Autobiography of a Geisha

“Autobiography of a Geisha” by Sayo Masuda (Japan)

Extract and Comment

That child will be grown up by now, and if he hasn’t forgotten me, whenever he sees a crying child he’ll want to say a kind word and wipe the kid’s nose. And when that kid grows up, he’ll do the same. To do something kind for another is never a bad feeling; it fosters a spirit of caring for other people. And who knows, after a few hundred years have passed, human beings may even learn to cooperate with one another. What a lovely place to live this world would be if only people would feel affection for everyone else, and all the ugliness of the human heart were to vanish – our envy of those better off than ourselves and our scorn for those worse off.

When I read Sayo Masuda’s autobiography, I was struck by the passage I’ve quoted above. It resonated with a comment Aldous Huxley had made towards the end of his life:

“It is a bit embarrassing to have been concerned with the human problem all one’s life and find at the end that one has no more to offer by way of advice than ‘Try to be a little kinder’.”

Here are two people from diametrically opposing worlds coming to the same conclusion about what’s important in life. There has to be some truth in it. So today, be kind to someone!


At the age of six, Masuda’s poverty-stricken family sent her to work as a nursemaid. At the age of twelve, she was indentured to a geisha house. In “Autobiography of a Geisha,” Masuda chronicles a harsh world in which young women faced the realities of sex for sale and were deprived of their freedom and identity. She also tells of her life after leaving the geisha house, painting a vivid panorama of the grinding poverty of rural life in wartime Japan… Read more

Nicola’s Creative Reading Group reading list

Year 1 – “East Asia: China and Japan” (Oct 2006 – Jun 2007)

“Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie (China)
“The Good Women of China” by Xinran (China)
“Waiting” by Ha Jin (China)
“Red Dust: A Path Through China” by Ma Jian (China)
“The Girl Who Played Go” by Shan Sa (China)
“Autobiography of a Geisha” by Sayo Masuda (Japan)
“The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea” by Yukio Mishima (Japan)
“Out” by Natsuo Kirino (Japan)
“Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami (Japan)

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