The novel’s narrator and protagonist, Sayuri tells the story of how she went from a poor fisherman’s daughter named Chiyo Sakamoto to become Sayuri Nitta, one of Kyoto’s premier geisha. With her piercing blue-grey eyes… (read full character analysis)
A man in love with Sayuri, Nobu spends much of the novel trying to get Sayuri to become his personal geisha. Injured from his time in the military, Nobu is missing an arm and… (read full character analysis)
Referred to as simply “the Chairman” for most of the novel, Ken Iwamura is the gentle, dignified, and kind love interest of Sayuri. While most people in Kyoto would pay no attention to a… (read full character analysis)
The novel’s antagonist, Hatsumomo is the most beautiful and the cruelest geisha in the book. Though she hides her cruel nature from the men she entertains, Hatsumomo insults or sabotages anyone she dislikes. Jealous of… (read full character analysis)
Nicknamed “Pumpkin” by Sayuri because of her round head, Pumpkin grows up with Sayuri in the okiya. Compassionate but a little slow-witted, Pumpkin struggles to make it as a geisha. With Hatsumomo as her… (read full character analysis)
Greedy and completely self-serving, Mother runs the okiya where Sayuri, Hatsumomo, and Pumpkin live. She only cares about the people in the okiya as much as they can help her make money. Mother… (read full character analysis)
Sayuri’s beloved older sister. Since Satsu is not as pretty or as clever as Sayuri, Mr. Tanaka sells her to a brothel instead of an okiya. Satsu despises life as a prostitute, so she… (read full character analysis)
Mameha’s wealthy and aristocratic patron who bids against Dr. Crab for Sayuri’s virginity. A drunk and an uncaring man, he forces Sayuri to undress in front of him so that he can pleasure himself while… (read full character analysis)
The most senior maid at the okiya, Auntie is a failed geisha who cares for Pumpkin and Sayuri, providing them with advice on how to survive Hatsumomo’s cruelty and Mother’s penny-pinching greediness. Granny adopted Auntie and Mother, raising them in the okiya.
The wealthiest man in Sayuri’s home village, Mr. Tanaka is an eloquent and naively altruistic man. Thinking he is saving Sayuri and Satsu from a life of poverty, he convinces their father to sell the girls to an okiya and a brothel, respectively.
Nicknamed “Dr. Crab” by Sayuri because of his crablike appearance, Dr. Crab is a dry, emotionless doctor who pays a record amount to take Sayuri’s virginity.
The elderly, mean-spirited owner of the okiya who raised Mother and Auntie. Granny dies early in the novel after being electrocuted by her electric heater.
Sayuri’s emotionally negligent father who sells her and her sister Satsu to Mr. Tanaka. A poor fisherman, Sakamoto has a lot of wood in his personality, meaning that he is slow and methodical in his ways.
An unnamed character, Sayuri’s mother develops a sickness at the beginning of that confines her to bed. Like Sayuri, Mrs. Sakamoto has a lot of water in her personality. Sayuri also inherited her mother’s blue-grey eyes.
Hatsumomo’s only friend, Korin is as mean but not as beautiful as Hatsumomo. She dies during the war when the Americans bomb the factory at which she works.
General Junnosuke Tottori
The potbellied man that Sayuri sleeps with twice a week in exchange for extra rations for the okiya during the war years. Nobu thinks Sayuri dishonors herself by sleeping with such a lowly man.
The novel’s fictional translator who records and translates Sayuri’s story in New York City during the early nineties.
The mischievous daughter of Mr. Tanaka, who takes Chiyo to spy on Mr. Tanaka when he visits a teahouse.
The woman who examines Sayuri and Satsu at the beginning of the novel to determine if they are fit to become geisha.
Hatsumomo’s most loyal client, Shojiro is the Kabuki actor who makes Hatsumomo jealous by flirting with Mameha.
The curt man who transports Satsu and Sayuri to Kyoto.
The famous sumo wrestler who uses his opponents’ own force to unbalance them.
The kimono maker who gives Sayuri a place to live during the war years as a favor to his friend Nobu.
Mameha’s tightlipped dresser who accompanies Sayuri to the Baron’s party.
The young apprentice who asks Sayuri for help to make Nobu like her more.
The man whom the Chairman hopes will marry his oldest daughter and inherit the business.
The Sugi Boy