memoirs-of-a-geisha chapter 13


Nobu Toshikazu

«We still have a few weeks before Mrs. Nitta adopts Pumpkin,» said Mameha. «We are going to have to take action, and quickly.»

I nodded unhappily, not knowing what action we could take; but it seemed that at last Mameha had a plan.

«Do you know about mizuage?» Mameha asked me.

The question reminded me of Hatsumomo’s terrible story, so I looked down and said nothing.

Mameha looked at me kindly. «The word mizu means ‘water’ and age means ‘raise up.'»

Mameha then told me what happens when a man spends the night with a woman. She said that some men would pay a lot to be the first one to spend the night with a geisha-the mizuage night. Mameha planned to introduce me to two men who she hoped would bid against each other for my mizuage.

«And then one of them would become my danna?» I asked. I can’t say I felt very enthusiastic about that. When I thought about things like that, I always thought about the Chairman. I thought about him all the time anyway.

«Not necessarily,» said Mameha. «For some men the mizuage is enough. Other men will be a geisha’s danna only after her mizuage.»

«So the Baron…» I said, but then I stopped because of the look on Mameha’s face.

Baron Matsunaga Tsuneyoshi was Mameha’s danna. He paid for Mameha’s lovely apartment, where we were having this conversation. Before World War II there were quite a few barons in Japan but Matsunaga Tsuneyoshi was one of the richest of them. He lived in Tokyo, where his family controlled one of Japan’s large banks, but he owned a lot of land around Kyoto. He visited Mameha whenever he was in the area and he was the danna of another geisha in Tokyo too.

«No, the Baron didn’t take my mizuage,» Mameha said, in a way that made it clear that the subject was closed.

«It’s strange that Hatsumomo hasn’t got a danna,» I said, to change the subject.

Mameha smiled, pleased to change the subject and pleased with my growing skill at conversation, which of course is an important skill for a geisha.

«She had a danna at one time,» said Mameha. «And of course she has a lot of admirers. But somehow she angered the mistress of the Mizuki, her main teahouse, so the mistress always told men that Hatsumomo wasn’t available. The men probably thought that she already had a danna.»

Then I remembered the evening years ago when a man visited the okiya late at night and spent the night with Hatsumomo. In the morning, Pumpkin and I heard Hatsumomo crying because the man said he was going back to his wife and didn’t want to visit her anymore. Pumpkin said he was a cook at one of the restaurants in Gion. She also told me that if Mrs. Nitta ever found out that Hatsumomo brought men back to the okiya, the situation would be serious, even for a geisha as great as Hatsumomo.

«What are you thinking about Sayuri?» asked Mameha.

«Nothing, Mameha-san,» I replied.

Mameha smiled. «You are growing up, Sayuri,» she said.

Mameha was still attending a morning engagement when I arrived at her apartment. Her maid showed me into the dressing room to help me with my make-up, and afterward brought in the kimono that Mameha had chosen for me. Mameha had let me wear her kimonos before, but in fact it’s unusual for a geisha to lend her kimonos to a Younger Sister. Mameha was showing great kindness to me.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the beautiful kimono that was laid out on the futon for me was well-known in Gion; people who saw it probably thought of Mameha at once. When she allowed me to wear it, she was transferring some of her magic as a geisha to me.

It was the loveliest kimono I’d ever worn-orange silk with a silver waterfall pouring from the knee into a deep blue ocean. The obi was brown with gold in it. When Mr. Itchoda, Mameha’s dresser, had tied the obi, I put the Chairman’s handkerchief in it. I’d brought it from the okiya. I always put it in the sleeve when I wore a kimono. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and my mouth fell open in amazement at how I looked.

It was amazing to me that Mameha had arranged for me to look so beautiful; but then when she returned to her apartment, she herself changed into a fairly plain kimono. She had the quiet beauty of a pearl, as she always did, but when we walked down the street together, the women who bowed at Mameha were looking at me.

From the Gion Shrine, we rode north in a rickshaw for half an hour, into an area of Kyoto I’d never seen. Along the way Mameha told me we’d be attending a sumo wrestling exhibition as the guests of Iwamura Ken, who had started Iwamura Electric in Osaka. Iwamura’s right-hand man, Nobu Toshikazu, President of Iwamura Electric, would also be there. Nobu was quite a fan of sumo. He was also one of the men Mameha hoped would bid for my mizuage.

«I should tell you,» Mameha said, «that Nobu looks a little… strange. If you behave well, you will impress him greatly.»

Mameha gave me a look: she would be disappointed in me if I didn’t. But at least we wouldn’t have to worry about Hatsumomo, Mameha told me, maybe to change the subject. Tickets to the exhibition had been sold out weeks before.


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