Mineko Iwasaki, Japan’s most celebrated geisha of the 70ies, would probably have never written her autobiographic account, if not in his best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden had shed a light on her life she was keen to put right.
When he worked on the Memoirs project, Golden conducted a couple of interview sessions with Iwasaki. In the book, he picked up on many actual events and personae from her life but altered them in a way she was not happy with. Sayuri, Iwasaki’s alter ego in the novel, was portrayed by him as a sort of high-class courtesan. Therefore, Iwasaki decided to tell her own, alternative story.
Iwasaki’s account begins with her early childhood. You learn how she was adopted into a geisha house and how she made her painstaking way to the top of Kyoto’s Gion Kobu geisha communtiy. At the height of her career, she entertained royalties and politicians such as Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, Gerald Ford, and Henry Kissinger. After becoming increasingly frustrated with some inadequacies in the rigid geisha system, she retired unexpectedly before turning 30.
For Iwasaki, her involvement into Memoirs meant a serious backlash from the Kyoto geisha community. Fellow geisha took offense at her violating the unwritten geisha code of silence. She claimed that she had only consented to doing the interviews upon condition that her identity would not be disclosed. That Golden had given her special credit in the book’s acknowledgements did not make things any better. A lawsuit Iwasaki filed against Golden and the publisher was settled out of court.