“Memoirs of a Geisha” and Other Maiko Movies

The Movie of “Memoirs of a Geisha”


Memoirs of a Geisha (SAYURI) is a movie made in the United States in 2005. Based on a novel by Arthur Golden, produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Rob Marshall. In 2006, at the 78th Academy Award, it was nominated for six categories, and won three categories: Photography Award, Costume Design Award, and Art Award. In the same year, at the 63rd Golden Globe Award it won the Best Original Score. It depicts a story about the life of a geisha who was active around World War II in Kyoto, Japan. After the girl was sold to an Okiya(maiko / geisha training house), with all difficulties she faced she finally became a popular geisha.


Chiyo was born in 1929 in a poor fishing village in Japan. Sold to an Okiya(a teahouse, a geisha training house) by his father and started to work. The awaiting treatment was harassment and harsh labor by senior geisha, Hatsumomo. Chiyo, who reached the limit of patience, promised to escape with her older sister sold to another Okiya, but the attempt eventually failed. As a result of this, Chiyo, who has been forced to work harder than before, gradually becomes exhausted. One day, Chiyo met a gentleman called “Chairman” and held love. Dreaming of meeting this man again, Chiyo decided to be a popular geisha.

The original novel

The original movie is Arthur Golden’s best-selling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha”. This novel project was triggered by Arthur Golden meeting a man. Since the man’s father was a businessman and his mother was a geisha, Arthur Golden, who was interested in his mother’s life, decided to write a novel about Geisha. In preparation for writing, Arthur Golden talked with several people including a former Geisha in Gion in Kyoto, Mineko Iwasaki, and learned carefully about Japanese culture and a Geisha’s job. The time spent in the interview was 9 to 10 years. Although he spent a lot of time trying to figure out the facts, he did not get any closer to the truths about the Geisha world and its philosophy. As a result, Arthur Golden interwovens his creation with the information gathered through the interview and wrote the fiction novel “Memoirs of a Geisha”. In this way, a global hit novel has been born that has been translated into more than 30 languages ​​and boasts a cumulative sales of over 4 million copies.

Geisha Mineko Iwasaki 

Mineko Iwasaki was a retired geisha who was born in 1949 in Kyoto. Her talentedness was first found by a landlady who ran an Okiya, and she was adopted by Fumichiyo Iwasaki at the age of 4, and became a disciple of Kyoto Dance Inoue school at the age of 6. She made her debut as a maiko at the age of 15 and immediately got so popular that she was the number one Maiko for six consecutive years. Among her customers were celebrities from a variety of fields, and she was called a once-in-a-century maiko. Even after becoming a geisha at the age of 21, her popularity did not decline and she played an active part in areas other than banquets, such as big companies’ ads and TV commercials. Since retired from Geisha at 29 years old, she has been active in various fields such as restaurant management, writing and lecture activities. In private, she got married to a Japanese painter and learned the restoration of Japanese painting under the guidance of her husband. The main writings by Sayaka Iwasaki are as follows.

Geiko Mineko’s Hana Ikusa (2001)

How did she become a maiko and what her lifestyle was like? This is an essay depicting the unknown world of Gion, such as relationships between maiko she experienced (which were sometimes difficult to deal with because of her popularity), and love born from a banquet. Translated versions were released in 25 countries around the world, contributing to the spread of Kyoto culture.

Gion lessons (2003)

This is an informative book with tips that Mineko mastered in the city of Gion, Kyoto, such as how to grab people’s mind in the first 15 minutes after you meet them, how a first-class customers use money, and tips on how to live.

 Other movies about Maiko

There are a lot of films about Kyoto culture, Maiko and Geisha. For example, the following works are well-known in Japan and are recommended for those interested in the culture and atmosphere of Maiko and Geisha.

Maiko Haaaan!!! (2007)

This is a comedy film written by Kankuro Kudo and directed by Nobuo Mizuta. It is a hit work boasting an industry revenue of 2.80 billion yen. It is also known as Abe Sadao’s first starring movie.

Overview of “Maiko Haaaan!!!”

Kimihiko Onizuka began to dream of spending time with Maiko after getting lost during a school trip and being helped by Maiko. Finally his company transferred him to the Kyoto branch and he visited an Ochaya, but faced the culture of “No first-time customer”. Kimihiko couldn’t give up his dream and struggled with his work. He finally persuaded a client of his who was a company president and a regular customer of an Ochaya to take him there. Just about to experience Maiko play a professional baseball player interrupted it. Fujiko, who was abandoned by Kimihiko in Tokyo and decided to be a Maiko to attract him again, will also be involved. All of these will develop into a commotion in Yumegawacho in Kyoto!

Hannari (2006)

This is a documentary film directed by Miyuki Sohara, who has performed as a geisha in many overseas films. In order to correct misunderstandings and prejudice about “GEISHA” that often occurs in overseas works, she shoots the truth of Hanamachi(maiko/geisha world) in Kyoto.

Overview of “Hannari”

The movie shows the hidden world that even Japanese people don’t know: the life of Maiko and Geisha(Geiko), a symbol of Kyoto’s history and culture, and as well the life of craftsmen of fans, obi sashes, and wigs, uncredited heroes behind the culture. In the movie, maiko and geisha from a wide range of ages from the teens to the 80s talk about how they have lived and what their their true daily lives are like. There are plenty of images that can only be seen in this work, such as the backstage of an Ochaya teahouse and the good old traditional culture.

Maiko is Lady (2014)

A musical film directed by Masayuki Suo, the director of “Shall we Dance?” This is a story about a girl from a remote countryside of Japan who tries to be a maiko in Hanamachi in Kyoto, overcomes many difficulties, and grows up. The title is a parody of “My Fair Lady”.


One day, a girl born in Kagoshima and raised up in Tsugaru came to Kyoto’s Hanamachi. Although she hoped to be a maiko, her dialect made this difficult and everybody snubbed her. A man called “master” was, however, interested and negotiated with an Okiya house to accept her. She managed to make it and started a training as an apprentice of maiko, but struggled with everything, such as learning the Kyoto accent. This musical movie depicts all her efforts to overcome difficulties and how she grows into a professional maiko.