Iwasaki was one of several geisha author Arthur Golden interviewed while researching his novel Memoirs of a Geisha. According to Iwasaki, she agreed to speak with Golden on the condition that her involvement would be kept confidential, but Golden revealed her identity by mentioning her name in the book’s acknowledgments as well as several national interviews. After Memoirs was published, Iwasaki received criticism and even death threats for violating the traditional geisha code of silence. Iwasaki felt betrayed by Golden’s use of information she considered confidential, as well as the way he twisted reality. She denounced Memoirs of a Geisha as being an inaccurate depiction of the life of a geisha. Iwasaki was particularly offended by the novel’s portrayal of geiko engaging in ritualized prostitution. For example, in the novel the main character Sayuri’s virginity (called mizuage in the novel) is auctioned off to the highest bidder. Iwasaki stated that not only did this never happen to her, but that no such custom ever existed in Gion.
Part of Iwasaki’s displeasure with Memoirs may have been because the character Sayuri seems obviously modeled on Iwasaki, with many of the book’s main characters and events having parallels in Iwasaki’s life. These people and experiences are often portrayed negatively in Memoirs, even when their real-life counterparts were positive for Iwasaki. Iwasaki later gave public interviews citing that many established geiko criticized her interview with Arthur Golden, causing a rupture with the geisha tradition of secrecy to the outside world. Furthermore, Iwasaki has mentioned that she had lost some friends and relationships due to the scandal of her being known due to the book, along with certain inconsistencies and fallacies about Gion which were mentioned in Memoirs of a Geisha.
Iwasaki sued Golden for breach of contract and defamation of character in 2001, which was settled out of court in 2003.
Why You Should Stop Romanticizing Memoirs of a Geisha. (via angrywocunited