In the instant before the door opens, Sayuri can almost sense her life expanding like a river whose riverbanks have swelled, but when she sees the Chairman, she feels only a sense of chaos. The next thing she remembers is being back in bed at the inn. When she sees Pumpkin come inside the room, Sayuri asks why she brought the Chairman and not Nobu. Pumpkin calmly says that she has been looking for a way to get back at Sayuri since Sayuri stole her place as the daughter of the okiya. Pumpkin says that she knew how Sayuri felt about the Chairman because of the way she always looks at him. Pumpkin asks Sayuri how it feels to have something she wants taken away from her. Sayuri sees Pumpkin’s face suddenly become consumed with anger, as if the spirit of Hatsumomo had been trapped inside of her and suddenly broke free.
Here, the metaphor of the river aligns with Nobu’s ideas of self-determination. Previously, Nobu explained that people have the freedom to choose which part of the river they want to be in. By taking control over her life in the theater, Sayuri felt as if her life had expanded like a river, which means that she felt as if she had more freedom and mobility to move around within her fate. Pumpkin’s anger also reveals the unreliability of Sayuri as our narrator. Sayuri barely focused on the fact that she deprived Pumpkin of being the daughter of the okiya, which eventually led to Pumpkin becoming a prostitute. If Pumpkin related these same events, then Sayuri might come off as an antagonist no different than Hatsumomo: beautiful on the outside, but uncaring, cruel, and conniving on the inside.
The rest of the trip goes by in a blur. Back in Kyoto, Sayuri spends the days after the trip in a state of shock and sorrow. In the middle of the week, she receives word that Iwamura Electric requires her presence that evening at a teahouse. She expects that Nobu will meet her there and tell her that the danna arrangements have been finalized. Resigned to her fate, Sayuri decides to be as a cheerful as possible when meeting Nobu so as not ruin his happiness.
Having apparently failed at taking control of her life’s path, Sayuri now gives in and no longer tries to resist her “destiny.” She even decides to suppress her true feelings by putting on another performance: appearing happy in front of Nobu.
Sayuri waits for Nobu in a private room of the teahouse. She dozes off and dreams of the Chairman touching her shoulder. When she awakes, she sees the Chairman beside her. Sayuri begins to apologize for what happened at the island, but the Chairman interrupts her, saying he did not come for an apology. When Sayuri asks if Nobu will be joining them, the Chairman says no. The Chairman says that he’s come to tell her a story. He tells her that around eighteen years ago, he took a walk by the Shirakawa Stream. Before the Chairman can say any more, Sayuri removes the Chairman’s handkerchief from her sleeve and places it on the table.
Perhaps the Chairman was actually the one “destined” for Sayuri all along, in which case destiny still exists, but Sayuri simply misinterpreted it—assuming that she was fated to end up with Nobu. The handkerchief reappears in this passage, showing that the novel has come full circle in a way. By returning the handkerchief to its original owner, Sayuri symbolically completes her journey: and she may have finally “won” the Chairman’s love.
Recognizing the handkerchief, the Chairman asks if she remembers that day as well. Sayuri says that all these years she’s wondered if the Chairman knew she was the girl he comforted years ago. The Chairman responds by saying that he could never forget her eyes, explaining that since he spent so much time around lying businessmen, he felt an immediate connection to Sayuri because of her open and honest eyes. The Chairman says that he felt as if he were seeing right through her eyes into the deepest part of her self.
Most characters in the novel are only concerned with the external appearance of beauty rather than inner beauty, so they can only see the superficial beauty of Sayuri’s eyes rather than the personality that her eyes reveal. Only the Chairman sees beyond the superficial into the deep inner beauty of her soul—indicating their connection and compatibility.
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 so that Sayuri could one day become a geisha he could spend time with. The Chairman says that the reason Mameha never revealed the Chairman’s involvement is because of Nobu.
The Chairman’s confession reveals that it was not destiny that brought him and Sayuri together, but in fact it was the Chairman’s actions. Working through Mameha, the Chairman orchestrated all the major events of the novel. Thus what appeared like random chance or destiny – Mameha taking Sayuri as her apprentice, and the meeting at the sumo match – was actually all part of the Chairman’s plan. This seems to favor self-determination over destiny, but the Chairman himself is almost a godlike figure in the novel, flat and without flaws, so his manipulations seem like a different kind of destiny.
The Chairman says that he values Nobu’s friendship more than anyone else’s. The Chairman explains that after learning of Nobu’s feelings for Sayuri, he decided to keep his affection for Sayuri a secret. But that all changed after seeing her with Sato. When Pumpkin took him to the theater, he angrily demanded why she would bring him there. Pumpkin only responded by saying that Sayuri asked her to bring Nobu instead. The Chairman says that at that moment he realized that Sayuri must have been trying to break off her engagement with Nobu by sleeping with a man he despises.
If Sayuri almost never puts her desires before another’s, while Nobu always does, then the Chairman represents the happy medium between these two positions. He curbs his desire to be with Sayuri in order to keep his friendship with Nobu, but as we will see, he also decides to act on his desires when he realizes that Sayuri returns his affection. Thus the Chairman tries to negotiate between attending to the desires of others while still making himself happy.
With great effort, Sayuri admits that she betrayed Nobu because of her feelings for the Chairman. She says that every step she took since that day by the stream has been with the hopes of bringing herself closer to the Chairman. Feeling all the heat in her body rush to her face, Sayuri turns away from him. The Chairman asks her to look at him, and she does so nervously. As they stare into each other’s eyes, the Chairman draws her close and kisses her.
Sayuri turns away in shame because, as a geisha, she has trained her entire life to keep her true feelings a secret. Nothing in her life has taught her that a geisha benefits from speaking her mind, so she is taking a large risk at this moment, and fears that the Chairman will reject her. But she is rewarded for her honesty.
In a break in the narrative, Sayuri says that this is the first time someone ever really kissed her on the lips. Though she had slept with men, they had either avoided kissing her on the lips or had done so without any real passion. Sayuri says that this first real kiss of her life seemed more intimate than anything else she ever experienced.
Paradoxically, the sexualized life of the geisha actually delays Sayuri’s sexual maturity. Even though she spends years as the private mistress to the General, Sayuri only experiences true sexual awakening when, in her thirties, she kisses the Chairman, the love of her life.
Sayuri asks why he kissed her if he is still planning to give her to Nobu. The Chairman says that Nobu withdrew his proposal to be her danna. The Chairman explains that when he saw Sayuri in the theater, she had the same look of desperation on her face that she did years ago by the stream. The Chairman says that he told Nobu what happened, because if Sayuri so dreaded being with Nobu, then Nobu must not have been her destiny. Overcome with relief, Sayuri cries as the Chairman enfolds her in his arms.
The chapter ends by suggesting an ambiguity in the Destiny vs. Self-determination debate. Was it destiny that brought the Chairman to the theater that day, so that he could see Sayuri’s eyes and know the truth of her desires? Or was it simply an accident of chance, a result of Pumpkin’s desire for revenge? The novel leads it up for the reader to decide.