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Tsutakiyokomatsu Asaji, 102, Reportedly Japan's Oldest Geisha

August 21, 1996

Tsutakiyokomatsu Asaji, 102, believed to be Japan's oldest geisha. Born Haru Kato, Asaji spent nearly 90 years as a geisha, a word literally meaning "arts person." She had continued performing the refined songs and dances of geisha tradition until April, when illness forced her to retire. Westerners usually think of a geisha as a prostitute. Although some developed intimate liaisons with patrons, the job description involves only music, dance, smiles, charming conversation and the serving of sake. Long ago, it was considered normal for wealthy and powerful men to frequent the now-disappearing geisha houses. But attitudes are changing, and in 1989 former Prime Minister Sosuke Unio resigned over a scandal involving his geisha mistress. Asaji, who published her autobiography two years ago, was an apprentice at age 11 and made her debut five years later. She was known as a master of Japanese traditional songs featured in Kabuki plays. On Sunday in Tokyo of kidney failure.

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