The Story of Famous Geisha Teruha (aka Chishō Takaoka) and Her Lesbian Love Affair in the USA

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Her real name was Tatsuko Takaoka. She was born in Osaka in 1896. It is unclear how, or under what circumstances she made her way to Tokyo but at the age of 13, after a brief training period, she became a Shimbashi Tokyo Geisha, and took the name Teruha [shining leaf].

In 1920, after years of several teenage love affairs, and being a Geisha mistress to at least one of her patrons for 5 years, Teruha got sick of the dead-end road she felt was ruining her youth, and jumped at the chance to marry a stock broker. Thus ended Teruha’s days as a Geisha, at least for a while.

In the spring of 1920, they went to the United States where she ended up making friends with Hollywood actor Sessue Hayakawa. Teruha and her husband traveled all over the country, and it was an exciting time for her. However, the un-exciting part was that her new husband dumped her at whatever hotel they were staying in, and spent his nights out on the town with his buddies –– getting drunk, and chasing women. At least once, he didn’t even come back to the hotel for several days.
But it was Teruha’s fame, and not her husband’s, that preceded her all the way to the ‘Big Apple’. When she arrived in New York City, the people there had prepared a big welcome party for her in a cabaret. Broadway choreographer Michiro Ito hosted the party for Teruha. After the party, 24-year-old Teruha got tired of living at her New York City hotel with a husband who just wanted to go out drinking and womanizing while she was left alone.
Having been a self-educated woman since becoming a Maiko, she decided to take advantage of her stay in America. She left her carousing husband to his wine and women, and headed off on her own, eventually landing at a “Domestic Science School” somewhere out in the suburbs of New York. Teruha stayed in the school dorms while taking courses (and probably learning a lot of English). She also met a very nice girl, and took up something else –– becoming a lesbian. Her lover’s name was Hildegard, and for most of the nine months that Teruha studied, lived, and loved in America on this first trip, it was the love of a woman –– and not a man –– that sustained her.
Portrait of Chishō Takaoka (a geisha and, later Buddhist nun) with her lover Hildegard in New York City, ca. 1920.
Teruha would eventually return to Japan with her husband who didn’t care about her lesbian affair. However, Teruha soon found a man to cheat with to get back at her own cheating husband. She did so with revenge in her heart for all of the womanizing and affairs he was constantly involved in.
However, as all Japanese men know, married men can have all the women they want, but their wives can have nobody but them. That is to say, when he found out about Teruha’s affair with another man, he made life a living hell for her, leading to at least two failed suicide attempts to escape life altogether.
The still married Teruha went back to the USA. From there, she went to London where she once again met up with her old friend, the popular movie star Sessue Hayakawa –– who just “happened to be there.”
What happened between them is not written in words, but Hayakawa told her that she should go and live in Paris. She took his advice, and went to France, where she gave birth to an little girl. Suffice it to say, her husband was not the father. Teruha was now 28 years old.

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