• Kyodo

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Sapporo’s Susukino entertainment district used to host one of the nation’s biggest red-light districts with more than 300 geisha in the 1950s.

But with the burst of the bubble economy in the late 1980s dealing a heavy blow to the local economy, the number has now plunged to 10, with their ages at 40 or older.

Struck with a sense of crisis, Hiroko Sawada, 73, who teaches Japanese traditional dance and other geisha performances, turned to the business community for help.

The result was the creation of a group that aims to promote and teach future geisha.

“I want people in the younger generation to enter the world (of geisha),” said Sawada.

The group, established at the end of February, gathered about ¥8.1 million from companies to cover the costs of kimono and lessons for aspiring geisha.

Born on the Russian island of Sakhalin, Sawada was adopted by a geisha house in Sapporo and went on to become a geisha herself.

For the past 40 years, she has trained and taught younger geisha.

But she said few women nowadays want to become geisha, partly because of the costs involved. It’s the reason why she sought support from Iwao Takamuki, the former head of the Sapporo Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

At present, Sawada teaches traditional dance, Japanese ballads and shamisen six days a week.

“I want to maintain the torch of the world of geisha in Sapporo,” she said.

Sawada is also planning events to show geisha performances to foreign tourists. For more information, call (011) 512-3496.

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