Fiona Caroline Graham (born in Melbourne, Australia) is an Australian anthropologist working as a geisha in Japan. She made her debut as a geisha in 2007 in the Asakusa district of Tokyo under the name Sayuki (紗幸), and as of 2018 works in Fukagawa district.
Sayuki was born in Melbourne, Australia, and first traveled to Japan for a student exchange programme, when she was 15. She attended school for a year before returning home.
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. She has been a lecturer on Geisha studies at Keio and Waseda Universities since 2008.
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 she states means "transparent happiness", in the Asakusa district of Tokyo, after a year of preparation and training. She was the first Caucasian woman to do so. Graham initially became a geisha as a year-long academic project. After her year-long project as a geisha, Sayuki was given permisson to continue working as a geisha. 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. Sayuki did an apprenticeship of 11 months. 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.
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. That led to Sayuki leaving. Since 2012, Sayuki has had nine trainees. In February 2011, Sayuki ceased to be associated with the Asakusa Geisha Association. 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". 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. 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. She denied falling out with other geisha. 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".
In 2011, Sayuki opened a kimono shop in the Asakusa district of Tokyo. In July 2013, she performed at the Hyper Japan festival in the United Kingdom. In the same year, she also visited Dubai and Greece. In 2013 she was running her own independent house in Yanaka, an old-world district in Tokyo, where she was training four apprentices. In 2014, she opened a bar in Kutchan, Hokkaido. In 2015, she was invited to Brazil to train for six weeks and then participate in the Carnival.
Further coverage of Graham has appeared in the following publications and other media:
The Independent, January 2008.
Japan Times, June 2008.
The fashion magazine Marie Claire, November 2009.
The Oprah Winfrey Show, February 2010.
The lifestyle section of Metro in July 2013.
A Canal Alpha TV program on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan, February 2014.
On CNN's website, February 2015.
The Japanese TV program Tenshoku DE Tenshoku, May 2015.
Interview in Metropolis (Japan), June 2016.
Podcast in the "Disrupting Japan" series, speaking about the future of geisha in the digital age.
Television broadcast in Japan, December 2016: her story about why she lives in Japan.
The web magazine La Vanguardia, May 2017 (article is in Spanish).
The magazine Tokyo Weekender, October 2017, describing a day in the life of a geisha.
Vanity Fair Italy La vita segreta di Asaka, apprendista geisha, September 2018
Sayuki was featured on Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National in February 2015.