I rushed home from work tonight to catch Tokyo Eye, a program on NHK I've never seen before, that was doing a short tour of Asakusa with the geisha Sayuki. I was googling her when I found the program listing and I think it's going to be replayed several times over the next week or so. There are only articles on the net so far, so I was not going to miss a chance to see her LIVE in action!
Now Sayuki isn't just any geisha, she is being touted as Japan's first foreign geisha. I personally think my academic hero Liza Dalby was the first foreign woman to be accepted into the geisha ranks (whether or not she actually registered as a geisha) but it seems more sensational to say that after 400 years a whitie has finally broken through the closed ranks of the geisha. (If this had an audio component there would be some da da dun tune right about now.) So yes, Sayuki has beaten me to it! Now I can never be "the first".
Sayuki comes from Australia and from seeing her on the show tonight, she seems to be in her late thirties maybe? I'm terrible with ages but she is definitely older than any Japanese woman when making her geisha debut. She has an impressive academic history, having studied at Keio and Oxford, and I think I read that she is planning on making a documentary about her life as a geisha. Many of the articles are saying that she has been welcomed into the Asakusa community because the geisha association there is hoping she might help to revive the culture. I'll be interested to see if she will continue as a geisha for some time or if after a year she will have had enough experience as a participant-observer to complete what seems to be her fieldwork. I also look forward to this rumored documentary but I wonder how much she will actually be permitted to film. She seems to know what she's doing and has the history to back it up, so maybe she will write a book too-it would be nice to have an updated study, as I think Dalby's was done in the late 70s- early 80s. Sigh. Here I was hoping to be the next Dalby, but instead of Kyoto I would conduct my study in what remains of the Tokyo flower and willow world. My hopes have been dashed! Oh well, wasn't planning on debuting in the Asakusa district anyway.
The NHK program itself wasn't interesting but I'm glad I got to see her other than in photographs. Her website is equally unhelpful-it basically gives the same paragraph that is being reprinted in every article about it with a couple professional photos. I will have to see if my geisha acquaintance has heard anything through the sisterhood grapevine and what she thinks about it all. Either way, I've got to hand it to Sayuki-what she's doing is impressive!