Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Autobiography of a Geisha” as Want to Read:
Autobiography of a Geisha
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Autobiography of a Geisha

3.92  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,176 Ratings  ·  123 Reviews
The glamorous world of big-city geisha is familiar to many readers, but little has been written of the life of hardship and pain led by the hot-springs-resort geisha. Indentured to geisha houses by families in desperate poverty, deprived of freedom and identity, these young women lived in a world of sex for sale, unadorned by the trappings of wealth and celebrity.

Sayo Masu
Paperback, 185 pages
Published June 1st 2005 by Columbia University Press (first published 2003)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Autobiography of a Geisha, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Autobiography of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur GoldenGeisha, a Life by Mineko IwasakiGeisha by Liza DalbyAutobiography of a Geisha by Sayo MasudaGeisha by John Gallagher
4th out of 28 books — 111 voters
Norwegian Wood by Haruki MurakamiThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki MurakamiKafka on the Shore by Haruki MurakamiBattle Royale by Koushun TakamiHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Best Japanese Books
140th out of 479 books — 2,172 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sayo Masuda was born out of wedlock, and when her mother would no longer have her because of the associated shame, she was sent to work as a nursemaid. Later, when she was older, her uncle sold her to a geisha house. During this time, no one cared for her or comforted her, and no one taught her anything useful – she spent most of her young life fearing other human beings because her interactions with them had always been painful or unpleasant.

Masuda, or Little Crane, as she came to be called, w
Molly Brewer
Very recently I read Mineko Iwasaki's Geisha: A Life and I had a lot to say about that one. I have a lot less to say about Sayo Masuda's personal account of her life as a country resort geisha in the days before WWII; in short, it's less procedural than Iwasaki's book, but far more touching, and I liked it much more.

Iwasaki's world was one of privileged luxury, consummate arts training, the glamour of Kyoto's Gion Kobu district, and the wealth and prestige that came with being a high-class geiko
There are two kinds of Geisha. There of the Geisha of Gion and Tokyo, who pride themselves as being not only social entertainers but also artists. Sex is almost always implied, never overt. Then there are the Hot Springs Geisha. For these geisha, shamisen and dance are not an art unto themselves, they are a means to an end. Sex is the ultimate goal, and the line between artist and prostitute is so blurred it is almost non-existent.

Sayo Masuda wrote about her experiences as a pre-WWII hot springs
Jun 21, 2011 Sally906 rated it liked it
Masuda Sayo was a geisha in a rural part of Japan. Her story starts when she was six years old. Rejected by her mother as she was an illegitimate child, Masuda was sent to be a nursemaid at an age where she should still have been in the nursery herself. When she was twelve she was sold to a geisha house. Masuda relates her training years – then describes how she was sold to an elderly man when she was only sixteen. He had a wife and a mistress already.

This is a terrible story to read – in that
Katie Mcsweeney
I really enjoyed this (very quick) read. I picked it up in Oxfam because it looked so beautiful; a slim volume with a cherry blossom kimono print on the inside and back cover. I think I loved it before I even started reading...

I love Masuda's style; she is clear and her prose is precise. She tells her story without hyperbole or self indulgence. Her life was tough but not without joy; her biography is a testament to the human ability to endure. Her description of life as a geisha is surprising,
Jan 07, 2012 BoekenTrol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: klaradyn
Despite it is a very sad book, I liked to read it.
Not because I love to read about other people's misery, but because this autobiography gave a better look into the reality of a geisha's training.
It was not easy to read about the difficulties Matsuda faced as a child, being sent away again and again, lacking a loving family and, when she was a grown up, the circumstances of war. Reading about what she had to do to survive, how desperate she has been was not pleasant, but I am glad I did read t
Althea Ann
Aug 26, 2011 Althea Ann rated it it was amazing
Not just a good book, but an important one.
Sayo Masuda's memoir gives an unembellished, unromanticized view of what it was really like to live and work as a geisha. It's a story of extreme poverty and oppression, but her resilience, spirit and humor shine through. It feels to me as though translator Rowley truly captured her authentic voice - the tale seems honest and sincere. The author never flinches from telling the bad along with the good, and the result is a story which truly shows the univ
Jun 14, 2009 Chelsea rated it it was amazing
This one's depressing. I read Autobiography of a Geisha at my roommate's insistance after I read Memoirs of a Geisha (Yes, I know it took a long time.) As opposed to Memoirs which is based on a retelling of the life of a geisha, Autobiography is the life of Sayo Masuda in her own words, translated by G. G. Rowley. She originally wrote a short version to enter in a contest because she needed the prize money. When contacted by a publisher, she wrote a longer version to help supplement her meger in ...more
Sam Still Reading
Oct 30, 2010 Sam Still Reading rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people interested in Japanese culture
Recommended to Sam Still Reading by: bought it at Borders
As the title states, this is a true story of a Japanese geisha in the 1940s and 1950s. Beware though: it’s not the beautiful sweetness that you read or saw in Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha. No, life as a geisha was not about that for Masuda-san.

Masuda-san was sold by her parents to act as a nursemaid (as a child- not much bigger than the children she was meant to look after) and then again by an uncle to a geisha house. She had little education and could barely read and write. There she an
Monica Akinyi Odhiambo
Mar 07, 2013 Monica Akinyi Odhiambo rated it it was amazing
A true reflection of what Geishas went through.Sayo Masuda had a really challenging life,which sometimes would move me to tears.Being forced at an early age of 12 years,into a life where there's no respect or regard for women with very low wages-paying off debts that probably accrued from your parents.Its just sad how someone could sell you off,like that and you get to work for them for years before you even pay it off.Your work is just to entertain and be used as a vessel by your patron.Going t ...more
A little gem I picked up second hand. I read this after reading Memoirs of a Geisha, and it's non-fiction to Memoirs' fiction, as well as portraying the life of a geisha in a hot springs resort as opposed to the very rich and priviliged life of a big city geisha, as the one in Memoirs. The writing style, closely translated from the original japanese, has such an honest charm to it. I really enjoyed this book.
May 27, 2013 Jewel rated it liked it
Agony, despair, and teeth-grinding misery are great words to describe Sayo Masuda's autobiography. In many ways, this account reminds me of the American autobiography of an abused child, "A Child Called 'It'" that was released in the 90s. Each page is filled with so much suffering and gut wrenching misfortune meagerly accompanied by tiny moments of happiness.

As depressing as this autobiography was, I think it's an essential read for anyone interested in pre WWII/immediate post WWII Japan. The tr
Delicious Strawberry
If you want to learn more about the life of geisha, this isn't quite the book for you. Much of this memoir doesn't concentrate on the details of geisha life, which I was sad about. After having read the fictional 'Memoirs of a Geisha' and Mineko Iwasaki's autobiography 'Geisha of Gion', I was hoping to see more into the life of a lower-ranked geisha, because the other books fictional or not were about geisha that were more lucky.

Personally I wouldn't have forgiven my mother for what she did if I
Yun Zhen
May 13, 2012 Yun Zhen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian-stories
It was a refreshingly straight forward read. It provided a realistic look into the lives of geishas and was a good contrast to the glamourous portrayal of geishas in movies and books today. It is hard even to imagine how Masuda managed to surmount every difficulty that life threw at her and she emerged at the end of the account as an woman to be respected. The account of her life itself is inspiring as she sailed through all odds while life didn't treat her well, it still did give her cruel chan ...more
Jul 24, 2014 Jim rated it really liked it
Despite the romance that the word "geisha" conjures in the minds of most Americans, the fancy kimonos and painted female entertainers, the reality of the system was often brutal, punishing, demeaning, and even deadly, especially for young girls trapped in the smaller towns and spas, where being a geisha was little better than a life of prostitution or being a mistress. Yet, this existence was often better than the alternative for many girls, who were frequently treated as little more than a prod ...more
Heyrebekah Alm
Feb 18, 2009 Heyrebekah Alm rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A darker, gritter, more honest nonfiction cousin to Memoirs of a Geisha. Sayo Masuda's writing (in excellent translation) is amazingly clear, open and conversational. Her life story struck me as quite unique but also, sadly, probably all too common at the time. At only 160 pages, this is a quick but powerful read.
Jan 08, 2016 Belikova rated it really liked it
This heart-touching book follows the story of a struggling girl at the bottom of Japanese society. Abandoned by her family, she suffered as a victim of child labour and abuse (practically a slave); and to make matters worse, was taken to a geisha house to become a prostitute.

In the book, we get to read about the different stages of her life and all the tragedies that marked each phase. Her story is filled with hardship after hardship, and you can't help but wonder at her strength to persevere an
Eric DeBellis
To call this book heartbreaking would be to reduce it to a disarming cliche. It's much more compelling than a "woe was me" tearjerker. Masuda's matter-of-fact account of her youth as a girl whose parents sold her to be raised as a product for consumption is at once chilling, humbling, and oddly inspirational. Not that suffering is inspirational. It isn't, but pushing on after repeated blows that would crush most people is. Not that Masuda was a paragon of stoic resolve. She lost her will to live ...more
Dec 05, 2014 Peter rated it really liked it
Quite a story!

This book is recommended reading for anyone interested in what living in wartime and immediate postwar Japan was like. It is also recommended for anyone who has read Arthur Golden’s golden story of that poor Geisha who had such a happy ending by finding her way to becoming a mistress, which I found so disheartening. I found Golden’s story to be unnecessarily uplifting, or at least not bleak, in a similar way that Dickens always seemed to be able to pull the hero out of the muck af
Jan 07, 2014 okyrhoe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: japan, bookcrossing
When I read Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha I found there was a certain falseness to the narrative. Of course it was a fictional account (albeit based on interviews with a former geisha), and therefore removed to a certain extent from reality.
I also read Mineko Iwasaki's autobiography Geisha of Gion which gave a more realistic view of the secluded life of the geisha.
Even though they have a busy social life, and may develop close/longstanding relationships with their clients, these young wom
Jan 04, 2012 Dreamtinheist rated it liked it
Autobiography of a Geisha has none of the glamour usually shown in other books and movies about the life of a geisha. Sayo Masuda endured many hardships from an early age that did not stop when she became a full-fledged geisha. It was interesting to read for awhile; yet, I felt that she was holding something back or discussing certain parts of her life in such a way to emphasize a certain point or moral. After going through and struggling to get out the sex trade (geisha at a hot-springs resort) ...more
Sep 05, 2014 Bahia rated it really liked it
Actually written by a real life Geisha this book was a fascinating look into the hard life of Geisha. Beginning with being sold to a Geisha house, Masuda tells her story in simple, yet compelling language. She was an intelligent woman and well trained in the Geisha arts, but her ability to read and write did not progress beyond hiragana. She tells a story of struggle and sadness, putting "Memoirs of a Geisha" to shame with its honest depiction of the Geisha life.
Feb 13, 2013 Lyndsey rated it really liked it
Masuda presents an account of her life, starting with her early indenture to a geisha house, and she details some of the more unsavory aspects of the job. Unlike the characters of Memoirs of a Geisha, (which I still haven't read and am not in a hurry to read) which presents a more rosy view of the trade, Masuda was a "hot springs" geisha. In addition to all of the typical geisha skills such as dancing, music, art and conversation, she was also a prostitute in a hot springs town. The book is a wr ...more
Jan 05, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned-books, 2014
The beautiful and heart wrenching life of Sayo Masuda a former resort geisha really hit me hard. I enjoy learning about others lives and those less fortunate allow me to appreciate my life and strives to make me want to help others more. Filled with the moral implications of prostitution and child abandonment Masuda's simple prose is easy to follow and powerful. Those who have been enchanted by the harsh but glamorous life shown in 'Memoirs of a Geisha' need to read this and other real accounts, ...more
Lilith Noir
Jul 21, 2015 Lilith Noir rated it really liked it
Shelves: sex-work
This firsthand account is the perfect antidote to way geisha are often thought of by Americans.
The life Sayo had after she was sold to a geisha house shortly before World War II was certainly not glamorous or luxurious. This story is full of hardship and petty cruelty.

I enjoyed this story especially since Sayo narrates even the most terrible things that happened to her in a matter-of-fact way. Her voice is worlds apart from the typical "misery memoir" since she never seems to invite pity or ad
Haley  *don't touch the sleeping pills*
Autobiography of a Geisha is the true life story of Sayo Masuda. She was sold to a geisha house when she was twelve years old. She became a full geisha at the age of sixteen. This book is so... raw and honest. My heart ached for Sayo throughout the book. She had a hard life, yet she had the courage to tell her story to others. The writing is simple yet well done. The book ends when Sayo gets a job as a nanny watching children. It ends with a sense of hope, that Sayo's luck was finally becoming b ...more
Feb 01, 2015 Deodand rated it it was amazing
This book strips away the delicate talk about the artistry of geisha life. She confirms that there was an element of slavery involved. Geishas were sold into indenture and the money went to their families. If their contracts were extended, their families were paid again for their services. The life of a hot springs geisha was rather cheap, and only worth buying for a few years. Disease and suicide were not uncommon.

Masuda makes her painful story readable with a distinctive voice. The translation
Apr 01, 2011 Emily rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The most remarkable thing about this book is the author's voice. Although you have to wonder how much was altered in translation from Japanese to English, it is still very compelling. I think with memoirs you can always tell whether the author is trying to gloss over negative aspects of their life, but Masuda is unapologetic and genuine. This is not the soft, lyrical story of Arthur Golden, but the real thing, expressed by someone who was there. A very rich and evocative memoir.
May 02, 2010 chucklesthescot rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: asian literature readers
This book smashes the myth of the glamorous life of the geisha,escort to rich men who pay for their company.This is the story of a geisha who was brought up in a geisha house and then used as a prostitute.Her life was brutal,shocking and upsetting,showing the fate of girls who catch diseases from clients and how you are suddenly on the street fending for yourself when the geisha house no longer wants you. It was a disturbing yet compelling read.
Sep 21, 2015 Babs rated it liked it
This is such a sad little book. Right from the start you get a sense of the feelings of abandonment Sayo Masuda felt. Her earliest years were spent as a nursemaid to a local family before she was sold into the Geisha profession. She never knew her father, nor most of her step-siblings, at all. She only had minimal contact with her mother - but never felt loved by her - and only became close to one of her step-brothers later in life.

The Geisha life Sayo endured was at the lower end of the scale -
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Depressing or inspirational? 1 10 Aug 21, 2013 10:06AM  
  • A Geisha's Journey: My Life As a Kyoto Apprentice
  • Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha
  • Geisha
  • Rivalry: A Geisha's Tale
  • Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance and Art
  • The Diary of Lady Murasaki
  • The Gossamer Years: The Diary of a Noblewoman of Heian Japan
  • Geisha, a Life
  • Geisha
  • Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Years of an Erotic Tradition
  • Confessions of a Yakuza
  • Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S.
  • Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan
  • Geisha: The Life, the Voices, the Art
  • A Year in Japan
  • Dogs and Demons: Tales From the Dark Side of Modern Japan
  • As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams: Recollections of a Woman in Eleventh-Century Japan
  • The Concubine's Children
Masuda was born in 1925, near the town of Shiojiri in Nagano Prefecture. During her later teen years, into her early twenties, she was an onsen geisha at a hot-spring resort in Japan. After this, she became a prostitute, vigorously protesting the passage of anti-prostitution laws. She eventually got a job making soap for a Korean worker, which she held for several months. When the soap business fa ...more
More about Sayo Masuda...

Share This Book

“When someone who's starved of love is shown something that looks like sincere affection, is it any wonder that she jumps at it and clings to it?” 31 likes
“What a lovely place this world would be if only people would feel affection for everyone else, and all the ugliness of the human heart were to vanish - our envy of those better off than ourselves and our scorn for those worse off.” 9 likes
More quotes…