"I came to congratulate you. My little Chiyo, look what I've found, his handkerchief with his initials, oh how elegant. You've been hiding your love for a long time...the sacrifice every Geisha must make! " - Hatsumomo
Hatsumomo is the main antagonist of the acclaimed and bestselling novel "Memoirs of a Geisha" published in 1997 by Athur Golden and also the 2005 film adaptation of the same name. She is portrayed by Chinese actress Gong Li in the film. The Geisha name Hatsumomo means: "The First Peach ", implying the first ripe peach of the season.
"I know what you're thinking as you stare at me. You're thinking you'll never be so beautiful. Well, it's perfectly true! " - Hatsumomo
In the novel, Hatsumomo is said to be more stunning than a porcelain china doll. She is described as having very fair skin, is short in height with petite bone structure, and looks more lovely chewing on her fingernail than most other geishas look while posing to have their picture taken. However, behind this perfect facade she is also just as sneaky as a snake and as cruel as a poisonous spider, yet is skilled at concealing this unpleasant trait to most strangers. She possesses the elegance of a swan and walks in kimono with a grace so regal and polished, that many men stop dead in their tracks just to stare at her as she passes them while on the street. She uses the power of her beauty to survive and cleverly manipulate those around her.
In the film version, she is not portrayed to be as feminine and delicate as her character is described in the novel. Instead, Hatsumomo is portrayed to be tall and statuesque, with cat-like features. This makes her appear to be slightly more intimidating and threatening on screen.
"Stay out of my room, your fingers smell. I can't have you touching my things. I can just hear my General now. "Why Hatsumomo, you used to smell of jasmine... what's this new perfume, Blowfish? "-Hatsumomo
Hatsumomo has no backstory, her personal history and how she entered the flower and willow world is a complete mystery and her past is never explained. One could say this makes her character all the more mysterious and alluring.
Hatsumomo was most likely sold by her family who was impoverished and simply couldn't take care of her, and hoping she would have a better life as a geisha, she was sold to a "Geisha House" called an Okiya. There, she became the legal property of her Geisha Mother Nitta Okasan. Bought like a prime piece of meat, Hatsumomo was shackled in debt for the expense of her maiko training, Kimono wardrobe, and the cost of her board and lodging. She, like most geisha of her time, was a virtual prisoner during this "Geisha Heyday" before the second World War.
Thanks to her dazzling beauty and impressive style, Hatsumomo became one of the most popular and famous geisha of Gion which was the most prominent Maiko district. She even won and paid back her purchase price by the time she was only twenty, which was unheard of. Thus, being the talk of Hanamachi ever since. Despite the fame Hatsumomo achieved, she was far from beautiful on the inside. Behind closed doors Hatsumomo was self-centered, sociopathic and a very jealous woman full of hatred and malice. She was a cold-blooded individual who could not handle competition or anyone more successful. She would stop at nothing to get what she wanted and would sabotage anyone who dared try to stop her, got in her way or threatened to steal her spotlight. Because Hatsumomo brought in the most money to the residence of the okiya she lived in, she was allowed to dominate and boss all of it's residents around.
Behind her mask of evil, Hatsumomo was ironically a helpless romantic despite it being strictly forbidden for geisha to freely love. She had a secret lover, named Koichi who worked at a nearby noodle shop but was already married (most likely in an arranged marriage). Koichi did seemingly care about Hatsumomo at one point, but he eventually stopped seeing her because of the painful fact they could never truly be together. When it was discovered Hatsumomo had a boyfriend, she was scolded by Nitta and told that she was never to see Koichi again, the sacrifice every geisha must make in order to be successful. If a geisha is too passionate about long-term love affairs and relationships, she will not survive in the geisha business.
This made Hatsumomo her even more angry and bitter on the inside. Not being able to own her own heart is what ultimately leads her to self-destruct.
The story of Geisha Hatsumomo
"The only reason mother tolerates Hatsumomo is because she brings in good money. Never forget it is Hatsumomo who pays for your supper, the silk on your back. By the time she was twenty, she had already earned back her purchase price. Ha, unheard of! She has been the talk of the Hanamachi ever since." -Auntie telling Chiyo about Hatsumomo
In 1920's traditional Japan, the well-known Hatsumomo is the only working geisha living in the Nitta Okiya along with Nitta Okasan, (the geisha mother) Auntie, (a failed geisha) and granny, (a retired geisha) before the arrival of nine year- old Chiyo. Pumpkin, a girl around Chiyo's age also lives at the Okiya and is a maid and virtual slave of Nitta. Pumpkin works very hard in hopes of being sent to Geisha School and then adopted by Nitta which will give her a secure future and a place to live out her life comfortably.
When little Chiyo first lays eyes on Hatsumomo, she is completely floored and taken away by the jawdropping beauty Hatsumomo is, as well as her flawless performance and outward persona. But soon after her arrival, Chiyo sees Hatsumomo's true character and learns about the evilness and ugliness hidden deep within her. She has no respect for authority nor her elders, she constantly bosses everyone around the Okiya, and even finds little Chiyo to be a potential rival one day. Hatsumomo is jealous of Chiyo, who also has natural beauty and possesses rare bluish-gray eyes, like the color of rain. So Hatsumomo believes that when Chiyo comes of age, she will be a threat to her own Geisha status, since it would put Nitta in a great position to throw Hatsumomo out. Through the whole plot, Hatsumomo is determined to make Chiyo's life miserable. Her jealousy for Chiyo is much similar to the jealousy of the Wicked Queen in Snow White. She makes endless attempts to get Chiyo restricted from being a geisha and learning the ancient arts or prohibited from the town of Gion all together-as she has done to several other girls in the past.
One night Hatsumomo and her geisha friend named Korin come home to the Nitta Okiya very late and are very drunk from attending an event where they were asked to drink. They both continue to drink beer at the Okiya and in their drunkeness convince Chiyo and manipulate her to paint on a gorgeous and extremely expensive Kimono. This kimono was owned by another high status Geisha by the name of Mameha, who is a rival geisha to Hatsumomo. Mameha is not as young or as attractive as Hatsumomo, but much more kinder, intelligent and wiser.
The Kimono is forever ruined with black ink being marked all over it, staining the silk fabric beyond repair. Chiyo is framed and Hatsumomo blames her for it. Hatsumomo is even delighted to watch Nitta punish Chiyo severely by beating her with her bamboo stick in the Okiya's courtyard. However, Hatsumomo does show some mercy and finally tells Chiyo that her missing sister, Satsu is a prostitute in the "Pleaser District" called Miyagawa-Cho, under the house brothel of Madame Tatsuyo.
Chiyo makes secret plans to run away with her sister, but after attempting to escape the Okiya, she breaks her arm in the process and is caught, resulting in the termination of her going to Geisha school, thus pleasing Hatsumomo to no end. This also results in Chiyo never seeing her sister ever again.
In the book version, Mameha reveals to a 12 - year-old Chiyo (15 in the film) that Hatsumomo's hateful personality can't tolerate competition and is jealous of Chiyo. She mentions to Chiyo also about what made her childhood friend, Hatsuoki a potential geisha in training who was also pretty and popular, ultimately get banned from Gion when she was trained under the great Tomihatsu.
Mameha also reveals that Hatsumomo is much more threatened by Chiyo rather than Pumpkin, with Chiyo out of the way, Pumpkin is in the lead of being the adoptive daughter. Thus, with Pumpkin adopting the Okiya, Hatsumomo as Pumpkin's big sister will use Pumpkin as a puppet to control and take over the Okiya by calling all the shots. She also reveals that, despite her stunning beauty, popularity and talent, Hatsumomo is not as successful as she seems. For she failed at finding a secure and rich Danna of her very own. This is because a long time ago, Hatsumomo made the terrible mistake of being rude and angering the owner of the Mizuki Teahouse. As a result of her bad behavior, she could never find a Danna as she was banned. Thus, needing Pumpkin to be picked as adoptive daughter to continue her manipulation and evilness.
Later, Mameha takes Chiyo under her wing and as an apprentice geisha (called Maiko) and as Mameha's new younger sister, officially changes her name from Chiyo to Sayuri which means "Small Lily". Next Hatsumomo continues to try and destroy Sayuri by forbidding Pumpkin to ever talk to her again, thus ending the friendship. Hatsumomo quickly changes Pumpkin's name to Hatsumiyo. Unfortunately for Hatsumomo, everyone keeps calling her Pumpkin because the geisha name of Hatsumiyo, failed to impress the social scene of Gion.
This causes Hatsumomo to try and fire back at Mameha, as she tries to sabatoge Sayuri in the process of her training. Hatsumomo stalks and follows her and Mameha from party to party. Appearing at all the same events they go to, all in an attempt to ruin her reputation by spreading vile rumors all through the town.
The attempts were all initially successful at some degree but Mameha comes up with a plan to get Hatsumomo banned from Gion. And her and Sayuri give Hatsumomo a taste of her own medicine.
The Downfall of Hatsumomo
As the years pass Hatsumomo begins a slow, yet increasingly destructive downward spiral fueled by alcoholism. Her own once high status and impressive reputation as a geisha rapidly declines to the point that she tries to save her own career before Pumpkin's failing career. She by now has become a classic alcoholic. She is seen very drunk almost everyday, has rapid and violent mood swings and is even caught red handed reading Sayuri's diary. This backfires in her face when Sayuri discovers that the emerald brooch Hatsumomo once accused her of stealing as a child to get her in trouble by framing her with, comes up found again by Sayuri herself. Immediately she takes this piece of evidence to Nitta Mother to prove her innocence and reveals Hatsumomo's dishonesty, Hatsumomo is finally caught red handed in a lie and punished. With Sayuri as the Okiya's principle asset and the the adoptive daughter of Nitta Okasan chosen over Pumpkin, Sayuri finally has the upper hand.
Hatsumomo is forced to pay back the money Sayuri had to replace for the item she supposedly stole, angering and humiliating Hatsumomo further. And she is forced to leave out of the Okiya to meet her clients and attend the events she schedules much earlier than normal, in order to prevent her from bumping into Sayuri and getting in the way of her money making. Sayuri now is the main breadwinner, making more income than Hatsumomo and Pumpkin combined. Thus, weakening Hatsumomo's power.
Hatsumomo is finally defeated when she gives in to her insanity, driving her to the breaking point (the same way she did with them early in the career of Sayuri).
Mameha does this in a sneaky yet smart and clever way. With the help of Sayuri they spread lies of concern for the rival, telling everyone that a doctor has declared Hatsumomo an alcoholic and mentally unstable. There was no doctor around who ever said this, but everyone believed Mameha because she was nice and known to be a good hearted person and not known to ever lie or get caught up in scandals.
Later on, at a banquet party, Hatsumomo gave into her rage by biting and viciously attacking a former friend, a gay actor named Kabuki. This was triggered when he angered a drunken Hatsumomo by kissing Mameha in front of everyone at the party and making Hatsumomo look like a fool. Hatsumomo literally snaps and when she does attack her actor friend, she is then thrown to the street, drunk and delirious and dissapears until the morning time. This situation all but confirms that Mameha's claims about the doctor are indeed true.
In the movie, as a final blow to her, Hatsumomo has a messy fight between her rival Sayiru for her possessions. The candle that Hatsumomo had planned to use to burn her things falls over and starts a fire which soon engulfs the whole room. As Sayuri and Mother both try to extinguish the fire with blankets, she leaves the room and takes several oil lamp candles from the walls in the Okiya hallways and throws them as they shatter to the ground to destroy the Okiya, throwing alcohol oil on the fire nearby, making the flames even higher fiercer and deadly. Thus damaging the interior of the Nitta Okiya even more.
The next day, in both versions, Mother throws Hatsumomo out of the Nitta Okiya and onto the streets. Mother prohibits and banishes her from the Hanamachi and the entire town of Gion permanently. Infact, Mameha tells Sayuri that Nitta Mother had probably been trying to get rid of Hatsumomo for years. Whether or not this is true, Nitta Okasan was probably pleased that there were fewer mouths to feed, since Hatsumomo was no longer earning what she once had.
In the book version, When Hatsumomo leaves for good, she was only wearing a simple robe of plain thin cotten, which Nitta Mother gave her and her hair was loose and in her face. No pretty ornaments of decorative hair pins were placed in her head. She was also carrying all her life-long belongings of jewelry, purfumes, photographs, scrolls and skin ointments all in simple bag and left the Okiya without saying goodbye to anyone. In the film, she was wearing the same black kimono she wore earlier when she deliberately caused the fire, but all her nice belongings now belonged to Sayuri.
In both versions of the story, she is never involved in the plot again, even after the Second World War. Although the book had many rumors in Gion that specualted Hatsumomo did survive the war and was currently making a living as a prostitute in the "Pleasure-District" of Miyagawa-Cho (the same district that Chiyo's sister Satsu was sold to a brothel under the house of Madame Tatsuyo years prior) but she never resurfaced or was physically seen in either versions. This rumor however, was probably true, because no other respective Okiya in Japan wanted to take Hatsumomo in as the main geisha because they were too afraid of her and because of her terrible reputation. However, it is hinted and implied in the novel that Hatsumomo collapsed into alcoholism and was successful in eventually drinking herself to death, dying from the negative effects the alchohol had on her physical health.
"I don't know for sure whatever became of Hatsumomo. A few years after the war, I heard she was making a living as a prostitute in the Miyagawa-cho district. She couldn't have been there long, because on the night I heard it, a man at the same party swore that if Hatsumomo was a prostitute, he would find her and give her some business of his own. He did go looking for her, but she was nowhere to be found. Over the years, she probably succeeded in drinking herself to death. She certainly wouldn't have been the first geisha to do it." -Memoirs of a Geisha