“As a “gaijin” (foreigner) who spent 6 years in Japan and had ample opportunity to witness many of its social customs, I think it’s worth noting that the setting Mr. Golden creates in his “Memoirs” is very much of a Japan gone by. This is sad. It is precisely the aspects of Sayuri’s world that are the most exotic to us which exemplify the best of what is uniquely Japanese. Modern Japanese cherish the remnants of that romantic past the same way that Americans revere tales of our pioneering forbears–as a way to hold on to, and honor all that was poetic and noble about ourselves.
I think it also bears mentioning that the average Japanese person today knows almost as little about the life of a typical geisha as the average Westener. Geisha entertainment has always been the province of extremely wealthy, powerful men–going to a teahouse to be entertained by geisha served the same function for a Japanese VIP that a British one would find at his tony men’s club. Throughout the centuries that Japan’s entertainment quarters–”the flower and willow world” as they call it–has existed, the number of patrons who could afford top-notch geisha entertainment for themselves and their friends has been an exclusive club indeed. In today’s highly Westernized and technology-worshipping Japan, the idea of a geisha party is nearly as anachronistic and unattainable as it is here. Geisha belong to the same catagory as cowboys, knights on horseback and damsels-in-distress: cultural icons who have no place in the modern world. Mr. Golden does a superb job of capturing some of the magic of Sayuri’s metier for those of us who will never have the opportunity to witness it firsthand. Sayuri and her fellow geisha may be trained from birth to be beautiful flowers, but they are also very human “working girls” (and I don’t mean that in the sense of prostitute) Although there is an ever-present sexual overtone to the role of geisha, 99% of the time it is subliminal rather than overt, which I think Mr. Golden makes clear. I agree with one of the other reviewers who equated a geisha mistress with a Western “trophy wife”. This is a very apt description. While wives are chosen for their docility, domestic skills, and breeding potential, a geisha mistress provides color, dash and sexual sauce for those who are lucky enough to afford them. However, in today’s economy, a man would have to sport a bankroll the size of Donald Trump’s to be a serious contender for a geisha mistress.” ~From a review of an unrelated book, Memoirs of a Geisha, by Hikari.