Meet Japan’s First Western Geisha

From time to time, I find pretty interesting articles on life in Japan.

This one’s about Fiona Graham, the first ever non-Japanese, western Geisha. I’ve always thought Liza Dalby was the first but apparently, Dalby never billed the clients she entertained. She also didn’t undergo the same amount of intensive training.

Below is an excerpt of the article. Enjoy! 🙂

~Blossom

Meet Japan’s First Western Geisha (excerpt from msn.com)

So how did this tawny-haired foreigner gain access to possibly the world’s most secretive profession? Geisha customs are so arcane, Sayuki says, that even Japanese women are told to imagine they’re “entering an alien country” when they start training. “I spent almost 10 years in Japan from age 15, first as an exchange student, then attending a Japanese university,” says Sayuki, who is fluent in the local language. Later, she specialized in Japanese culture while completing her doctorate in anthropology at Oxford University. Without this grounding, becoming a geisha would have been impossible. “I get many e-mails from American women who want to be geisha. I explain that it’s like trying to be a Japanese politician — nobody could arrive in Japan and become a politician overnight,” she says. “You need advanced verbal and social skills.”

American author and anthropologist Liza Dalby, the leading Western authority on geisha culture, agrees. “For Japanese, geisha are a repository of essential Japanese-ness. A foreigner in this role is almost a contradiction in terms,” she says. Sayuki is the exception to the rule, and she has become so immersed in her geisha persona that she loathes discussing the fact that she’s a gaijin — literally, “an outside person.” Says Sayuki, “My Western background is irrelevant in my daily working life. I have to adhere strictly to the rules and customs just like everyone else.” For instance, as the second most junior geisha in Asakusa — in terms of when she made her debut rather than her age, which no geisha reveals (although she looks to be in her mid-30s) — Sayuki must greet each of her 44 geisha sisters in order of seniority when they hold a meeting, and do so on her knees. “If I get the order wrong,” she says, “I am severely reprimanded.”

Read more of the article here.