Study Guide

Memoirs of a Geisha Sexuality

By Arthur Golden


Like prostitutes, their lower-class counterparts, geisha are often in the unusual position of knowing whether this or that public figure really does put his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else. (Translator's Note.7)

What makes a geisha "high class" and a prostitute "low class" when they both sell sex? Is it because a prostitute does it more often? Or that a geisha costs more and has more hoops to jump through to get it?

Satsu had her scratchy bathing dress up around her shoulders and the Sugi boy was playing around with her "Mount Fujis," as the boys called them. (2.2)

This event early on serves as an introduction to sexuality for young Chiyo, and it's something strange and unfamiliar. It will be strange and unfamiliar to her for her whole life.

She put a finger between my legs and gave what felt to me like a pinch, in such a way that I cried out. (2.58)

Speaking of strange and unfamiliar, getting poked by weird old women is definitely both of these. Although Chiyo doesn't quite understand why the woman is checking to see if she's "intact," this event foreshadows to readers that her virginity will be of crucial importance to her becoming a geisha.

Japanese men, as a rule, feel about a woman's neck and throat the same way that men in the West might feel about a woman's legs. (5.34)

This quote is an interesting bit of trivia regarding the sexual proclivity of Japanese men, and it also explains why geisha paint themselves the way they do, often leaving a suggestive trail of skin uncovered by white paint on the backs of their necks.

Despite all these extravagant expenses, [the danna will] continue to pay her usual hourly fee whenever he spends time with her, just as her other customers do. But he's also entitled to certain "privileges." (12.71)

Here is one difference between a prostitute and a geisha. It appears that a geisha will only take on one "client" of a sexual nature at a time, unlike a prostitute who might have multiple clients in one night.

"Most of these innocent little girls have no idea how provocative the 'split peach' hairstyle really is! Imagine that you're walking along behind a young geisha, thinking all sorts of naughty thoughts about what you might like to do to her, and then you see on her this split-peach shape, with a big splash of red inside the cleft…and what do you think of?" (14.7)

This is probably one of the most suggestive images in the book, but if you look at a picture of the actual hairstyle (in our "Best of the Web" section), it doesn't look as sexual as this random man claims it does.

"Can you imagine looking at the private parts of this girl across the table? […] Probably she's no different from a baby!" (15.23)

What's creepy is that most of the men at the table probably are imagining Sayuri naked. They don't care how young she is.

"Every man seated here has at some point his afternoon thought of how much he would enjoy seeing you naked. What do you think of that?" (20.44)

Here is the Baron talking, proving our point about quote #7. For a geisha, this can be both objectifying and empowering at the same time.

To press my body against his felt so satisfying, like a meal after a long spell of hunger. (26.15)

The one time Sayuri has a sexual encounter of her own choosing, it is pleasant, but short-lived, because a geisha must conduct these kinds of affairs in secret, and Sayuri doesn't keep the affair going.

Somehow I felt like a fifteen-year-old girl again, because the feeling was so strangely reminiscent of Dr. Crab. I even heard myself whimper. (32.86)

The book often makes Sayuri's sexual encounters as repulsive as possible, as if men bidding to have sex with her wasn't creepy enough. Dr. Crab, who takes her virginity, keeps a vial of her blood. And the Minister, whom Sayuri has sex with to hurt Nobu, literally drools all over her. Ick.