Memoirs of a Geisha

Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Memoirs of a Geisha published in 1999.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Suppose that you and I were sitting in a quiet room overlooking a garden, chatting and sipping at our cups of green tea while we talked about something that had happened a long while ago, and I said to you, “That afternoon when I met so-and-so…was the very best afternoon of my life, and also the very worst afternoon.”

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Jakob Haarhuis
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

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Water flows from place to place quickly and always finds a crack to spill through. Wood, on the other hand, holds fast to the earth.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker)
Related Symbols: Water, Rivers, and Streams, Sayuri’s Eyes
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

I found myself wondering if my sister was standing before some other cruel woman, in another house somewhere in this horrible city. And I had a sudden image in my mind of my poor, sick mother propping herself on one elbow upon her futon and looking around to see where we had gone. I didn't want Mother to see me crying, but the tears pooled in my eyes before I could think of how to stop them.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Mother/Ms. Nitta, Satsu Sakamoto, Mrs. Sakamoto
Related Symbols: Sayuri’s Eyes
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

“I’ve found a place to spend my life. I'll work as hard as I have to so they don't send me away. But I'd sooner throw myself off a cliff than spoil my chances to be a geisha like Hatsumomo.”

Related Characters: Pumpkin (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto, Hatsumomo
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

You see, when a geisha wakes up in the morning she is just like any other woman. Her face may be greasy from sleep, and her breath unpleasant. It may be true that she wears a startling hairstyle even as she struggles to open her eyes; but in every other respect she's a woman like any other, and not a geisha at all. Only when she sits before her mirror to apply her makeup with care does she become a geisha. And I don't mean that this is when she begins to look like one. This is when she begins to think like one too.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Hatsumomo
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

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In fact, a geisha leaves a tiny margin of skin bare all around the hairline, causing her makeup to look even more artificial, something like a mask worn in Noh drama. When a man sits beside her and sees her makeup like a mask, he becomes that much more aware of the bare skin beneath.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Hatsumomo
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

Auntie took Hatsumomo by the arms and held her from behind, while Mother began to pull open the seams of Hatsumomo's kimono at the thigh. I thought Hatsumomo would resist, but she didn't. She looked at me with cold eyes as Mother gathered up the koshimaki and pushed her knees apart. Then Mother reached up between her legs, and when her hand came out again her fingertips were wet. She rubbed her thumb and fingers together for a time, and then smelled them. After this she drew back her hand and slapped Hatsumomo across the face, leaving a streak of moisture.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Hatsumomo, Mother/Ms. Nitta, Auntie
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Two seasons have passed since you left Yoroido, and soon the trees will give birth to a new generation of blossoms. Flowers that grow where old ones have withered serve to remind us that death will one day come to us all.

Related Characters: Ichiro Tanaka (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

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The training of an apprentice geisha is an arduous path. However, this humble person is filled with admiration for those who are able to recast their suffering and become great artists…This humble person has been alive long enough to see two generations of children grow up, and knows how rare it is for ordinary birds to give birth to a swan. The swan who goes on living in its parents' tree will die; this is why those who are beautiful and talented bear the burden of finding their own way in the world.

Related Characters: Ichiro Tanaka (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

So many things in my life had changed, even the way I looked; but when I unwrapped the moth from its funeral shroud, it was the same startlingly lovely creature as on the day I had entombed it…It struck me that we—that moth and I—were two opposite extremes. My existence was as unstable as a stream, changing in every way; but the moth was like a piece of stone, changing not at all. While thinking this thought, I reached out a finger to feel the moth's velvety surface; but when I brushed it with my fingertip, it turned all at once into a pile of ash….Now I understood the thing that had puzzled me all morning. The stale air had washed away. The past was gone. My mother and father were dead and I could do nothing to change it.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Minoru Sakamoto, Mrs. Sakamoto
Related Symbols: Water, Rivers, and Streams
Page Number: 107-108
Explanation and Analysis:

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But how can I describe what I saw in that instant? He was looking at me as a musician might look at his instrument just before he begins to play, with understanding and mastery. I felt that he could see into me as though I were a part of him. How I would have loved to be the instrument he played!

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Chairman Ken Iwamura
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

“Those of us with water in our personalities don't pick where we'll flow to. All we can do is flow where the landscape of our lives carries us.”

Related Characters: Mameha (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto
Related Symbols: Water, Rivers, and Streams
Page Number: 125
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

“When I say successful, I mean a geisha who has earned her independence. Until a geisha has assembled her own collection of kimono – or until she's been adopted as the daughter of an okiya, which is just about the same thing –she'll be in someone else's power all her life.”

Related Characters: Mameha (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto, Hatsumomo
Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

It was as if the little girl named Chiyo, running barefoot from the pond to her tipsy house, no longer existed. I felt that this new girl, Sayuri, with her gleaming white face and her red lips, had destroyed her.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker)
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 15 Quotes

I was hardly worthy of these surroundings. And then I became aware of all the magnificent silk wrapped about my body, and had the feeling I might drown in beauty. At that moment, beauty itself struck me as a kind of painful melancholy.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Mameha, The Baron
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 17 Quotes

“I'm the one who picked it,” Mameha said. "The fortune-teller doesn't pick names; he only tells us if they're acceptable."
“One day, Mameha,” Nobu replied, “you'll grow up and stop listening to fools.”
“Now, now, Nobu-san,” said the Chairman, “anyone hearing you talk would think you're the most modern man in the nation. Yet I've never known anyone who believes more strongly in destiny than you do.”
“Every man has his destiny. But who needs to go to a fortuneteller to find it? Do I go to a chef to find out if I'm hungry?” Nobu said.

Related Characters: Toshikazu Nobu (speaker), Chairman Ken Iwamura (speaker), Mameha (speaker)
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 22 Quotes

I would gladly have exchanged the robe the Baron was offering me for some way out of the situation. But he was a man with so much authority that even Mameha couldn't disobey him. If she had no way of refusing his wishes, how could I?... I suppose I finally came to the conclusion that I had no choice but to obey him and pay the consequences, whatever they might be. I lowered my eyes to the mats in shame; and in this same dreamlike state I'd been feeling all along, I became aware of the Baron taking my hand and guiding me through the corridors toward the back of his house.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Mameha, The Baron
Page Number: 260
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 25 Quotes

Since moving to New York I’ve learned what the word “geisha” really means to most Westerners. From time to time at elegant parties, I've been introduced to some young woman or other in a splendid dress and jewelry. When she learns I was once a geisha in Kyoto, she forms her mouth into a sort of smile, although the corners don’t turn up quite as they should… This woman is thinking, “My goodness. I'm talking with a prostitute.” A moment later she's rescued by her escort, a wealthy man a good thirty or forty years older than she is. Well, I often find myself wondering why she can't sense how much we really have in common. She is a kept woman, you see, and in my day, so was I.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker)
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

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The only parties at which I managed to convince myself that my life might still have some purpose, however small, were the ones attended by military men…For several generations, army and navy officers had come to Gion to relax. But now they began to tell us, with watery eyes after their seventh or eighth cup of sake, that nothing kept their spirits up so much as their visits to Gion. Probably this was the sort of thing military officers say to the women they talk with. But the idea that I—who was nothing more than a young girl from the seashore—might truly be contributing something important to the nation…I won't pretend these parties did anything to lessen my suffering; but they did help remind me just how selfish my suffering really was.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker)
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 26 Quotes

“You geisha! There was never a more irritating group of people. You go around consulting your almanacs, saying, ‘Oh, I can't walk toward the east today, because my horoscope says it's unlucky!’ But then when it's a matter of something affecting your entire lives, you simply look the other way.”

Related Characters: Toshikazu Nobu (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

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“I wish I could believe life really is something more than a stream that carries us along, belly-up.”
“All right, if it's a stream, you're still free to be in this part of it or that part, aren't you? The water will divide again and again. If you bump, and tussle, and fight, and make use of whatever advantages you might have…”

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Toshikazu Nobu (speaker)
Related Symbols: Water, Rivers, and Streams
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 28 Quotes

“Sayuri,” he said to me, “I don't know when we will see each other again or what the world will be like when we do. We may both have seen many horrible things. But I will think of you every time I need to be reminded that there is beauty and goodness in the world.”

Related Characters: Toshikazu Nobu (speaker), Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 29 Quotes

Because I’d lived through adversity once before, what I learned about myself was like a reminder of something I'd once known but had nearly forgotten –namely, that beneath the elegant clothing, and the accomplished dancing, and the clever conversation, my life had no complexity at all, but was as simple as a stone falling toward the ground.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker)
Page Number: 348
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 34 Quotes

In the instant before that door opened, I could almost sense my life expanding just like a river whose waters have begun to swell; for I had never before taken such a drastic step to change the course of my own future. I was like a child tiptoeing along a precipice overlooking the sea. And yet somehow I hadn't imagined a great wave might come and strike me there, and wash everything away.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Chairman Ken Iwamura
Related Symbols: Water, Rivers, and Streams
Page Number: 405
Explanation and Analysis:

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And so you can imagine that this kiss, the first real one of my life, seemed to me more intimate than anything I'd ever experienced. I had the feeling I was taking something from the Chairman, and that he was giving something to me, something more private than anyone had ever given me before.

Related Characters: Sayuri Nitta / Chiyo Sakamoto (speaker), Chairman Ken Iwamura
Page Number: 416
Explanation and Analysis:

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