The Green-Eyed Geisha Calls It Quits?

Westerners do seem to love the mythos of the Geisha, and I’m no exception. Obviously I’ve read Arthur Golden’s most famous novel, as well as the memoir of Mineko Iwesaki. I love Liza Dalby, who is generally considered to be the “first Western Geisha,” and who wrote some fabulous work on the subject. I’ve even wandered around Kyoto in search of these women and been lucky enough to spot them. In fact, a good friend of ours is doing the very same today, which is part of why this topic caught my eye!

As you may be aware, recently an Australian anthropologist (with a P.h.D. from Oxford no less!) has been working and living as a geisha in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. Fiona Graham, now 50, debuted as “Sayuki” after a year of training at the age of 47.  It was announced earlier this week that she is parting ways with the establishment, and will apparently attempt to continue on independently.

It’s hard to get a clear sense of the true story, and it’s likely that we’ll never really know what actually happened. Graham claims that she is being ostracized because she is a foreigner. The Telegraph quotes a number of sources that state she did not follow the rules, take part in ongoing training, and even accuse her of fighting with the establishment.

It is said that she has been asked to leave “after being accused of bringing the movement into disrepute.” The most damning quote of all, which perhaps sums up both sides of the story, comes from a fellow geisha in the same district. “It’s embarrassing, but she just does not understand that.”

What do you think? Is it impossible for a non-Japanese person to truly engage in such a traditional Japanese art form? Did she simply not fit in due to her own personality clashes? Or is she a pioneer and being ostracized, as she claims, based on the color of her skin and the cultural differences she faces?


About superhappyawesome

Living in Japan!
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7 Responses to The Green-Eyed Geisha Calls It Quits?

  1. Leah says:

    My guess is it’s probably a personality clash – If it really were a race/cultural origin issue, I don’t believe she would neither have been let into the institution, nor permitted to have passed the training, in the first place.

  2. Allie says:

    I also love geisha culture, have been to Gion to see maiko and read all the books you listed above, but I really dislike Arthur Golden. The whole reason Iwesaki wrote Geisha, A Life was because she was a primary source of info for Golden’s book but he promised to keep her anonymous. After she was acknowledged in his book she faced backlash and death threats. Stupid Golden >: (

  3. kathryn says:

    I really have a strong dislike for ppl who do things for the sake of having this adventurous life to write about… whether it’s being a geisha or a hostess or whatever. To me, it reeks of exploitation. I’m not sure that was the case here but if it is then it’s understandable she was asked to leave.

    Btw I went to Gion and I had to leave. The behaviour of Westerners in that area was so embarassing. They had so little respect for the geisha…. pretty much treating them like zoo animals to be photographed.

  4. Leah says:

    “The behaviour of Westerners in that area was so embarassing. They had so little respect for the geisha…. pretty much treating them like zoo animals to be photographed.”

    On that note, my friends and I spent an hour of our time visiting Atsuta Shrine being photographed in very much the same way because we were foreigners in yukata. That behavior is universal to all cultures.

  5. elle marie says:

    Hi, I’m a new reader, but I wanted to thank you for coming by and saying “hello”, I really wish I Could offer a comment on this situation but I don’t know much about the “Geisha” culture, but I’m really interested to know the “why” she was outcasted by the culture.

  6. anne says:

    The Telegraph article quoted ONE anonymous geisha who claimed various things about Sayuki and no other evidence at all.
    It is fact that the Geisha Association told her that it was because she is a foreigner that she could not open her own geisha house even though Asakusa rules state that any geisha may apply to open their own geisha house after they have been a geisha for four years.

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