Madame Sadayakko was the ultimate geisha, so exquisite that the prime minister of the day paid a fortune to deflower her. But she was a rebel who wanted to carve her own path in life. In 1899 she married a subversive avant garde actor and, with a troupe of other actors, they set out on the first ever tour of the West by a Japanese theatre company. Sadayakko took to the stage and became an instant star. She danced for the American President and for the Prince of Wales in London, Picasso painted her, Gide swooned over her and Rodin admired her. But back in Japan, she suffered the stigma of being an ex-geisha and an actor and was forced, in the end, to make a terrible choice - between respectability and love.
Lesley Downer lived in Japan for more than ten years and speaks fluent Japanese. She has written many books about Japan and its culture, presented television programmes on the subject for both Channel 4 and the BBC and she contributes a weekly column to The Scotsman called 'Postcard from Japan'.