22:59:26, by admin   . Categories: culture traditions, Asia, fieldwork / methods

Australian anthropologist is Japan's first-ever foreign geisha

website screenshot

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.

Geishas are traditional, female Japanese entertainers, who dance, sing and chat to high-paying guests, usually men (Wikipedia on Geishas / BBC Photo journal Geisha / about.com about Geishas)

According to Fiona Graham, Geishas are “strong, independent businesswomen who control their own lives. They were among the first independent women.”

>> read the whole story in the Independent

>> first coverage by the Telegraph

The anthropologist-geisha has her own website http://www.sayuki.net/ (not so much content there yet, though)


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Comment from: Calley [Visitor]

I was wondering if Sayuki could explain how she came into contact with her okiya and how she was accepted and such. I’m looking to join one as well, being American it’ll be difficult, but I’d like to at least work as hard as I can to become what I want.

2010-05-12 @ 17:34
Comment from: [Member]

Have you checked her website http://www.sayuki.net/ It says “For information about how to call geisha, or to book dinner with geisha at a tea-house, just contact Sayuki via this website. Sayuki is planning to start a blog, in the meantime please sign to her Facebook fan page so she can keep in contact with you.”

2010-05-14 @ 13:14
Comment from: memyselfandi [Visitor]

I believe the American Liza Dalby was the first ever foreign geisha.

2010-10-15 @ 19:09
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

right ok im from the uk and im 12 years old and i destin to be a geisha/ geiko it intrests me so much and this christmas im going to start learning japanese will i be able to speak fluent when im 15 and also i envy sayuki so much and i would like to know her fan page on face book shes very inspiring to me to keep my hope up to become geisha when people ask me what i want to be im not afraid to say it ill put so much into this to become one ^^

2010-11-21 @ 18:39
Comment from: [Member]

Wow! There is still no facebook fan page, only a newsletter you can subscribe to… http://www.sayuki.net/

2010-11-22 @ 01:26
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

thx also do you think i could speak fluently in japanese in just 3 years or if not fluent maybie good

2010-11-22 @ 20:46
Comment from: [Member]

of course. it’s easy to learn languages when you’re young.

2010-11-26 @ 13:48
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

lorenz i would like to thank you so very much youve put my hopes up even more your defintley a angel and i know im overflowing you with questions wich i am very grateful and u sure are a good person i would just like to ask i know this maybe silly but do you knock on the doors in japan? and what city is most likley to accepts me because i would either like to go to tokyo or kyoto could u maybie choose a suitable city for me thank you very much for all your awnsers

2010-11-28 @ 18:35
Comment from: Julia Nester [Visitor]  
Julia Nester

I would like to add, that it much easier to learn, when you are living in that country. Learning from books and talking with teacher would give you the base, but you wouldn’t hear the language music. Because every language has his own melody. And to get know it perfectly you should visit the country for couple of weeks (after courses of course).

2010-11-29 @ 18:45
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

im having a japanese tutor teach me japanese

2010-11-30 @ 22:56
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

and also im am getting a correct speach thing and wont go on to he other word til i get it right plus nest year im going to japan anyway lol

2010-11-30 @ 22:58
Comment from: [Member]

Wow, next year Japan. The best thing is to travel around and find out which is best for you. You can’t decide that here

2010-11-30 @ 23:02
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

lol no im going for a holiday next year XD i have three years lol before i try and be accepted into a okiya lol

2010-12-01 @ 13:26
Comment from: Angels [Visitor]

Liza Dalby was the first anthropologist to conduct fieldwork amongst Geisha and to be known as such in 1975, as aoi-me no geisha.

You ought to read her ethnography is a classic and a must!

2010-12-01 @ 16:23
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

yes but fiona was the acctual proper first foreighn geisha liza dably did live with geisha but she didnt do the proper practises but i do agrre she did be a geisha but i wudent say a officaial geisha

2010-12-08 @ 21:26
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

would i have medical test if i went to try to particiapate to become geisha and if they do what kind os medical test

2010-12-08 @ 22:11
Comment from: katy jordan [Visitor]
katy jordan

can some one please awnser my question about the medical stuff also umm do you have to learn the kyoto dialect before you try and go into a geisha house lol very big thank i want the honest right awnser thank you mostly from lorenz lorenz i can count on more lol but if anyone knows the awnser please telll me i love you all very much

2010-12-08 @ 22:37

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