A documentary film-maker and academic with a doctorate in anthropology from Oxford University, Fiona Graham has just become what she says is the first non-Japanese in 400 years to debut as a geisha. But she hasn’t become a geisha for private reasons: She is now recording her life on film according to The Independent:
Sometime soon, she says, the world will see the results: a rare, scholarly inside look into one of the most closed societies in Japan. “It will be unique,” she insists. “Most Westerners who have tried to write about the traditions have failed because they never really lived the life. I’m going to represent the society that I’m living in now, as it is.”
Graham (or Sayuki as she now is called) 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 first came to Japan on an exchange programme from Melbourne aged 15. Fluent in Japanese, she has spent time working in Japanese companies and as a journalist.
It seems that it was during her fieldwork she learned to become a geisha:
The training involves learning how to walk, talk and dress, and master several skills, such as the tea ceremony and the three-stringed shamisen, and her own speciality, the Japanese bamboo flute, which she practises every day. Then there are the rules of being in an okiya, or geisha house.
Her duties will include attending parties at these venues, pouring drinks and entertaining guests. “Everything is carefully rehearsed,” she explains. “When I open a sliding door I have to be on my knees, and stand up. Then close the door again on my knees. Learning what kimono to wear and when … there are many, many little customs like that.” Despite a year of training, she says she is still “not confident” about choosing the appropriate kimono to wear.
According to Fiona Graham, Geishas are “strong, independent businesswomen who control their own lives. They were among the first independent women.”
The anthropologist-geisha has her own website http://www.sayuki.net/ (not so much content there yet, though)