in the public eye.
Since dance is the highest art form for geisha, this performance will allow Sayuri to establish her reputation in Gion as a masterful dancer and a desirable geisha. As we have seen, reputation is everything, so a lot will depend on her performance.