In the present, Sayuri says that the day the Chairman kissed her marked the end of her grief and suffering. Every day since leaving Yoroido, her life had been a struggle against one obstacle or another, but after the ceremony that officially makes the Chairman her danna, Sayuri feels her life become easier, as if she were a tree who finally made its roots.
Having reached her life goal of being with the Chairman, all the conflict in Sayuri’s life seemingly melts away. This kiss then represents the climax of the novel: the happy ending where two lovers come together in an almost blissful relationship. Of course, this is a totally unrealistic portrayal of love—as if it is a destination, not a continuous journey. Sayuri still believes in the “happily ever after” cliché, and Golden does little to disprove it.
To make his relationship with Sayuri easier for Nobu to accept, the Chairman has Sayuri stop being a geisha. This way Nobu would not have to see her around Gion. The Chairman pays Mother a considerable amount of money each month so that Sayuri can end her career. Sayuri also learns that since the Chairman is married, she can’t move in with him. But he does buy her a house outside of Kyoto, where they spend most evenings together. During the day she finds things to occupy herself with, while at night they talk and enjoy each other’s company. Over the next few years, he often takes her to New York City on business trips.
The revelation of the Chairman’s marriage is strangely sudden, and casts new light on the complicated social relationships between men and women in Japan during this time. Apparently it is socially acceptable for a man of the Chairman’s prestige to become a danna while also being married—but it also shakes our image of the Chairman as the epitome of goodness. This kind of polygamy also carries sexist connotations, since Japanese women were not allowed the same sexual freedom—Mother, for example, shamed Hatsumomo just for sleeping with her boyfriend.
They are happy together and time passes quickly until the summer of 1956. The Chairman had two daughters with his wife and, during that summer, he arranges for his eldest daughter to marry a man named Minoru Nishioka. Without any sons, the Chairman hopes his new son-in-law will inherit the electric company. At the last moment, however, the man changes his mind about the marriage, which distresses the Chairman. Though Nishioka didn’t give his reasons for calling off the marriage, Sayuri knows the real reason. Sayuri (in the present) says that if the Chairman’s geisha had given birth to a son, then the Chairman might change his mind and turn over the company to his illegitimate son instead of to Nishioka. Sayuri says that Nishioka might have heard rumors that Sayuri had given birth to a son, which might have made him rethink the marriage arrangement. Sayuri then says that she would rather not mention if she truly gave birth to a son, because it might hurt the boy’s reputation.
Near the novel’s conclusion, we once again get a glimpse of Sayuri’s unreliability as a narrator. Sayuri implies that she has given birth to the Chairman’s son, though she frames this admission as a rumor, for fear of damaging her son’s reputation. Thus we are left wondering what else Sayuri has left out from her narrative so as not to sully the reputations of herself, her family, or her friends. It is suddenly unclear just how much of the “memoir” is based in reality, and how much is wishful thinking. In this way, the appearance of truth in Sayuri’s narrative might just have been another illusion, an artifice to improve and secure her reputation as one of Kyoto’s premier geisha.
A week after Minoru Nishioka’s change of heart, Sayuri approaches the Chairman and suggests that she should relocate to New York and open up a traditional teahouse for the recent influx of Japanese businessmen and artists. Sayuri says that a child raised between two cultures often has a difficult time, so a mother who moves with her child to the United States would make it her permanent home and have no choice but “never bring her child back to Japan at all.” Realizing that Nishioka might agree again to the marriage if he learns that the Chairman’s illegitimate son will live in America, the Chairman agrees to let her set up a teahouse in New York.
Sayuri’s willingness to undergo self-imposed exile just so that she can help the Chairman’s family illustrates her deep love for the Chairman—but she might have other motives as well. Perhaps, after achieving her goal of having the Chairman as her danna, Sayuri found herself wanting a new purpose in life, a new goal to strive for—and so her ambitions then centered on becoming a teahouse manager. In a way, Sayuri takes advantage of the Chairman’s familial dilemma to gain financial autonomy by starting her own business.
In August of that year, Sayuri moves to New York and Nishioka agrees to marry the Chairman’s daughter. Before long, New York comes to feel as much a home to Sayuri as Gion did. Sayuri runs a successful teahouse where she meets and befriends Japanese artists and intellectuals. Sayuri sometimes thinks of returning to Gion for a visit, but fears that she would be disturbed by all the changes. She says that after Mother died, the okiya was torn down and replaced with a concrete apartment building. Eight hundred geisha had worked in Gion when Sayuri first arrived years ago, but now there were less than sixty.
In New York, Sayuri gains more control over her life than she ever did in Japan. Instead of living as a geisha who is subject to the whims of her clients, she now owns and manages a teahouse. Sayuri has finally achieved the level of success that Mameha once told her to strive for. Specifically, Sayuri now has autonomy—no one can pick her danna for her or make her entertain men. She is her own woman, free to make her own decisions. Throughout the book, Golden seems to elevate American culture (particular regarding women) over Japanese culture, and here he again simplifies that divide—as if everything suddenly becomes easy and ideal for Sayuri once she comes to America.
One day, Sayuri and the Chairman walk through Central Park. Standing with two frail hands on his cane, the Chairman breathes in the air and says that the things he remembers are more real than the things he sees. When they arrive home that night, Sayuri says that they “drank each other up with so much yearning.”
The Chairman’s comment about the nature of truth implicitly argues in favor of the genre of memoirs. If memories seem more real than actual experiences, then Sayuri’s memoirs are a way for her to re-experience her life through the act of remembrance—even if that remembrance is different from the factual truth.
That night, Sayuri dreams of being at a banquet back in Gion, talking with an elderly man who was explaining to her that his dead wife still lived on inside him. In the dream, Sayuri sips from an excellent tasting broth and thinks that she is drinking up all the people who left her in her life. She awakens with tears streaming down her face and grips the Chairman’s hand, fearing his death. But when he dies only a few months later, she understands that he left her “just as naturally as the leaves fall from the trees.” Sayuri says that by telling her life story as she has just done, she has relived her life in the richness of her memories.
Sayuri (and Golden) suggests that perhaps our memories of events are richer than the events themselves, because we are more removed from them and can see their place in the “big picture.” By looking at the past, we can see beyond the suffering that had clouded our vision at the time, preventing us from experiencing the joys of daily life. Golden suggests that in this way, one can experience life in a different and fuller way through memory. This also plays into the theme of Artifice, as memory almost always clouds the “real” facts, even if it makes them more beautiful or true at their essence.
Sayuri says that sometimes while in walking through New York City she is struck by the exoticness of her surroundings. But then she thinks that Yoroido would also seem exotic to her now. As a young girl, she believed her life would not have been a struggle if she had not left Yoroido. But now she knows that her struggles never really mattered in the scheme of things, because “our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean.” Sayuri ends her memoirs by saying that “whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”
Sayuri’s reflection on New York reveals that our perceptions of the exotic depend on our home culture—American readers might have found the novel’s Japan as exotic as Sayuri finds America. Golden also ends with Sayuri’s reflection on the ephemerality of life. She realizes that her suffering never really “mattered” (objectively) because – ultimately – all lives end in the oblivion of death. While this truth might sound depressing, the tone of the book’s finale is melancholy yet comforting, as if suggesting that readers should not focus too much on the suffering of life, but should instead enjoy the fleeting pleasures of the present, and the joys of love. Like the loveliness of the geisha, happiness and beauty is ephemeral, but that doesn’t make it any less important or real.