Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sayuki of Asakusa

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!

11 comments:

Kelley Dawne said...

I don't think it's fair to call her a Geisha when she doesn't have a lot of the traditional skills associated with that title. She actually went to visit my shamisen teacher to ask for lessons. She said she only wanted enough lessons so that she could play a few short, easy pieces. I don't think she's planning to continue with it for much longer. Once her research is done, I think she's going to leave. And I think you're right. Liza Dalby was the first foreigner accepted as a Geisha (even though she was never in the registry).

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

I completely agree. Very cool that you are taking shamisen lessons, how long have you been doing that for? I have so many questions for you!

Anonymous said...

I also saw the Tokyo Eye update. I emailed her on sayuki.geisha@hotmail.com and she was happy to fill me in on the status of her book (finished) and release of the complete NHK documentary.

Contacts within Keio University set her up to do this study of geisha life and a $20,000 grant from the Japan Foundation :-)

Jenny said...

Some interesting news is that she is no longer a geisha, it seems in february 2011 she was fired. The reasons for her dismissal was her attitude and the fact that she was trying to recruit new girls without permission. Her attitude always seemed strange to me, basically badmouthing Liza Dalby (who worked as a geisha in Kyoto in the 1970's)and other researchers. But there is another western geisha working, she's polish and is currently working in Anjo. Her geimei is Ibu.

elblack said...

Jenny: Ibu is Ukrainian, not Polish unfortunately (because I'm from Poland, and it would make me even prouder than the fact she is from the country of my ancestors ;) )

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

elblack: Thanks for the info. (Sorry she's not Polish!)

Anonymous said...

Ibu-san is awsome...and probably the first western Geisha who's not an anthropologist ^_^

There's a lot of "interesting" things coming out about Ms. Fiona Graham...like for instance she's been sued many times and has some outstanding awards out against her in New Zealand where she was running a hostel with the knowledge that was a giant fire hazard....

...shadier and shadier if you ask me

Jenny said...

Ooops yeah, I forgot she's ukrainian not polish. Here she is http://ameblo.jp/berbara-m/image-10900465809-11245352473.html
I just hope Ibu doesn't get a bad rep now because of Fiona Graham. It seems her book is also not going to be published. Pan-MacMillan informed that they have nothing to do with her anymore.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Anon and Jenny: Thanks for your comments. I'm going to refrain from discussing it further here because cracking open her background/dissecting her dismissal was not the intention of this original post, and as you probably know, there is enough of that kind of discussion happening over at the immortal geisha forums.

Jenny said...

That's true. I just want to say I really enjoy reading your writings ^^ I don't usually comment though.

Andriy said...

Does anybody know how to contact to Ibu?