During the summer of 1938, Mother tells Sayuri that in the last six months she has earned more than either Pumpkin or Hatsumomo. Mother says that this means it’s time for Sayuri to get Hatsumomo’s bigger room. For the last few years, Hatsumomo and Sayuri have lived side by side in relative peace, but Sayuri thinks that this change will spur her anger.
Once again, we see how much Sayuri has grown in the last few years, as she is now actually more successful than Hatsumomo. Yet Sayuri still doesn’t recognize that with this success comes more power—like the ability to leverage her salary in the okiya to gain more autonomy.
One afternoon, Hatsumomo begins moving her belongings into Sayuri’s room. Hatsumomo makes a ruckus, leaving her clothes all over and accidently dropping glass makeup containers which break and scatter glass over the floor. When Sayuri goes upstairs to investigate, she finds Hatsumomo reading Sayuri’s journal. Geisha are expected to be discreet about the men they entertain, but several years earlier, Sayuri had started keeping a diary of her experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Hatsumomo threatens to give the journal to Mother, but as she leaves the room with it, she steps on a piece of broken glass and cuts her foot. Hatsumomo rushes with the journal back to her own room and Sayuri follows. While she is taking care of her foot, Hatsumomo absentmindedly leaves Sayuri’s journal on the makeup table in her room.
Sayuri’s journal shows that she had an interest in recording her life experiences even when she was still a geisha, which makes her motives for recounting her memoirs in the present more understandable. As a geisha, she was expected to hide all her emotions and feelings from the outside world by adopting a cheerful demeanor. Only in her journal can she be truthful, honestly laying out her views and feelings about the world. Thus, her memoirs are a continuation of this self-expressive urge, as well as a resistance against the sexist traditions that force a geisha to remain silent.
In the room, Sayuri sees on the messy floor the emerald brooch that Hatsumomo had accused Sayuri of stealing years ago. Sayuri takes the brooch and the journal and slips out while Hatsumomo is preoccupied with her foot. Sayuri hides the journal and then goes straight to see Mother in Mother’s room. Sayuri puts the emerald on her table and says that this is the brooch that Hatsumomo accused her of stealing. Hatsumomo comes into the room and admits that it’s the brooch. Hatsumomo says she found it in Sayuri’s makeup stand, along with a journal about the men Sayuri entertains. Sayuri thinks about how when Hatsumomo was the okiya’s principal earner, she could have accused Sayuri of anything and gotten away with it. But now that Sayuri is the prime geisha, Sayuri knows that Mother will side with her.
Sayuri’s direct confrontation with Hatsumomo shows that she has begun to recognize the power she has in the okiya. This act marks an important transition into her adulthood, in that Sayuri now has the power to act in correspondence with her own will and desire. No longer an apprentice following the orders of others, she is now a woman deciding her fate for herself—although, as we will see, this newfound sense of power and agency doesn’t yet extend outside of the world of the okiya.
Sayuri denies having a journal, and Hatsumomo goes to Sayuri’s room, frantically searching for the journal to no avail. Mother and Sayuri follow Hatsumomo into the room. Mother tells Hatsumomo to stop lying and to pay Sayuri back for the brooch. Sayuri doesn’t know if Hatsumomo hears what Mother says, because she seems too busy glaring at Sayuri.
This scene is a reversal of previous encounters when Mother sided with Hatsumomo over Sayuri. Now with Mother’s support, Sayuri is the one in charge, showing the extent of her new power at the okiya—but again, it’s all about really just about money.
Sayuri feels that her relationship with Hatsumomo begins to shift after that day. With Sayuri now so clearly the more important geisha in the okiya, Hatsumomo’s mind begins “to be troubled by doubt.” Sayuri thinks that Hatsumomo must know that under no circumstances would Mother take Hatsumomo’s side against Sayuri’s any longer. Sayuri, however, says that for years now Hatsumomo has been on a path of self-destruction. She is getting drunk more often and has begun showing her cruelty to her male clients, even insulting some of them to their faces. Sayuri says that Hatsumomo is now like a beautiful tree that is rotting around the edges.
Here we see how the pressures of being a geisha weigh on Hatsumomo, causing her to reveal her deeper, more intrinsic ugliness. In the past, her beauty secured a degree of day-to-day stability in her life, but the recent change of events at the okiya suggests that she might soon lose her prestige as Sayuri continues to surpass her. Without her prestige, she will become as helpless as Sayuri was when she first arrived at the okiya. At that point, the reversal in Sayuri and Hatsumomo’s positions will be complete.
At Mameha’s apartment the next day, Sayuri tells her what happened with Hatsumomo. Mameha says they should make Hatsumomo’s life even more difficult so that she will continue on her self-destructive path. Mameha says they must drive Hatsumomo out of Gion completely, or else she might try to damage Sayuri’s reputation again. Sayuri agrees to Mameha’s plan.
Since Sayuri is now much more successful than Hatsumomo, Hatsumomo doesn’t seem to pose any serious threat anymore. Mameha’s plan thus seems particularly cruel, in that Mameha wants to sabotage a now-powerless Hatsumomo—Mameha clearly wants revenge against the woman who was once cruel to her, and feels no remorse at taking advantage of Hatsumomo’s new weakness.
Almost every evening, Mameha comes to the okiya around dusk and waits to walk out the door behind Hatsumomo. Sayuri and Mameha then follow her from engagement to engagement all evening. On the first night they do this, Hatsumomo pretends to find it amusing. But by the fourth night, their presence makes it difficult for her to concentrate on acting cheerful around the men she entertains. The following week, Mameha and Sayuri follow her down an alleyway. Suddenly she wheels around and, her eyes burning with anger, yells at them to leave her alone.
Once again the roles have reversed, as Sayuri and Mameha follow Hatsumomo instead of the other way around. Every time Hatsumomo sees Sayuri, Hatsumomo must recall her fading prestige and her aging beauty. In this way, Sayuri and Mameha take advantage of Hatsumomo’s self-doubt to make her less able to keep up her façade of kindness and politeness—but it also means Sayuri is basically stooping to Hatsumomo’s level.
One afternoon, they follow Hatsumomo to a teahouse where she is entertaining one 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, who flirts back with him. At one point, Shojiro mocks the overacting of English actors by taking Mameha to the center of the room, dipping her over, and planting kisses all over her face.
Shojiro’s criticism of artificial love scenes highlights the wonderful “acting” of all the geisha. Every day, Sayuri and the rest of the geisha put on a performance by acting as if they are interested in the men they entertain. Geisha do such a good job that most men don’t even realize that the women are usually just acting.
Hatsumomo shouts that he’s making a fool of himself. Saying that Hatsumomo is just jealous, Shojiro pulls her to the 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, and calls her a monster, while the mistress of the teahouse takes her away from the men. Later, Sayuri learns that the mistress actually shoved Hatsumomo into the street.
In comparison to Mameha’s masterful performance of fawning over Shojiro, Hatsumomo can no longer put on the act. As soon as she lets her true feelings show, she is thrown out of the teahouse. If a geisha ever breaks character and shows an emotion that society deems unacceptable (like anger), then she is cast out without mercy.
Hatsumomo doesn’t return to the okiya until the next day. Her hair is in disarray, she looks terrible, and Sayuri can tell she spent the night drinking. The next day Hatsumomo leaves the okiya in a plain cotton dress with her hair completely down. Mother has kicked her out of the okiya because Hatsumomo disgraced herself and the okiya by attacking Shojiro. Sayuri believes that Mother has probably been trying to get rid of Hatsumomo for years now, because Hatsumomo was no longer earning what she used to. In the present, Sayuri interrupts the narrative to say that she doesn’t know what happened to Hatsumomo, but that she heard rumors that she was working as a prostitute.
Hatsumomo’s burst of authentic feeling not only gets her removed from the teahouse, but also causes Mother to throw her out of the okiya for good—and so again we see the importance of performance in this novel. If Sayuri or any other geisha refuses to act as a “proper” geisha should – for example, by rejecting the sexual advances of a danna or the man taking her mizuage – then the geisha risks being thrown out of her home and losing her job. Hatsumomo was basically a flatly evil character, but she still comes to a tragic end.