Saturday, May 29, 2010

Geisha Cameos in History: Princess Pig

Geisha have, through their connections with government officials and samurai, played quiet roles in history, both large and small, and so every now and then I'll toss up a post about one of them. Today's cameo is a very small one but I like it as it shows geisha don't always have to be tiny to be considered beautiful and interesting. :)

Awhile back I reviewed a biography of Saigo Takamori, an important 19th century samurai who you can see faint echoes of in Ken Watanabe's Katsumoto character in The Last Samurai. Long story short, he led the failed Satsuma Rebellion against the new, modern Meiji government (which he helped get into power, ironically enough) and was a folk hero by the time of his death, considered by the general populace to be a samurai's samurai and eventually pardoned by the same government that killed him.

While he had a wife, Saigo showed her little love and was apparently far more fond of a Kyoto geisha (geiko) he took as his mistress. I haven't been able to find her real name, but apparently she was a much larger girl compared to the other geiko and had the nickname "Buta-hime", 豚姫 or "Princess Pig." They were said to be quite passionate and ardent for each other, and he openly declared his love for her though this didn't have any legal effect on his marriage with his wife.

Considering that Saigo was a bull-necked, beefy guy just under 6' tall in a country and time where men barely cleared 5', the biography suggests part of Saigo's attraction to her might have been her relative size compared to him. That seems pretty simplistic and almost insulting to me, but I think their story would be an interesting one to learn more about.

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