memoirs-of-a-geisha chapter 19


Sayuri Becomes a Geisha

Before my mizuage night, I had to «turn the collar» — change from an apprentice to a geisha. The change is called «turning the collar because an apprentice wears a red collar on the underskirt which shows below her kimono, while a geisha wears a white one. I turned seventeen around the same time, in the summer of 1938.

The day I turned my collar was one of the happiest of Mrs. Nitta’s life; or at least she acted more pleased than I’ve ever seen her. I didn’t understand it at the time, but it’s perfectly clear to me now what she was thinking. A geisha, unlike an apprentice, is available to a man for more than just pouring his tea, for the right fee. And because of my connection with Mameha and my increasing popularity in Gion, that fee was probably going to be large.

In the end, Dr. Crab offered more than Nobu for my mizuage, 11,500 yen. Until that time, this was the highest amount ever paid for a mizuage in Gion, and possibly in any of the geisha districts of Japan. My mizuage fee was more than a worker earned in a year. Even Mameha’s mizuage, although a few years earlier, cost only 8,000 yen.

The mizuage fee was, of course, the reason Mrs. Nitta adopted me. If she hadn’t adopted me, some of that money would have fallen into my hands-and I can just imagine how my new Mother would have felt about that!

But, as Mother said to me, «One day the okiya will be yours.» We were in her room, sitting at her table, with smoke from her pipe filling the room. I couldn’t think of anything to say, but she didn’t seem to notice. «You and I will perform a ceremony next week,» she said. «After that, you’ll be my daughter just as if you’d been born to me.»

I was finding it difficult to concentrate on what she was saying; the changes were so great. Mother was telling me that as daughter of the okiya I would sooner or later move into the big room used by Hatsumomo. Hatsumomo would have to share with Pumpkin.

I watched Mother’s gray mouth moving and slowly realized that this had always been Mameha’s plan but I’d never really believed it would happen.

As this thought came into my mind, the door opened and Hatsumomo herself was there.

«What do you want?» Mother said. «I’m busy.»

«Get out,» Hatsumomo said to me. «I want to talk with Mother.»

«If you want to talk with me,» Mother said, «you may ask Sayuri if she’ll be kind enough to leave.»

«Be kind enough to leave, Sayuri,» said Hatsumomo in a funny voice that was supposed to sound like me.

And then, for the first time in my life, I spoke back to her without the fear that she would punish me for it.

«I’ll leave if Mother wants me to,» I told her.

«Mother, would you be kind enough to make The Little Fish Girl leave the room?» Hatsumomo said.

«Don’t talk about Sayuri like that,» said Mother. «Now, what do you want?»

The tiny figure of Hatsumomo stood over us, so near that I could smell her perfume.

«Poor Pumpkin’s just come running to me, very upset,» she began. «I promised her I’d speak with you. She told me something very strange. She said, ‘Oh, Hatsumomo! Mother’s changed her mind!’ But I told her I doubted it was true.»

«I don’t know what she meant. I certainly haven’t changed my mind about anything recently,» said Mother.

«So you haven’t changed your mind about adopting her?»

«What gave you that idea? I was never going to adopt Pumpkin.»

It hurt me to hear Mother say this, not only because it wasn’t true, but for Pumpkin’s sake. Hatsumomo looked at me with hatred.

«You haven’t helped Pumpkin in her apprenticeship as well as I’d hoped,» Mother said to Hatsumomo. «She was doing well for a time, but lately…»

«You promised, Mother,» said Hatsumomo. It was frightening to hear her. She didn’t sound like a person at all, more like an animal-a wounded cat.

«Sayuri will be my daughter in one week,» said Mother. «Between now and then you must learn to treat her with respect. When you go downstairs, ask the maid to bring tea for Sayuri and me.»

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, even though she was older than me. Mother and Hatsumomo and Mameha had all done it, of course, and I was probably much more aware than they were of having had a shared experience.

After mizuage a geisha wears her hair in a new style, with a red silk hairband not a patterned one. For a time, I was so aware of which geisha had red silk hairbands and which had patterned ones that I hardly seemed to notice anything else while walking along the street. I had a new respect for the ones who had been through mizuage, and felt more experienced than the ones who hadn’t.

But I didn’t just see the world differently after mizuage. My day-to-day life changed as well because of Mother’s new view of me. Mother was the sort of person who puts a price on everything. Before my mizuage, I don’t think it made any difference to her that Hatsumomo was making trouble for me in Gion when she could. But now I had a high price on me, so she stopped Hatsumomo’s troublemaking.


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