The world of geishas is as fascinating as it is intriguing. For years these characters have represented an important part of Japanese traditional culture and have given us incredible stories that range from strict discipline to cases of abuse and suffering. All of them are equally intriguing but not as shocking as the story of Sada Abe, a woman with a tragic life and a dangerous passion who became a legend all over Japan.
The legend begins with a woman walking down the streets of Tokyo with a mysterious package covered in blood and wrapped with the cover of a magazine. Soon after, the body of Kichizo Ishida was found in a hotel room with signs of strangulation, his genitals missing, and the signature of his murderer written on his leg next to a message reading “Sada, Kichi together.” But what happened that pushed her to kill the person she considered to be the love of her life?
There are many versions, since the story of a geisha murdering a man and wandering around the streets with her victim's genitals obviously became an urban legend all over Japan. However, after almost 80 years, the recollection of official documents and Abe’s personal autobiography have helped put the pieces together.
Born in 1905, Sada was the youngest surviving daughter of the Abe family. Since she was a little girl, her mother enrolled her in singing and dancing lessons. As she grew up, she became a rebellious teenager who would skip school to attend music lessons. But, as it happens with these cases, her life was marked with a traumatic event. When she was only fourteen years old, she was raped by an acquaintance. From that moment on, she started a life of excesses.
Her elder sister once stated that she had shown a lot of interest in the world of geishas. However, according to Abe herself, she became one when her father sold her to a geisha house as punishment for her promiscuous behavior. Once there, she aspired to become one of the greatest geisha’s of the house, but only those who were trained from a young age were capable of achieving that status. Thus, she remained a low-rank geisha that allegedly had to engage in sexual intercourse with customers. Now, it’s a common belief that geishas were all prostitutes, but that’s not true. In fact, traditionally geishas were only entertainers who would sing, dance, and accompany men. Their occupations involved flirting, but in the most important houses, men knew their advances weren’t going to achieve anything beyond platonic.
Whether she had sex with men during her time as a geisha or not is something impossible to assure. The truth is that, frustrated for not being able to be promoted, she decided to abandon the profession and became a licensed prostitute, a job that provided more money and freedom, or so she thought. During her time as a prostitute, she tried to escape many times, but the prostitution web at the time wasn't willing to let her go and forced her to continue in the business.
From 1934 to 1935, her life was a rollercoaster. She became the mistress of the man who helped her leave prison after being arrested at the illegal brothel where she worked. Then, after months of being in a relationship with this man, who gave her a house and a monthly income, she abandoned him and moved out of Tokyo. While working as a waitress at a restaurant, she met a banker and professor who immediately fell in love with her. Willing to help her become an independent woman, he suggested her to become an apprentice at a restaurant so she could open her own business. With that idea in mind, she moved back to Tokyo and started an apprenticeship, where she met the love of her life and her victim.
Ishida was the wealthy owner of the restaurant she was working at. Known as a hopeless womanizer, he started flirting with Abe, and soon his advances bore fruit. They would spend days locked in hotel rooms, where they let their passions run free, but she fell in love with a man who only saw her as a sexual object. The idea of him going back every night to the arms of his wife started tormenting her, and in May 1936 she got the inspiration she needed to make him pay for the way he treated her.
Inspired by a play where the main character, a geisha, stabs a man with a kitchen knife, she gathered some of her best clothes and pawned them to buy a knife. She agreed to meet the man one more time in one of their passionate escapades, and while they were enjoying the fruits of desire, she grabbed the knife, put it on her lover's penis, and threatened to cut it so he wouldn’t lay with other women. Thinking it was a joke, he laughed and continued the intercourse. Then she grabbed a piece of fabric of her attire and choked him while he was reaching ecstasy, something he really enjoyed, since it was a new sexual experience for the couple. They had sex a few more times, and their violent kinks multiplied. Once Ishida was asleep, she decided it was the best time to make him pay for not treating her as she deserved. She grabbed the fabric once again and strangled him to death. Then, she grabbed her knife and cut his genitals, which she wrapped with the cover of a magazine. She abandoned the hotel and wandered for days with her precious treasure. She even said she tried to use it to masturbate, but it didn’t work as expected. Her plan was to flee from Tokyo and jump from a hill, grabbing Ishida’s member so they would be together.
Why did she actually killed him? Well, as she stated: “I loved him so much, I wanted him all to myself. But since we were not husband and wife, as long as he lived he could be embraced by other women. I knew that if I killed him no other woman could ever touch him again, so I killed him...”
Images from the 1976 film In the Realm of Senses based on Sada Abe’s life.