Study Guide

Memoirs of a Geisha What's Up With the Title?

By Arthur Golden

What's Up With the Title?

A Work of Art

The meaning of the title might seem obvious. This is a book written as if it were a memoir by a geisha. But there is a little more to it than that.

One thing we must know is exactly what the word "geisha" means. Thankfully Sayuri defines it for us:

The "gei" of "geisha" means "arts," so the word "geisha" really means "artisan" or "artist." (11.27)

Sayuri is talented in the art of being a geisha, and although her main method of communication is dance, her dances are stories. Sayuri is a skilled storyteller, which is why her story is so compelling, even when she isn't moving her feet to the beat.

There is also a mini-memoir within the book. Hatsumomo finds a journal in Sayuri's room. It's a diary of her life. She tells us, "I wrote only about my thoughts and feelings" (27.9). We think it's a missed opportunity for her to name-drop the book's title. But she tells us, "Sometimes […] I think the things I remember are more real than the things I see" (35.34).

By recalling her life story, she is able to make it real again. The book is important to both Sayuri and her readers. The memoir illuminates the life of a geisha. And for Sayuri, it brings back—if only in her memory—all her friends and family who are dead and gone.