'Geisha' Author and Publisher Sued

One of Japan's most famous geisha has sued the author of the best-selling book Memoirs of a Geisha, accusing the writer and his publisher of defamation, breach of contract and copyright violations.

Mineko Iwasaki, of Kyoto, Japan, filed the lawsuit today in federal court in Manhattan. She is suing Arthur Golden, seeking a percentage of the $10 million in sales generated by Golden's book as damages for allegedly using her life story as its basis and violating an agreement to keep her identity secret.

The lawsuit also named publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House Inc.

According to the lawsuit, Iwasaki, who was one of the most famous geisha in Kyoto's most prestigious geisha district upon her retirement in 1980, met Golden in 1992 and agreed to be interviewed on the condition of complete anonymity for her and her family and total confidentiality regarding her personal stories and her family's experiences.

But Golden broke his promise, the suit alleged, and also disparaged her reputation in interviews to promote the book, which remained on the best-seller list for 58 weeks, by "repeatedly stating that Ms. Iwasaki was sold into the geisha world by her parents, and that her virginity was auctioned to the highest bidder when she came out as a geisha."

Both stories, the suit said, are "patently untrue," although Golden represented them as fact in the book, which sold more than 4 million copies.

Publisher Ready to Fight

Golden, who the suit said agreed not to use personal information supplied to him by Iwasaki during more than 100 hours of interviews, named her by her first name in the book's acknowledgments, saying he was "indebted to one individual above all others … Mineko."

He also acknowledged her contributions during interviews and speaking engagements, the suit alleged.

The suit charges breach of contract, unjust enrichment and copyright infringement and asks for unspecified damages of a percentage of the book's $10 million in sales "to be determined at trial."

A spokesman for Random House said the publisher had not yet received the papers filed with the court today, "but from what we've been told these allegations are totally baseless and completely without merit."

Spokesman Stuart Applebaum added that "should a legal action be pursued, we intend to defend our author very vigorously and successfully."