Sayuki of Asakusa — the first gai-geisha of Japan

chindoya geisha gaijin

Generic gai-geisha caricature — Fair use – Parody

Sayuki of Asakusa
For the first time in the 400 year history of the geisha, a Westerner has been accepted, and on December 19, will formally debut under the name Sayuki…[she] specialized in social anthropology, a subject which requires anthropologists to actually experience the subject they are studying by participating in the society themselves.more

To explain “gai-geisha” ….
The first word you learn in Japan is “gaijin”–literally ‘gai’ meaning outside/alien/foriegn and “jin” meaning person. Addiltionally, the word “geisha” literally ‘gei’ means the arts and ‘sha’ means a person or “doer”.
Therefore gai-geisha means “alien art doer.”

Miss Sayuki was lucky to be a Tokyo geisha do not follow the strict, multi-year, ritualized Kyoto apprentice process. The Tokyo training period can be six months to a year —a hell of lot shorter than year it would take to speak Japanese at the geisha level of sophistication—and the five years that a real Kyoto apprentice needs to go through before she debuts as a full geisha.

However, gai-geisha strike me as just elaborate cosplay and reminds me of the true geisha of Japan, Chindonya (Wikimedia), advertising clowns.

Idea and link thanks to

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I'm a pale, alien, quadruped who has worked for 25+ years at "Maybe-the-Largest Inc." in Tokyo.

28 thoughts on “Sayuki of Asakusa — the first gai-geisha of Japan”

  1. Now wait a minute Taro! The author of “GEISHA” Liza Dalby was the first Western geisha more than 10 years ago.

  2. In recent years, becoming a “geisha” has not required a lifetime of work. However, Liza Dalby never did a formal geisha apprenticeship. She was just allowed to pretend to be a geishi to do her participant-observer anthropological study.

  3. Yeah, Liza Dalby was just “allowed” to pretend she was a geisha, as many sources have mentioned (including …
    Anthropologist Lisa Dalby (author of GEISHA) got close to the ranks, but never became a geisha herself….
    … the geisha themselves developed a stake in her gaining an understanding of their world. Thus the suggestion that she borrow appropriate kimono and take her shamisen to the teahouses of Pontochô came from the geisha. The rationale was unassailable and Liza made her debut as Ichigiku, younger sister of Ichiume. When she eventually wrote her book Geisha , her experiences as a novice geisha proved invaluable in presenting the insider’s view…

 …She never went through the formal processes of becoming a geiko herself, nor was she formally associated with any of the okiya or ochaya in Kyoto. She was often requested by customers, but note that clients were not billed for her attendance, since she had no formal association…more…

  4. The term you are looking for is “maiko henshin”–a Geisha Makeover for a few hours.
    In a similar vein, Liza Dalby attended parties in the geisha get-up and was just a novelty item.

    Dress up, have fan, and have your photo taken. Over 100 choices of kimono available. GEISHA PLAN: 12,000 yen including tax (makeup, dressing, two 5 X 7 inch portrait photos). MAIKO PLAN: 10,000 yen with tax (makeup, dressing, two 5 X 7 inch portrait photos)….

  5. commented:
    “…Sayuki is not the first Western Geisha, that is should be Liza Dalby (in 1970s) instead. Thing is, Liza didn’t go through formal apprenticeship…”

    The problem is that Sayuki enjoyed an “Ginza Geisha” apprenticeship which can last only six months (rather than five or six years as is traditionally required in Kyoto). Neither Sayuki nor Liza studied a full range of the geisha arts that required during a formal apprenticeship (for example, neither lady attempted Japanese dance).
    chindoya geisha gaijin

  6. By the way, any geisha who is older than hangyoku age spends around 6 months to a year before they debut. Sayuki’s training period was normal length.

  7. Hi Respectable Person.
    At first respect your Country. I am the citizen of Bangladesh in South Asia (Near India). I want to friendship with your country & with you. I am chairman of Foreign language school & salon Beauty parlour. I am Indian training massage therapist. All languages of the world are taught here. I invite to you visit my country. I am waiting for your kind reply.
    Best Regards,
    Name:- Badsha

  8. I’m sure you’re no beauty queen yourself, so before you insult someone on their looks, look in the mirror.

    Oh, and another thing, if you’re going to write an article, you’d save yourself some face by taking an English Class. Run ons and awkward sentences galore and it’s only a short article.

  9. According to Debito’s and Sayuki’s blogs, she is now going down-market for the Wapanese freakazoid type of tourist clientele.

    Dear All,

    Following my debut as the first white geisha in Japan, many people have asked me if I can set up an evening at a teahouse where their members can meet geisha.

    I have been able to negotiate with one teahouse the following arrangement for groups of first-time foreigners to introduce you to the flower and willow world:

    …< snip >…

    Ten or more: 12.300 yen [sic] per person

    …< snip >…

    *Does not include alcohol but you can order alcohol and pay separately

    …< snip >…

    I am looking forward to lots of gaijin support!



    Note: 12.300yen per person equals about 11 cents ($0.114456 USD), hee, hee.

  10. A period (.) is frequently used in place of a comma (,) particularly in Europe (and isn’t Sayuki Oxford educated?). So roughly $120 USD… unless the American dollar continues to drop.

  11. I can tell that this is not the 1st time at all that you have written about this topic. Why have you decided to write about it again?

  12. Taro, it is really offensive to put a photo of someone else as if it is Sayuki.
    And all of you, criticising Sayuki for being white is just racist. She grew up in Japan – why shouldn’t she participate in Japanese society.
    And it is hardly likely that Keio University would have hired her to lecture on traditional Japanese society if she wasn’t the genuine thing.

  13. chindoya geisha gaijin is really offensive to put a photo of someone else as if it is Sayuki..

    It is not a photo–it’s a drawn caricature (using elements of dozens of photos). The whole purpose of a caricature is to exaggerates/distorts the essence of someone–in this case a Western geisha.

    If Sayuki-sama is so distraught by this trival post that is three years old and that nobody will be reading, I pulled down the parts of it linked directly to her and labeled the drawing as a caricature, sheesh. And, as far as the validity of Sayuki’s geisha-ness, IMHO she’s a just an oddity, a talking dog.

  14. Putting in “sayuki” and “geisha” into a google search brings up your offensive caricature of Sayuki first thing. i.e it is the FIRST thing that anyone sees when they look Sayuki up. It is offensive and uncalled for. If she wasn’t the real thing how do you think she has lasted three years inside the geisha world? It is difficult for any white person to be the first to do anything in Japan given the very racist attitudes here. Sayuki deserves congratulations.

  15. What lies on the ground 100 feet up in the air & stinks? A dead centi-pede.

  16. Do you know who else was into kimono cosplay?

    Weird Photo Of Adolf Hitler In Japanese Kimono / 2015June21
    Hitler is shown in the photo dressed in a robe that appears to be a Japanese Kimono. Independent verification of the authenticity of the photo is difficult, but according to the U.K.’s Express, the photo is likely authentic, although its origin is unknown. It is believed to have been produced to commemorate the November 25, 1936, signing of a pact between Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan...more

  17. Ain’t a geisha (芸者 arts person) just an “entertainer”?
    Why do weeby Japanophiles build up all this weird mysticism around what is essentially the same as hiring a clown for a party?

  18. So Sayuki…
    How much do you charge for a knee-trembling blow-job?

    (You can dress a whore in a kimono and facepaint, but she’s still a whore.)

  19. You can dress a foreign galoot in a silk kimono and facepaint, but she’s still Alice the Goon.


    Please insert my photo of Alice the Goon, ok? —E. C. Segar

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