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Fiona Graham

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Fiona Graham
Sayuki playing flute.JPG
Graham as Sayuki playing the yokobue Japanese flute in January 2013
Fiona Caroline Graham

Melbourne, Australia
ResidenceTokyo, Japan
Other namesSayuki
EducationKeio University
University of Oxford (M.Phil., D.Phil.)
OccupationAnthropologist, geisha

Fiona Caroline Graham (born in Melbourne, Australia) is an Australian anthropologist working as a geisha in Japan.[1][2] She made her debut as a geisha in 2007 in the Asakusa district of Tokyo under the name Sayuki (紗幸), and currently works in Fukagawa district.[3]

Academic career[edit]

Sayuki was born in Melbourne, Australia,[4] and first traveled to Japan for a student exchange programme, when she was 15.[5] She attended Japanese school and lived with a Japanese family.[6]

Her first degrees in psychology and teaching were taken at Keio University. She completed an M.Phil. in 1992 and a D.Phil. 2001 in social anthropology focusing on Japanese corporate culture at the University of Oxford.[7][8] She has lectured at the National University of Singapore,[9] and been a lecturer on Geisha studies at Keio and Waseda Universities since 2008.[10][11]

Geisha activities[edit]

Sayuki (left) and one of her trainees in January 2013

On 19 December 2007, Graham formally debuted as a geisha under the name Sayuki, which means "transparent happiness",[12] in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, after a year of preparation and training.[13][14] She was the first Caucasian woman to do so.[5][13][15][16] Graham initially became a geisha as a year-long academic project.[17] After her year-long project as a geisha, Sayuki was given permisson to continue working as a geisha.[18] After she got her doctorate in Social Anthropology from Oxford, she started working on programs for broadcasters including NHK, the BBC or National Geographic Channel. Her formal debut and membership of a geisha house distinguishes her from American scholar Liza Dalby, who researched geisha and attended banquets as a geisha in the 1970s, but did not formally debut.[19][20][21] Sayuki did an apprenticeship of 11 months.[22] She had taken lessons in tea ceremony, and as of 1 August 2011, was taking lessons in shamisen, singing, and her main art of yokobue, which she chose after playing the flute for many years.[1][23][24]

After being in an Asakusa geisha house for four years, Sayuki applied for permission to have her own geisha house as her geisha mother was retiring due to illness but although Asakusa had allowed a foreigner to become a geisha, they would not allow a foreigner to become a geisha mother.[24] That led to Sayuki leaving. Since 2012, Sayuki has had nine trainees.[24] In February 2011, Sayuki ceased to be associated with the Asakusa Geisha Association.[25][26][27] The Wall Street Journal reported that one anonymous person had said that she was asked to leave "because her actions disgrace[d] the reputation of the association".[26] The Daily Telegraph cited an anonymous insider who claimed that she had failed to follow customs and show proper deference to more experienced practitioners, as well as spending too much time on self-promotion.[28] However, apart from this one anonymous person the Asakusa Geisha Association never stated that she had to leave because of that. According to other reports, she had requested permission to operate independently from December 2010 after the "mother" of her geisha house fell ill and retired; Sayuki claims that she was not allowed to become a geisha mother on the grounds of being a foreigner.[18] She denied falling out with other geisha.[29] According to a representative of the Asakusa Geisha Association, the Association only gave special dispensation for her to be a geisha "as part of her study" and "did not expect her to want to become an independent geisha to begin with".[26]

In 2011, Sayuki opened a kimono shop in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.[12] In July 2013, she performed at the Hyper Japan festival in the United Kingdom.[30] In the same year, she also visited Dubai and Greece.[31] In 2013 she was running her own independent house in Yanaka, an old-world district in Tokyo, where she was training four apprentices.[32][33][34] In 2014, she opened a bar in Kutchan, Hokkaido.[35] In 2015, she was invited to Brazil to train for six weeks and then participate in the Carnival.[36]

Media coverage[edit]

Further coverage of Graham has appeared in the following publications and other media:

  • The Independent, January 2008.[37]
  • Japan Times, June 2008.[38]
  • The fashion magazine Marie Claire, November 2009.[39]
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show, February 2010.[40]
  • The lifestyle section of Metro in July 2013.[41]
  • A Canal Alpha TV program on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan, February 2014.[42]
  • On CNN's website, February 2015.[43]
  • The Japanese TV program Tenshoku DE Tenshoku, May 2015.[44]
  • Interview in Metropolis (Japan), June 2016.[45]
  • Podcast in the "Disrupting Japan" series, speaking about the future of geisha in the digital age.[46]
  • Television broadcast in Japan, December 2016: her story about why she lives in Japan.[47]
  • The web magazine La Vanguardia, May 2017 (article is in Spanish).[48]
  • The magazine Tokyo Weekender, October 2017, describing a day in the life of a geisha.[49]
  • Vanity Fair Italy La vita segreta di Asaka, apprendista geisha,[50] September 2018


Sayuki was featured on Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National in February 2015.[51]


  • Inside the Japanese Company by Fiona Graham, Curzon Press, 2003, ISBN 0-415-30670-1
  • A Japanese Company in Crisis: Ideology, Strategy, And Narrative (Contemporary Japan) by Fiona Graham, Routledge, 2005, ISBN 0-415-34685-1
  • Playing at Politics: An Ethnography of the Oxford Union by Fiona Graham, Dunedin Academic Press, Edinburgh, 2005, ISBN 978-1-903765-52-4


  1. ^ a b Ng, Adelaine (1 August 2011). "A glimpse into the secret world of geisha". Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  2. ^ "The Sayuki Geisha Banquet service Starts!!". Niseko Japan. Japan: Niseko Promotion Board Co., Ltd. 7 January 2013. Archived from the original on 30 June 2013. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  3. ^ Brooks, Harrison (25 October 2018). "Keeping a tradition alive, from the outside in". Bangkok Post. Retrieved 19 January 2019.
  4. ^ "Fiona Caroline Graham". Library of Congress. 2015. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 2015-03-16. ... studied at Keio Univ., worked in the Japanese life insurance industry; later, Master's degree, management studies and Doctorate in social anthropology, U. of Oxford; her exper. and production of a film documentary for NHK form the basis for the fieldwork in the book ... data sh.
  5. ^ a b Ryall, Julian (9 January 2008). "Westerner inducted into mysteries of geisha". The Telegraph. Japan: Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 6 June 2011.
  6. ^ Grunebaum, Dan (June 2016). "Sayuki Being a gaijin geisha isn't easy but it can be fun". Metropolis Magazine.
  7. ^ Graham, Fiona (1992). Aspects of a Japanese organisation (Thesis). Thesis MPhil--University of Oxford.
  8. ^ Graham, Fiona (2001). Ideology and practice: an ethnology of a Japanese company (Thesis). Thesis DPhil--University of Oxford.
  9. ^ "Past Departmental Seminars". March 2019. Archived from the original on |archive-url= requires |archive-date= (help). Retrieved 16 March 2019.
  10. ^ "2012-2013 Keio University: International Center Courses" (PDF). Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  11. ^ "Course List (Spring Semester)" (PDF). April 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 June 2014. Retrieved 29 October 2015.
  12. ^ a b Martin, Alex (3 June 2011). "Geisha cuts into kimono market". The Japan Times Online. Japan: The Japan Times Ltd. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  13. ^ a b "Melbourne woman becomes a geisha". 9 News. Ninemsn Pty Ltd. 8 January 2008. Archived from the original on 5 October 2012. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  14. ^ Corkill, Edan (29 June 2008). "Aussie geisha speaks out". The Japan Times. The Japan Times Ltd. Retrieved 3 June 2009.
  15. ^ "Japanese geisha". Radio New Zealand. 5 December 2013. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  16. ^ McNeill, David (24 January 2008). "Turning Japanese: the first foreign geisha". London: The Independent. Retrieved 8 July 2011.
  17. ^ Nakano, Keisuke (12 May 2008), "Meet Sayuki, first foreign geisha", The Nikkei Weekly
  18. ^ a b Grunebaum, Dan (3 June 2016). "SAYUKI Being a gaijin geisha isn't easy, but it can be fun". Metropolis. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  19. ^ Dalby, Liza (1983). Geisha. London: Vintage U.K. pp. 106–112. ISBN 978-0-09-928638-7.
  20. ^ Hyslop, Leah (4 October 2010). "Liza Dalby, the blue-eyed geisha". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 18 July 2011.
  21. ^ Corkill, Edan. "Aussie geisha speaks out". The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  22. ^ Bunny, Bissoux (October 2017). "A day in the life of a geisha". Tokyo Weekender Magazine: 24, 25.
  23. ^ Sayuki. "Getting to be a Geisha". The Mainichi Daily News. Japan: The Mainichi Newspapers. Archived from the original on 8 September 2011. Retrieved 26 November 2014.
  24. ^ a b c Romero, Tim (22 November 2016). "Will Japan's Geisha Survive the Digital Age? – Disrupting Japan". Disrupting Japan. Archived from the original on 27 September 2017. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  25. ^ 外国人芸者の独立ダメ...業界組合「想定外」と困惑 [Foreign geisha denied independence - Association uneasy at unexpected turn of events]. Sponichi Annex (in Japanese). Japan: Sports Nippon Newspapers. 6 June 2011. Archived from the original on 10 August 2011. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  26. ^ a b c Novick, Anna (7 June 2011). "Foreign Geisha's Future Uncertain". The Wall Street Journal: Japan Realtime. Dow Jones & Company. Retrieved 14 July 2011.
  27. ^ 外国人芸者 独立はダメ 浅草の組合「想定外」 [Foreign geisha denied independence - Association talk of ‘unexpected events’]. Tokyo Shimbun (in Japanese). Japan: Tokyo Shimbun. 7 June 2011. Archived from the original on 7 June 2011. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  28. ^ Ryall, Julian (4 June 2011). "First ever Western geisha leaves the 'sisterhood'". The Telegraph. Japan: Telegraph Media Group Limited. Retrieved 6 June 2011. Oxford-educated Fiona Graham, 47, was the only foreigner in 400 years to be accepted into the ranks of the geisha
  29. ^ Wallace, Rick (6 June 2011). "Aussie Geisha Fiona Graham rejects reports she's split with Asakusa Geisha Association". The Australian. Australia: News Limited. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  30. ^ "Sayuki The First Western Geisha Appears at Hyper Japan 2013" (PDF). Hyper Japan. 2013. Archived from the original (pdf) on 22 April 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2015.
  31. ^ "The Western woman who became a geisha". Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  32. ^ "Meet Sayuki, the world's first western geisha". Metro. United Kingdom: Associated Newspapers Limited. 25 July 2013. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  33. ^ "花柳界初 外国人芸者 紗幸 好きこそ物の上手なれ". Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  34. ^ "The Western woman who became a geisha". Tokyo: The National. Retrieved 2014-11-14.
  35. ^ "Archive copy". Archived from the original on 23 November 2014. Retrieved 5 December 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  36. ^ Lucas-Hall, Renae. "Sayuki Ushers the Japanese Geisha into the 21st Century".
  37. ^ "Turning Japanese: the first foreign geisha". The Independent. 24 January 2008.
  38. ^ Corkill, Edan (2008-06-29). "Sayuki: Aussie geisha speaks out". The Japan Times Online. ISSN 0447-5763. Retrieved 2018-04-23.
  39. ^ Haworth, Abigail (9 November 2009). "Meet Japan's First Western Geisha". Marie Claire. Hearst Communication. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  40. ^ "Lisa Ling goes inside the world of a modern geisha and a real-life nunnery". Harpo Productions. 9 February 2010. Archived from the original on 10 February 2010. Retrieved 5 August 2011.
  41. ^ Scott, Lisa (25 July 2013). "Meet Sayuki, the world's first western geisha". Metro. Associated Newspapers Ltd. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  42. ^ 150 Years Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Switzerland and Japan,, 12 December 2014.
  43. ^ Irvine, Dean (2 February 2015). "'A beautiful life': The Australian woman who became a geisha". Cable News Network. Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved 18 April 2015.
  44. ^ Sanma’s Tenshoku DE Tenshoku,, 27 May 2015.
  45. ^ Sayuki: Being a gaijin geisha isn’t easy – but it can be fun, Metropolis, 3 June 2016.
  46. ^ 61: Will Japan’s Geisha Survive the Digital Age?", Disrupting Japan, 22 November 2016.
  47. ^ 紗幸さんの日本に住む理由とは?「メルボルン出身 芸者」 "What is the reason for Ms. Sayuki living in Japan? "Melbourne-born geisha"", Daily Motion, December 2016.
  48. ^ "Geishas 'millennials'", La Vanguardia, 28 May 2017.
  49. ^ Bunny Bissoux, "A Day in the Life of a Geisha", Tokyo Weekender, 14 October 2017.
  50. ^ "La vita segreta di Asaka, apprendista geisha".
  51. ^ "The mysterious world of the geisha". RN. ABC. 12 January 2015. Retrieved 22 April 2015.

External links[edit]