The Beautiful Dancer of Yedo
This is the tale of Sakura-ko, Flower of the Cherry, who was the beautiful dancer of Yedo. She was a geisha, born a samurai’s daughter, that sold herself into bondage after her father died, so that her mother might have food to eat. Ah, the pity of it! The money that bought her was called Namida no Kané, that is “the money of tears.”
She dwelt in the narrow street of the geisha, where the red and white lanterns swing and the plum trees flourish by the low eves. The street of the geisha is full of music, for they play the samisen there all day long.
Sakura-ko played it too; indeed she was skilful in every lovely art. She played the samisen, the kotto, the biwa, and the small hand-drum. She could make songs and sing them. Her eyes were long, her hair was black, her hands were white. Her beauty was wonderful, and wonderful her power to please. From dawn to dusk, and from dusk to dawn she could go smiling and hide her heart. In the cool of the day she would stand upon the gallery of her mistress’s house, and muse as she stood and looked down into the street of the geisha. And the folk that passed that way said to one another, “See, yonder stands Sakura-ko, Flower of the Cherry, the beautiful dancer of Yedo, the geisha without peer.”
But Sakura-ko looked down and mused and said, “Little narrow street of the geisha, paved with bitterness and broken hearts, your houses are full of vain hopes and vain regrets; youth and love and grief dwell here. The flowers in your gardens are watered with tears.”
The gentlemen of Yedo must needs have their pleasure, so Sakura-ko served at feasts every night. They whitened her cheeks and her forehead, and gilded her lips with beni. She wore silk attires, gold and purple and grey and green and black, obi of brocade magnificently tied. Her hair was pinned with coral and jade, fastened with combs of gold lacquer and tortoise-shell. She poured saké, she made merry with the good company. More than this, she danced.
Three poets sang of her dancing.