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 events fairly boring because the men just get drunk and tell dirty jokes. After two more years of parties and outings, Sayuri makes the shift from being an apprentice to being a geisha. In the summer of 1938, she turns eighteen and “turns the collar.” Apprentices where red collars, while regular geisha wear white ones. Once a geisha turns the collar, she becomes eligible to take on a danna.
Sayuri’s boredom with the parties shows that she wants something more out of life than entertaining men. Now that she has a more secure financial position as the daughter of the okiya, she can begin to pursue a deeper and more substantial goal—and for her, that goal is true love. Now that she is a full geisha, she has the opportunity to become closer to the Chairman, in the hopes that he will become her danna.
Sayuri interrupts the narrative to explain that since moving to New York, she has come up again and again against the perception that geisha are prostitutes. Yet in the West Sayuri has met many women who rely totally on their wealthy boyfriends or husbands for money. Sayuri explains that a danna is like this Western boyfriend.
Here Sayuri shows a double standard in the Western perception of geisha. While many Westerners consider geisha to be prostitutes because they receive payment and gifts from their danna, Westerners do not consider “kept women” prostitutes. Sayuri puts the danna-geisha relationship in Western terms, so that Western readers of her memoirs will better understand the nuances of her position.
Three weeks after Sayuri turns the collar, Mother tells her that at this time next month Nobu will become her danna. Since making an offer for her mizuage, Nobu has asked for Sayuri’s company more frequently than any other man. Though Sayuri has come to like Nobu over the years, if he becomes her danna then she will never have a chance to be with the Chairman, because of the custom that prevents two business partners from pursuing the same geisha. All afternoon, Sayuri feels a buzzing in her head. Being with the Chairman was the one hope that had motivated her through the years. Sayuri feels that if Nobu were to become her danna instead, then all her struggles and suffering would have been pointless.
Sayuri’s anxiety about her danna illustrates the second love triangle that occurs in this book: Sayuri, Nobu, and the Chairman. Though Sayuri clearly prefers the Chairman, the book has so far shown that appearances can be deceiving. Thus, we should not immediately assume that Sayuri will ultimately pick the Chairman over Nobu. On the surface level, of course, Sayuri has been showing much more affection (though it is essentially artificial) for Nobu than for the Chairman.
The next day, Sayuri goes to Mameha’s to tell her what Mother said. Mameha says she should be proud to have a man as successful as Nobu as her danna. In a burst of emotion, Sayuri cries out that she wants more than kindness. Mameha says that a geisha is not entitled to ask for more. When Sayuri asks if Mameha has “strong feelings” for the Baron, Mameha simply responds that their relationship is convenient for him and beneficial for her.
Sayuri is unable to express her true feelings about the Chairman to Mameha. This suggests that her role as a geisha – which entails curbing of her own desires and feelings for the sake of pleasing others – has so completely subsumed Sayuri that now she cannot even express her feelings to her closest friend and ally.
Mameha ends the conversation by saying that Nobu and Sayuri have an en – the Japanese word for a karmic bond. Sayuri interrupts the narrative again to explain that in her day, people viewed themselves as pieces of clay that “forever showed the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.” She says that Nobu’s touch had made a deeper impression on her than most other people’s. Sayuri says that even at the time she knew that “somewhere in the landscape of my life Nobu would always be present.”
The “en” represents the bonds of destiny that connect people. These bonds are not necessarily supernatural. Sayuri explains that an en represents how our interpersonal interactions affect our lives and ourselves. Since Nobu has had such a significant effect on the course of Sayuri’s life, he has left an indelible mark on her personality and future.
In the days after her conversation with Mameha, Sayuri loses hope that the Chairman will ever become her danna. While entertaining at a group of boring men at a party, she feels for one horrifying moment that she might be the sole living human in all the world. Sayuri feels that the only thing that gives her life any purpose, however small, is entertaining military men. By 1938, troops fighting the war in Manchuria were coming back to Japan on leave. After drinking a few glasses of sake, military men with watery eyes would tell Sayuri that nothing kept their spirits up during war as much as their memories of her and the other geisha of Gion.
Though we have previously seen how one can create beauty from suffering, now we see that beauty itself can provide relief in the face of the horrible suffering of war. In this way, beauty serves the utilitarian purpose of providing comfort. The fact that Sayuri derives meaning from helping others rather than simply achieving her own desire of being with the Chairman shows that she has developed a more mature conception of purpose: aiding those in need.
A few weeks pass, and then one day Mameha tells Sayuri that the time has finally come for her to collect her winnings from her agreement with Mother. Mameha says she’s already waited long enough to collect them. Several days later, Mother, Mameha, and Sayuri meet together in the reception room at the okiya. When Mother agrees to pay Mameha the other half of what is owed to her, Mameha reminds her that Mother agreed to pay an extra fifty percent over the normal amount. Mother says that Mameha must be misremembering, and suggests that they ask Sayuri what truly happened. Though she feels torn between making Mother angry and betraying Mameha, Sayuri feels she must tell the truth. Sayuri says that she remembers Mother promising Mameha the extra amount. Mother concedes to pay Mameha the due amount, saying she must have grown forgetful in her old age.
Sayuri’s decision to pick Mameha over Mother illustrates how Sayuri has won enough freedom and autonomy that she can finally contradict Mother without fearing any serious consequences. With her life as a geisha now relatively secure, Sayuri can assert her own ethical standards by telling the truth. This scene shows how far Sayuri has come from the powerless child she was when she first arrived at the okiya.
After the accounts are settled, Mameha asks Mother about how the search for a danna is going. Mother says that she is in the final stages of agreeing upon terms with Nobu. Mameha suggests to Mother that she can make more money if other men compete with Nobu over becoming Sayuri’s danna. When Mother says that no other men have shown any interest, Mameha suggests General Junnosuke Tottori as a possible danna. Sayuri has entertained the General almost every week for the past few months. Sayuri realizes that Mameha must be trying to stop Nobu from becoming her danna.
Though Sayuri has expressed some autonomy by picking Mameha over Mother, she still conceives of herself as a person dependent on the influence and power of others. Instead of taking an active role in trying to prevent Nobu from becoming her danna, Sayuri relies on Mameha to get her out of the arrangement. Sayuri does not yet realize the power she has to determine the course of her own life.
Mameha tells Mother that with the war in Manchuria, it could be helpful to have a military man as a danna, because he can provide the okiya with things that the government will soon ration off. Sayuri notices Mother worryingly squeeze her tobacco bag to see how much tobacco she has left. Sayuri takes this as a sign that Mameha might have convinced Mother.
Mameha takes advantage of Mother’s greed to get her to do what Mameha wants. This manipulative tactic should remind us that Mameha is a cunning women with ambiguous motives for her actions, and so we should ask ourselves exactly why Mameha is helping Sayuri find a new danna.