Study Guide

Memoirs of a Geisha Coming of Age

By Arthur Golden

Coming of Age

"Never forget them, Chiyo-chan," [Auntie] said. "They're all that's left of your childhood." (8.64)

One tragic part of some coming-of-age stories is the death of the protagonist's parents. For Chiyo, that event comes very soon, and without her being there. It is very sad, but so was her whole childhood, so it fits.

I suppose that by "dignity" I mean a kind of self-confidence, or certainty. (12.90)

Part of coming-of-age means that Chiyo feels more comfortable in her own skin, even if that skin is covered in a forty-pound kimono and eight pounds of makeup.

Evidently in the six months since I'd last seen them, I'd changed more than I realized. (13.8)

Chiyo experiences quite a growth spurt in her early teens, which makes her noticeable, both to fellow geisha and to the creepy men who love geisha.

I may have been no more than fourteen, but it seemed to me I'd lived two lives already. My new life was still beginning, though my old life had come to an end some time ago. (13.44)

Chiyo definitely lives a more difficult life than most young people her age, but that makes the book interesting. No one wants to read a boring coming-of-age story where everything goes perfectly for the main character.

I've heard it said that the week in which a young girl prepares for her debut as an apprentice geisha is like when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. (14.1)

A young girl becoming an apprentice (and later a geisha) is a metamorphosis of sorts, coming with an assortment of new, colorful kimonos. It's like a coming-out ritual for a debutante or other sort of society girl to mark her coming of age.

Every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass of a shop, I felt I was someone to be taken seriously; not a girl anymore, but a young woman. (14.11)

We're surprised Sayuri existed before Britney Spears, because Britney would sing of exactly this same feeling many years later.

I thought Sayuri was a lovely name, but it felt strange not to be known as Chiyo any longer. (14.21)

Sayuri is basically Chiyo's adult name, but haven't we all experience a similar feeling— that it feels strange to be growing up?

"A woman's cave is particularly special to a man if no other eel has ever been in it before. Do you understand? We call this mizuage." (19.56)

Losing your virginity is a big part of any coming-of-age story, but Memoirs of a Geisha cranks up the discomfort on this often-awkward event by auctioning off Sayuri's virginity to the highest bidder.

It's strange and very hard to explain, but the world looked different to me after mizuage. Pumpkin, who hadn't yet had hers, now seemed inexperienced and childlike to me somehow, even though she was older. (24.33)

Some people feel cocky after losing their virginity, as if the world is different and they are somehow more mature than others. Sayuri is one of these people.

The mortuary tablets back in the okiya were all that remained of my childhood. (34.18)

This quote echoes the first one we mentioned in this section and emphasizes the powerful imagery. "Mortuary" shows us that Sayuri's childhood, and her younger identity as Chiyo, are dead and gone.