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64 Best Memoirs of a Geisha Quotes from the Book by Arthur Golden

Get the best Memoirs of a Geisha quotes from Arthur Golden's bestselling coming of age story about destiny, the symbolism of water, and so much more.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is a modern classic bestselling book about Asian American identity that you may also recall as being one of the books read by The Finer Things Club on The Office. It was also named as one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.

In short, Memoirs of a Geisha is an eye-opening look into the life of a nine-year-old girl sold into slavery at a renowned geisha house in 1929. It's a coming-of-age story unlike any others, as she studies the arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing a kimono and elaborate makeup; pouring sake to reveal the inner wrist; and competing for men.

It’s everything from sad to romantic, and even suspenseful, as it sweeps the reader away with overarching themes involving water and destiny.

Memoirs of a Geisha Quotes

Below are all the best Memoirs of a Geisha quotes about water, destiny, and so much more.

Memoirs of a Geisha Quotes About Water

“I can see you have a great deal of water in your personality. Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about -- the tiny hole through the roof or the bottom of the box. There's no doubt it's the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can't survive without being nurtured by water. And yet, you haven't drawn on those strengths in living your life, have you?”

“Was life nothing more than a storm that constantly washed away what had been there only a moment before, and left behind something barren and unrecognizable?”

"Water flows from place to place quickly and always finds a crack to spill through. Wood, on the other hand, holds fast to the earth."

"My existence was as unstable as a stream, changing in every way; but the moth was like a piece of stone, changing not at all."

“Those of us with water in our personalities don't pick where we'll flow to. All we can do is flow where the landscape of our lives carries us.”

“You seemed so desperate, like you might drown if someone didn't save you.”

“When we fight upstream against a rocky undercurrent, every foothold takes on a kind of urgency.”

“I wish I could believe life really is something more than a stream that carries us along, belly-up.”

“All right, if it's a stream, you're still free to be in this part of it or that part, aren't you? The water will divide again and again."

“When a stone is dropped into a pond, the water continues quivering even after the stone has sunk to the bottom.”

“Water is powerful. It can wash away earth, put out fire, and even destroy iron.”

"In the instant before that door opened, I could almost sense my life expanding just like a river whose waters have begun to swell; for I had never before taken such a drastic step to change the course of my own future. I was like a child tiptoeing along a precipice overlooking the sea. And yet somehow I hadn't imagined a great wave might come and strike me there, and wash everything away."

"We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course."

“If a few minutes of suffering could make me so angry, what would years of it do? Even a stone can be worn down with enough rain.”

"We human beings are only a part of something very much larger. […] We must use whatever methods we can to understand the movement of the universe around us and time our actions so that we are not fighting the currents, but moving with them."

“Now I know that our world is no more permanent than a wave rising on the ocean. Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”

Memoirs of a Geisha Quotes About Destiny

“Every man has his destiny.”

“Neither you nor I can know your destiny. You may never know it! Destiny isn't always like a party at the end of the evening. Sometimes it's nothing more than struggling through life from day to day.”

"The point wasn't to become a geisha, but to be one. To become a geisha…well, that was hardly a purpose in life. But to be a geisha…I could see it now as a stepping-stone to something else."

“Nowadays many people seem to believe their lives are entirely a matter of choice; but in my day we viewed ourselves as pieces of clay that forever show the fingerprints of everyone who has touched them.”

“Geisha never marry. Or at least those who do no longer continue as geisha.”

“We don’t become geisha so our lives will be satisfying. We become geisha because we have no other choice.”

"Something happened to me—one of those trivial things with huge consequences, like losing your step and falling in front of a train."

“I expect you to go through life with your eyes open! If you keep your destiny in mind, every moment in life becomes an opportunity for moving closer to it.”

“If he couldn't forgive you for what you'd done, it was clear to me he was never truly your destiny.”

“Watch for the thing that will show itself to you. Because that thing, when you find it, will be your future.”

"I'm not sure if this will make sense to you, but I felt as though I'd turned around to look in a different direction, so that I no longer faced backward toward the past, but forward toward the future. And now the question confronting me was this: What would that future be?" 

"Flowers that grow where old ones have withered serve to remind us that death will one day come to us all."

More Memoirs of a Geisha Quotes

“My name back then was Chiyo. I wouldn’t be known by my geisha name, Sayuri, until years later.”

“At the temple there is a poem called "Loss" carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.”

“Only when she sits before her mirror to apply her makeup with care does she become a geisha. And I don’t mean that this is when she begins to look like one. This is when she begins to think like one too.”

“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.”

"In fact, a geisha leaves a tiny margin of skin bare all around the hairline, causing her makeup to look even more artificial, something like a mask worn in Noh drama. When a man sits beside her and sees her makeup like a mask, he becomes that much more aware of the bare skin beneath."

“I sometimes lift the brocade cover on the mirror of my makeup stand, and have the briefest flicker of a thought that I may find her there in the glass, smirking at me.”

“In the years since, I’ve been called beautiful more often than I can remember. Though, of course, geisha are always called beautiful, even those who aren’t. But when Mr. Tanaka said it to me, before I’d ever heard of such a thing as a geisha, I could almost believe it was true.”

“I’m sure I looked no more elegant than a guest at an inn looks wearing a robe on the way to the bath. But I’d never before worn anything nearly so glamorous on my body.”

“Your job is to bow as low as you can, and don’t look them in the eye.”

I suppose that by "dignity" I mean a kind of self-confidence, or certainty. 

“I’ve heard it said that the week in which a young girl prepares for her debut as an apprentice geisha is like when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.”

“Every time I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass of a shop, I felt I was someone to be taken seriously; not a girl anymore, but a young woman.”

“Maybe you’re just too pretty yourself to be able to see it elsewhere.”

“This is why dreams can be such dangerous things: they smolder on like a fire does, and sometimes they consume us completely.”

"The swan who goes on living in its parents' tree will die; this is why those who are beautiful and talented bear the burden of finding their own way in the world."

“Stumbling along in life is a poor way to proceed”

“A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course of victory.”

“A wounded tiger is a dangerous beast.”

“Adversity is like a strong wind. I don't mean just that it holds us back from places we might otherwise go. It also tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that afterward we see ourselves as we really are, and not merely as we might like to be.”

"Because I’d lived through adversity once before, what I learned about myself was like a reminder of something I'd once known but had nearly forgotten –namely, that beneath the elegant clothing, and the accomplished dancing, and the clever conversation, my life had no complexity at all, but was as simple as a stone falling toward the ground."

"I felt for one horrifying moment I might be the sole living human in all the world."

“Yet somehow the thing that startled me most, after a week or two had passed, was that I had in fact survived.”

“Grief is a most peculiar thing; we’re so helpless in the face of it. It’s like a window that will simply open of its own accord. The room grows cold, and we can do nothing but shiver. But it opens a little less each time, and a little less; and one day we wonder what has become of it.”

“I don't think any of us can speak frankly about pain until we are no longer enduring it.”

“We can never flee the misery that is within us.”

“Sometimes we get through adversity only by imagining what the world might be like if our dreams should ever come true.”

"Like prostitutes, their lower-class counterparts, geisha are often in the unusual position of knowing whether this or that public figure really does put his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else."

"I found angles in my cheeks and around my eyes that I'd never before seen. It may seem odd, but when I realized that the shape of my own face was a surprise to me, I had the sudden insight that nothing in life is ever as simple as we imagine."

“Nothing is bleaker than the future, except perhaps the past.”

"We none of us find as much kindness in this world as we should."

"It ceased to be beautiful at all and became something monstrous instead."

“Geisha is always called beautiful even if she is not.”

“Passion can quickly slip over into jealousy, or even hatred.”

"Until a geisha has assembled her own collection of kimono – or until she's been adopted as the daughter of an okiya, which is just about the same thing –she'll be in someone else's power all her life.”

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

"We may both have seen many horrible things. But I will think of you every time I need to be reminded that there is beauty and goodness in the world.”


Those are all the best Memoirs of a Geisha quotes about water, destiny, and more.

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