In the novel Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, one of the main characters is Mameha, a successful geisha in Gion who takes on Sayuri as her apprentice. Mameha is described as having an established career and being one of the most sought-after geishas in the district. A key part of her success is her danna, or patron, referred to in the story only as “the Baron.” The identity of Mameha’s danna and the nature of their relationship is an intriguing part of the novel. Let’s explore some key questions around this important figure in Mameha’s life:
Who is the Baron?
The Baron who is Mameha’s danna is never directly named, but context clues indicate he is a wealthy Japanese nobleman and likely holds the title of “baron” in the kazoku aristocratic peerage system during the Taisho and early Showa periods when the novel is set. He is described as having estates in a number of locations and maintains a house for Mameha in Gion where she lives. Given his wealth and Mameha’s prominence as a geisha, he would be a baron from a prominent family lineage.
How did Mameha and the Baron meet?
The novel doesn’t provide direct background on how Mameha and the Baron first met or began their patron relationship. However, it’s most likely they met through Mameha’s work as a geisha entertaining wealthy men and nobles in Gion. The Baron would have met and become enamored with the beautiful and accomplished Mameha at a tea house or party, then begun patronizing her and eventually taken her on as his exclusive danna. Their meeting reflects how geisha often formed long-term relationships with wealthy patrons through their entertainment work.
When did Mameha become the Baron’s danna?
Again the exact timeline is never provided, but context suggests Mameha was established as the Baron’s exclusive danna for many years by the time the novel’s main narrative takes place. She is described as having already secured her status thanks to the Baron’s patronage by the time Sayuri meets her. Mameha’s comfortable household and independence implies she had been with the Baron for a long time, possibly becoming his danna back in her late teens or early 20s as she became a successful geisha.
What is the nature of their relationship?
As danna and geisha, Mameha and the Baron likely have an intimate relationship going beyond a simple business transaction, but one that also involves respect and restraint on both sides. The Baron would provide Mameha with financial support and gifts, while Mameha would provide him with companionship, entertainment, and intimacy. However, a geisha remains somewhat independent even with a danna, so Mameha retains her own autonomy and identity. She seems to have genuine feelings for the Baron as well based on her descriptions of him.
The Role of Danna
In the world of geisha, the role of a danna or patron was essential to success and stability. Here is an overview of the danna system:
What is a danna?
– A danna is a wealthy man who financially supports a geisha in exchange for companionship
– Usually men from elite, aristocratic backgrounds like businessmen, politicians or nobility
– Formally enters into exclusive patron relationship with one geisha, though non-exclusive arrangements existed
– Provides housing, kimono allowance, and other gifts to support geisha’s lifestyle
Why did geisha need danna?
– Geisha unable to inherit businesses or property like men, so needed patronage for financial independence
– Earning from entertainment work unstable, so danna provided steady source of support
– Having a danna elevated a geisha’s status and earning ability by association
– Danna system offered financial security for geisha in exchange for intimacy and exclusivity
What was the relationship like?
– Involved intimacy but geisha still maintained independence and identity
– Built on mutual understanding of roles and restraint on both sides
– Geisha relied on danna’s support but danna could not exploit geisha
– Relations ranged from pragmatic arrangements to genuine affection
When did a geisha take a danna?
– Often after debuting and establishing themselves as geisha, in late teens or twenties
– Seen as key step in maturation once skilled enough to attract elite patron
– Younger geisha may have had non-exclusive patrons before full danna
– Taking a danna peaked a geisha’s earning ability and elevated social status
Mameha’s Relationship with the Baron
Given the background on the danna tradition, we can understand more about the specific relationship between Mameha and the Baron.
How did the Baron support Mameha?
– Provided housing in Gion for Mameha to entertain
– Covered expenses of elaborate kimono, accessories, and lifestyle
– Gave her gifts such as ornate comb described in the novel
– Granted her financial independence to focus on entertaining
What did Mameha provide to the Baron?
– Companionship and intimate relationship
– Entertaining conversation, pouring sake, providing cultured aura
– Validation through associating with famous beauty and talent
– Exclusivity of the relationship added to the appeal
Why was the relationship successful?
– Mature understanding of geisha role by Baron
– Restraint and respect shown by both parties
– Genuine fondness and care between both beyond business
– Clear benefits provided by both patrons and geisha
– Flexibility allowing geisha like Mameha a degree of autonomy
How did it elevate Mameha’s career?
– Economic support nurtured her talent and beauty
– Reputation associated with elite patron boosted fame
– Allowed her to focus fully on entertaining and artistry
– Freedom from financial worry opened doors for success
– Signaled her elite status as one of Japan’s top geisha
The Wider Context
While Mameha and the Baron’s relationship was in many ways unique, it also reflected broader trends:
Parallels in other danna-geisha relationships
Many aspects were similar to other danna and geisha couples:
– Elite man providing patronage to geisha
– Intimate yet restrained relations balancing roles
– Blending of business exchange with genuine affection
– Mutual elevation of status and reputation
Changes during the Interwar Period
Their relationship also spanned a period of change:
– Growing wealth in the 1920s increased demand for geisha
– Backlash against excess later in Interwar Period
– Rising nationalism and militarism led to more restrictions
– Geisha arts saw a “golden age” before World War II
Role of women evolving in Japanese society
– Traditional patriarchal norms still prevalent but slowly shifting
– Modern girls and moga culture emerging in cities
– Education and workforce participation for women increasing
– Geisha ideals of femininity and accomplishment negotiated change
In the end, Mameha and the Baron’s danna relationship represented the complex blend of business arrangements, mutual dependence, and genuine affection that characterized the geisha world. Their partnership was in many ways emblematic of a system that provided security but also restraints for accomplished women like Mameha, one which she negotiated successfully to achieve fame and independence within the confines of her society. Analyzing this relationship provides deeper insight into the nuances of status, economics and intimacy in the life of a geisha.