memoirs-of-a-geisha chapter 10


And then there’s the kimono. In the beginning I could hardly walk at all in the special kimono that novices wore. I was worried that I might fall over. Young girls wear a very long obi — the wide belt around the kimono. It’s longer than the obi that older women wear. The obi is very heavy and so long that it will go from one end of a room to the other. The kimono itself is also very heavy, with long sleeves.

And the colors on a novice’s kimono… Years later I met a famous scientist from Kyoto University. He’d been to Africa and seen all the brightly colored monkeys; the most colorful animals in the world. But he said that a novice geisha from Gion in kimono was brighter than any of them.

One sunny October afternoon I was wearing my novice’s kimono and had my hair in novice style, when Mameha and I left Mameha’s apartment and walked along the Shirakawa. We were watching the leaves of the cherry trees float down to the water. Many people were out walking there and all of them bowed to Mameha. In many cases they also bowed to me. I wondered if the Chairman would think I looked beautiful. I found myself looking out for him in the street, as I often did.

«After two years of training you’re getting rather well-known, don’t you think?» said Mameha. «People are always asking me about the girl with the lovely gray eyes. You won’t be called Chiyo much longer.»

«Does Mameha-san mean to say…»

«You’re going to make a fine geisha,» said Mameha, «but you 11 make an even better one if you think about what you are saying with your eyes.»

«I didn’t know I was saying anything with them,» I said.

«A woman can say more with her eyes than with any other part of her body,» said Mameha, «especially in your case. So I think we can say that you are ready to start as a geisha as soon as you can make a man faint with your eyes.»

«Mameha-san!» I said. «If I could do that, I’m sure I would know about it by now.»

But I wanted to be a geisha so much that I would have tried to make a tree faint if Mameha had told me to. The first man we saw was so old, though, that he looked like a kimono full of bones. He didn’t notice me at all, so we turned into Shijo Avenue.

There was a delivery boy carrying some lunch boxes.

«Make him drop his boxes,» said Mameha, and she crossed the street and disappeared.

I didn’t think it was possible for a girl of sixteen to make a young man drop something just by looking at him; maybe these things happened in movies and books. But I noticed that the young man was already looking at me the way a hungry cat looks at a mouse. And I also noticed that although most of the streets in Gion didn’t have a curb, this one did.

I looked up at him, smiled, then looked down again. After a few more steps I did the same thing again. When we were close, I moved into his path and looked him right in the eye. He tried to move out of my way, but his feet hit the curb and he went down. Well, I couldn’t help laughing! And I’m happy to say the young man began to laugh too. I helped him pick up his boxes, gave him a little smile before he bowed to me more deeply than any man had ever bowed before, and then he went on his way.

The ceremony took place at the Ichiriki Teahouse, which is certainly the best-known teahouse in all of Japan. You can’t see most teahouses from the street, but the Ichiriki, on Shijo Avenue, is as obvious as a palace-which is what it looked like to me.

Two of Mameha s Younger Sisters and Mrs. Nitta came to the ceremony, which lasted about ten minutes. Mameha and I drank sake together. I drank three times and then passed her the cup and she drank three times. We did this with three different cups and then it finished.

From that moment, I was no longer known as Chiyo. I was the novice geisha Sayuri.


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