Cut-price geisha shocks `willow world'

The "flower and willow" world of the geisha in Japan's cultural capital is being rudely shaken by a 21-year-old woman who is injecting modern marketing techniques into the centuries-old craft. Kaori Takagi has shocked the discreet world of geisha houses and their rich clientele by opening a geisha "take-out" business - at a mere £80 an hour.

Geisha, with their elaborate make-up and silk kimonos, were once a frequent sight on the streets of Gion, Kyoto's entertainment quarter. In the early evening they could be seen hurrying through the narrow streets to assignations behind sliding screens, like the coy courtesans in old Japanese prints. But a top-level geisha can cost several thousand pounds for a night's entertainment, and in recent years, with increasing strain on company expense accounts, their numbers have dwindled.

Ms Takagi - working name "Mameiku", or "Growing Bean" - had the bright idea of offering a cut-rate service for the low-budget dilettante. With three other young geisha, two sales staff and a make-up artist, Ms Takagi's company has been doing quite well since it was set up at the beginning of November - to the fury of her old employer, who thinks she is violating the code of the profession.

Geisha are sought after for their skills in traditional singing, dancing and playing the samisen, a stringed instrument. Normally they do not offer sex, except to the danna, a wealthy patron each girl seeks out as her protector. The geisha world is exclusive: normally a man can make an appointment only if introduced by a business acquaintance. But Ms Takagi's company takes orders by telephone and will send one of the four geisha anywhere in the Kyoto region. And at £80 per hour, their fees are very low.

Since most geisha live in established geisha houses, their fees must cover the house teachers, auxiliary staff and overheads. For daring to break the trust of her former house and set up on her own in a cheap flat, Ms Takagi is seen by some as an opportunistic parvenue.

But the "Growing Bean" is not deterred: last week she filed a court case against her former employers, charging them with physical abuse, forcing her to work excessive hours with no holidays and withholding over £30,000 in tips from clients. "They are j

u st vicious people," she said. "They thought the harder they worked me the more money they could get."

Ms Takagi, born in southern Japan, came to Kyoto when she was 15, joined the Arai geisha house and started to train as a maiko, or apprentice. She made her debut after a year's training, but gradually became disillusioned with the geisha house.

During her time with the Arai house she found a rich patron, and with his backing decided to break out. "The three other maiko left their geisha houses, all fed up with various types of abuse and bullying. We have been pretty busy since we established

our business. And we have our freedom."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk