For the first time in the 400 year history of the (Japanese) Geisha, a Westerner has been accepted, and on December 19, made her formal debut under the name Sayuki.

Geisha (芸者) are traditional female Japanese entertainers whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music and dance.

Sayuki, Japan first Westerner Geisha
A screenshot of Sayuki’s website [Hat tip to 3yen and Tokyomango]

Excerpt from Sayuki’s website…

Sayuki is specialized in social anthropology, a subject which requires anthropologists to actually experience the subject they are studying by participating in the society themselves.

Sayuki has been doing anthropological fieldwork in Asakusa – one of the oldest of Tokyo’s six remaining geisha districts – for the past year, living in a geisha house (okiya), and participating in banquets as a trainee. She has been training in several arts, and will specialize in yokobue (Japanese flute).

Sayuki took an MBA at Oxford before turning to social anthropology, and specializing in Japanese culture. Sayuki has lectured at a number of universities around the world, and has published several books on Japanese culture. She is also an anthropological film director with credits on several international broadcasters.

A reader has pointed out that Sayuki is not the first white Geisha, that it should be Liza Dalby (in 1970s) instead. Thing is, Liza didn’t go through formal apprenticeship to become a Geisha, but she is generally being accepted as the first non-Japanese Geisha by the press.

Sayuki’s qualification as a Geisha is probably less questionable, but her apprenticeship is debatable as well, as she has chosen to follow the Tokyo’s ritual with training period of around six months to a year – a lot shorter than the five years a Kyoto apprentice needs to go through before she debuts as a full geisha.

The shorter apprenticeship doesn’t mean that she is not a real Geisha though, she is. I guess it would depend on how we interpret the definition of Geisha… both Liza and Sayuki could be the first white Geisha depends on how we see it. One thing that I believe though, is that both ladies must have worked hard to achieve their recognition… kudos for that.


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