"A story like mine should never be told, for my world is as forbidden as it is fragile, without its mystery, it cannot survive. I certainly wasn't born into the life of a Geisha... like so much in my strange life, I was carried there by the current... "-Sayuri


Zhang Ziyi as Nitta Sayuri

Nitta Sayuri (born Chiyo Sakamoto) is the main protagonist in the 1997 book and 2006 film Memoirs Of A Geisha, where she is portrayed by Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi.

"The heart dies a slow death, shedding each hope like leaves until one day there are none. No hopes. Nothing remains..."-Sayuri

Sayuri's Early Life

The renowned geisha Sayuri started life as Chiyo Sakamoto, the daughter of a poor, elderly fisherman and his sickly wife. She also has an older sister named Satsu; the family lives in what Chiyo calls her "tipsy house", since it leans. Though Chiyo is aware that her mother is very ill, she has no true inclination just how grave her condition was: she is dying of bone cancer and her elderly father, afraid he would not be able to care for his children and worried he would die soon as well, decides to send them to Gion so that they may train to become geishas.


Chiyo carries an Umbrella for Hatsumomo.

"She paints her face to hide her face. Her eyes are deep water. It is not for Geisha to want. It is not for geisha to feel. Geisha is an artist of the floating world. She dances, she sings. She entertains you, whatever you want. The rest is shadows, the rest is secret..." -Sayuri

Chiyo and Satsu are abruptly taken from home and dropped of at the Nitta Okiya, a geisha house run by three women: Mother, Auntie, and Granny. Because of Chiyo's peculiar eyes (grey in the book, blue in the film) Auntie accepts her into the okiya but rejects Satsu, who is then sold at the red-light district, and the two sisters are separated. At the okiya, Chiyo meets another 9-year-old girl named Pumpkin who is also being trained to become a geisha. Pumpkin tells Chiyo to forget Satsu, her parents, and her life before coming to Gion.

Chiyo also meets the beautiful but vicious Hatsumomo, one of Gion's celebrated geishas and the okiya's lone breadwinner. 


Geisha Sayuri

Hatsumomo treats everyone in the house poorly, though her behavior is tolerated because of the money she brings in. Hatsumomo is exceptionally cruel to Chiyo, though Chiyo does not understand why. 

Sayuri and Mameha

One night, Hatsumomo and another geisha named Korin arrive home drunk carrying an exquisite kimono. The women force Chiyo to ruin the kimono, telling her that it belongs to Mameha, whom Hatsumomo hates. She promises to tell Chiyo where her sister is and reluctantly, Chiyo marks the kimino with ink. Hatsumomo and Korin take Chiyo and the ruined kimono back to Mameha's apartment, where Chiyo is forced to return it to Mameha's maid.


Sayuri performing

Mother is furious to learn of Hatsumomo's trick, but adds the cost of replacing the kimono to Chiyo's debt before Auntie beats her with a stick. True to her word, Hatsumomo tells Chiyo where her sister is living, which turns out to be the red light district. One evening, Chiyo is able to leave the okiya and find where Satsu - known as Tatsuyo - is living. Satsu tells her she came to the okiya months ago, but Hatsumomo was the one who answered the door and she refused to tell Chiyo anything. Satsu tells her that she will run away in a week's time, and that she must meet her so they can escape together.

When Chiyo returns home, she stumbles upon Hatsumomo and her secret boyfriend. Mother is furious to find out and forbids Hatsumomo from seeing him again; she also locks the front gate and bans everyone from leaving.

Chiyo spends all week trying to figure out a way to escape, before finally deciding to go over the roof. Unfortunately, she slips and breaks her arm. Mother informs Chiyo that her sister has ran away and that she will no longer be training to be a geisha. Chiyo will instead pay off her debts as a servant.

A short time later, Auntie informs Chiyo that only a few weeks after leaving her home, both her parents passed away. Chiyo is devastated and gives up hope, believing she will spend the rest of her life as a servant.

One day, several years later, Chiyo meets a man known as the Chairman while running errands. He finds Chiyo upset and gives her money to buy some shaved ice and his handkerchief to wipe her face afterwards. The Chairman leaves and Chiyo's spirits are raised: she is now determined to become a geisha and find that man again.

The Greastest Geisha In Gion

Though not a very good student, Pumpkin has become Hatsumomo's apprentice (known as her "younger sister") and Chiyo becomes jealous. After Granny's funeral, the okiya is visited by Mameha, who inquires about Chiyo and eventually persuades Mother to reinvest in her training, with Mameha acting as her older sister.

She embarasses Hatsumomo in a formal party which causes her to slap her in the face and tell her in her bedroom that "I shall destroy you" so she sprends nasty rumors about Sayuri at the events she and Pumpkin go to and Pumpkin going against her geisha sister's orders never to talk to her again? tells her after 1 of their clients Dr. Crab refusal to see both she and Mameha one night? tells her one of the rumors she told him about her.

Almost ruining Mameha's plans for a bidding war for Sayuri's mizuage, a ceremony where an apprentice geisha loses her virginty to a wealthy client in order to become a full geisha but before the ceremony and at a party? Mameha's danna (Japaness for wealthy benefactor) tries to sexually assault Sayuri at a party he was throwing in which lead to rumors that she had already lost her virginty to him which angered Mameha but the bidding war still continued.


Geisha Sayuri performing the snow dance.

The Baron was the highest bidder but because of his actions towards her proteige? she let Dr. Crab win the war making Sayuri a full geisha, paying off the debts she owes Mrs. Nitta and because of this, she adopts her and she becomes heir to the Nitta Okiya, this move angers both Hatsumomo and Pumpkin seeing that Mrs. Nitta orignally was going to adopt her and leave her the okiya but she saw that if she were to do that? Hatsumomo? being Pumpkin's big sister? will kick her and auntie out.

Hatsumomo tries to convience Nitta to not adopt Sayuri but because her career is failing along with Pumpkin's, her deception of Sayuri stealing the brooch and her temper along with not getting a wealthy benefactor to secure her career? Nitta refuse and with that, she finds another thing to blackmail Sayuri with, the handicheif that The Chairman gave her and the newspaper article with his picture on it. Sayuri kicks Hatsumomo out of her new room but she confronts her about her feelings for the chairman.

And out of vengence of telling Mrs. Nitta about her and her then boyfriend Korchi having sex in the okiya years before? she tries to burn the handichief but Sayuri grabs it from her but Hatsumomo fights her off which lead to a fight but soon after? one of the oil lamps fell into the floor causing her room to catch on fire, Sayuri calls for help but Hatsumomo proceeds to try to set the whole house on fire and after Sayuri, Mrs. Nitta and Auntie put out the fire? Hatsumomo was forced to leave both the okiya and Gion forever making Sayuri head geisha of the house.

Happy Ending

After Hatsumomo's departure? World War 2 began, she and the other geishas began to evacuate to other cities and they during the war work in factories, after war was over? Nobu who sent Sayuri to work far north to work with a kimino marker asks if she can become Nitta Sayuri once more to entertain the new Deputy Minister Sato who can help save him and Ken's company which was along with other buildings was destroyed during the war? Chiyo agrees and they both return to Gion.

So she, Mameha and Pumpkin? who was a prostitute during the war? entertain the minister reguarly but on a trip at Amami Islands with Iwamura Company? Nobu once again makes his proposal to be her danna and she knew if she accepted the proposal? she wouldn't be able to have a romantic relationship with Ken so she makes a plan to keep Nobu from making that proposal again, but before that? she and Mameha agrue and during that agruement she discovers that Mameha had feeelings for The Baron.

The man who tried to sexually assault Sayuri but Mameha says that her relationship with him was PROFESSIONAL and that Sayuri should take Nobu's proposal to be her danna but she refuses and she tells Pumpkin to have Nobu meet her at a place where he will catch her making out with the minister (Colonel Derricks in the movie) knowing if she did this? he'll never forgive her but still vengeful over Sayuri's inheritence of The Nitta Okiya and becoming Nitta's adoptive daughter?

Pumpkin brings Ken in the room instead of Nobu, Pumpkin knew all along that she likes Ken and knew it would ruin her chances of being his mistress since he like the other clients? are in arranged marriages and it devastes Sayuri, she thought now that the chairman saw her with the minister? she would lose him forever and she has to accept Nobu's proposal to be her wealthy benefactor but she recieves a call to meet with The Iwamura Electric Company, Mrs. Nitta thinks it's Nobu, offering to be her danna once again.

But to her surprise? it was Ken, she tells that her behavior at the island was for personal reasons, he explains to her that he knew all along she was that little girl he met on the bridge and he was the reason she became a geisha in the first place and through Pumpkin, he learned that Nobu was the 1 that was supposed to see her seduce the minister not him so he told Nobu in spite of him being his friend and business partner and he did in fact save his life during a war Japan once had against another country.

And once he told him? Nobu never forgave Sayuri which was fine with the both of them and after telling each other their feelings for 1 another? they kiss at the end of the film but in the book? Ken becomes her danna and Sayuri retires from being geisha. it's revealed that they have an illegitmate son together, she moves from Gion Japan to New York City later in life where she opens a small teahouse to entertain Japanese men on business in The United States from Japan in which Mrs. Nitta takes financial interest.

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Sayuri wins the love of the Chairman

But no longer her head geisha? she severs ties with her and Japan all together. Ken remained her danna until his death, in the end of the book? she reflects on her life as both Chiyo and Sayuri.


  • The name Sayuri means Small Lily.
  • Actress Zhang Ziyi who portrayed Sayuri in the film version is Chinese, despite Geishas being strictly from Japanese culture.
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