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First Western Geisha

by IveyLie


Her professional name is Sayuki, meaning “transparent happiness.”  Her real name?  Australian Fiona Graham, Ph.D.  Not remotely Japanese in name or blood.  Age?  As per geisha custom, you’re not going to find it from her. Dr. Graham is now well known for her active status as the first western geisha.  She is not to be confused with another woman also described as being the first, Liza Dalby, also another well known anthropologist.  Sayuki is actually the first, considering that she finished all her training and made an official geisha debut in 2007 while Dalby did not.

Sayuki’s motivation for becoming a real life geisha was not because she was superficially entralled by the geisha’s “World of Flower and Willow,” but through a need to show the rest of the world the real life of a geisha, particularly after Arthur Golden’s book and subsequent movie adaptation “Memoirs of a Geisha.”  To her and the rest of the geisha community, modern adaptations to geisha and especially the improper portrayal of geisha as sex objects, are considered incredibly rude and sacrilegious. Interesting to note is that the woman Mineko Iwasaki who the book was based on, later sued Arthur Golden for his book’s incorrect storytelling of her selling her virginity to the highest bidder.  It was later settled out of court.

Dr. Graham says that as geisha they are the keepers of art and tradition.  They are called upon by clients for their feminine beauty, talent in music and art, clever conversations ranging from politics to art, and their trustworthiness to keep secret what was said.  Sayuki is also disappointed in how people try to callously imitate geisha by wearing modified kimono with lace, ribbons, and costume jewelry.  The real world of the geisha is authentic, intelligent, very traditional, and expensive.  Her debut kimono and accessories, that she was allowed to borrow from her geisha mother, are worth about $20,000.  The average rate of a geisha is about $400 per hour, totaling as high as $20,000 a month.

Getting into this life and role was not easy.  First of all, if it weren’t for her already impressive background in Japanese language and cultural study, she wouldn’t be able to approach the thought.  She had lived in Japan from her teenage years, later going to a Japanese university.  She had gone to Oxford for her MBA, but later finished her doctorate in anthropology there.  Her first step into the world of the geisha was to get the approval and tutelage of a geisha mother, Yukiko.  Without Yukiko, she would not have had the year’s worth of training or the acceptance of geisha around the area.

If you want to know more, go to the links below.


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