This books is about a young girl, Sakamoto Chiyo, and her life as a geisha. The story begins with her and her sister being sold. Her mother is dying, and she suspects her father is soon to follow. Chiyo is sold to a geisha house (okiya), her rare blue eyes being a strong appeal to her appearance. Her sister is sold into prostitution. Chiyo becomes an apprentice geisha along with 'Pumpkin.' Hatsumomo is the only working geisha in the okiya, and is cruel to Chiyo, who wants to run away. Hatsumomo blackmails Chiyo into taking the blame for ruining a kimono by giving her the location of her sister. Hatsumomo gets caught with a boyfriend, and the okiya gets locked at night, ruining Chiyo's plan to run away with her sister. She tries to get out by climbing the roof roof, but falls and breaks her arm, getting caught. Chiyo's punishment is to be a house maid for the rest of her life, no longer to be a geisha.
Several years later, she is crying on a bridge and a man, accompanied by geisha, buys her a snowcone, and lets her keep the change. Instead of leaving Gion (the geisha district), she goes to the temple and prays to the gods to allow her to become a geisha, so she can see the kind man again, and donates the coins. Unexpectedly, Mameha, Gion's most famous geisha, shows at the okiya and convinces Mother to let Chiyo train under her to be a geisha. During training, she sees the kind man from childhood, the Chairman. Unfortunately the Chairman's friend Nobu becomes enamored with Chiyo, preventing the Chairman from pursuing her himself. Chiyo becomes the geisha Sayuri, and becomes even more successful than Mameha. This causes the okiya to chose Sayuri as the heir to the okiya, instead of Pumpkin, ruining their friendship.
WWII hits, and Gion is closed down. Nobu managed to send her up north to the country side at a kimono maker's shop. The work is hard, but she is safe from the bombings. After the war, Nobu wants her to start up being a geisha again, to help influence political figures to support Nobu's electric company. During this time, Nobu is planning to make him Sayuri's danna (basically supporting her for the rest of her life). Sayuri, being in love with the Chairman, asks Pumpkin to have Nobu meet her. Sayuri asks the General to meet her too. Pumpkin tells the Chairman instead, so he walks in on Sayuri and the General. The Chairman knows Sayuri does not want to be with Nobu, so he tells Nobu about what happened, and Nobu never wants to see her again. This allows the Chairman to become Sayuri's danna and she gets to be with him.
blue eyes, poverty, beauty, slavery, kimono, make up, running away, flowers, hair ornaments, shamisen, koto, fans, dance, entertainment, music, money, debt, WWII, bombing, re-birth, soft, feminine, perform, elegant, silk, culture, america, japan, planes, color, festival, coin, luck, tears, school, kindness, sisters, blackmail, expensive, red, white, war, battle, grit, dirt, transformation, okiya, mother, trickery, lies, maiko, training, government, forbidden, blood, pain, kiss