Somewhere in the underbelly of Tokyo, Japan, a failed geisha indulges in trysts with a married man. But when the man refuses to leave his wife, their romance takes a dark turn. Unable to take the pain of rejection, Sada Abe resorts to extreme measures – and becomes a literary legend along the way.
Sada was born on May 28, 1905, in Kanda, a neighborhood of Tokyo. Her father, Shigeyoshi, had inherited a business making traditional flooring mats, and the family enjoyed a relatively privileged lifestyle. However, infant mortality was still high, and only four of the Abes’ eight children survived to become adults.
When she was young, Sada’s siblings often caused trouble for the family. Shintaro, her brother, was known for his womanizing ways, and her sister Teruko was sexually promiscuous. But while her parents were busy trying to control their unruly children, Sada was becoming an independent young woman.
Sadly, this independence resulted in Sada’s rape at the age of 14. After this, her behavior grew worse, and she was eventually sent to a geisha house in the city of Yokohama. Although she had apparently shown an interest in the ways of this glamorous world in the past, she would later claim that her father sold her into the profession against her will.
Growing up, Sada’s mother had encouraged her to learn to sing and play music, pursuits that were closely associated with the geisha lifestyle. However, in Yokohama, Sada found herself competing with girls who had been raised in the tradition since birth. Unable to rise through the ranks, Sada was tasked with providing sexual services for her clients.
Then, some time in the late 1920s, Sada began suffering from syphilis. Strangely, that did not stop her career progression, and eventually she decided to become a licensed prostitute. Traveling west to Osaka, she found work in a brothel in the city’s Tobita district. However, she soon found herself in trouble once more.
Caught stealing cash from her customers, Sada made several bids to flee the brothel. Finally, after two years, she succeeded and took a waitressing job. Sadly, this did not last for long, and she was soon back to working as a prostitute – albeit without a license this time. Then, after a brief stint as a mistress, she left Osaka and moved to Nagoya, some 100 miles east.
By that time it was 1935, and Sada made another attempt to leave prostitution. She took a job in a restaurant, although she soon left when she began a relationship with Goro Omiya, an aspiring politician. Instead, she returned to Tokyo, where Omiya encouraged her to begin an apprenticeship with a view to running her own business.
On February 1, 1936, Sada started her first day as an apprentice at Yoshidaya, a Tokyo restaurant. Her boss, Kichizo Ishida, was 42 and known for his womanizing ways. Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Ishida had begun to pursue Sada romantically. Unfulfilled through her relationship with Omiya, she soon gave in to temptation.
On April 23, 1936, Sada and Ishida escaped to a teahouse in another neighborhood for a romantic rendezvous. Although they were only meant to stay for a short while, they ended up spending several days in bed. Four days later, they relocated to an inn in another part of the city and carried on their debauchery. By this time, Sada was infatuated with the older man.
Finally, after spending two weeks with Sada, Ishida returned to the restaurant – and his waiting wife. Jealous of their relationship, Sada started drinking heavily. Unable to bear the thought of her lover in the arms of another woman, she began to contemplate the unthinkable. Eventually, on May 11, she arranged to meet Ishida. This time, though, she had a surprise in store.
Earlier that day, Sada had hocked some of her possessions and purchased a knife. That evening, she threatened Ishida with the blade. However, he did not seem unduly perturbed, and the pair soon resumed their sexual relationship. Now, however, the passion between them took on a darker twist. Soon, Sada began choking Ishida as part of their lovemaking.
At first, Ishida enjoyed this new direction, and the pair continued to experiment. But after one particularly violent bout of strangulation, Ishida found himself in considerable pain. Then, in the early hours of May 18, 1936, he fell asleep with Sada by his side. Seizing the opportunity, she took the sash from her kimono and bound it around his throat. Eventually, he stopped breathing.
Surprisingly calm, Sada spent the next hours lying next to Ishida’s body. Then, she took her knife, sliced off his genitals and bundled them up in the cover of a magazine. Next, she used Ishida’s blood to write his name alongside hers on the corpse’s leg, as well as in red letters across the bedsheets. Apparently, she also engraved her name into the flesh of Ishida’s arm.
At around 8:00 a.m., Sada left the inn and met with Omiya, to whom she apologized profusely. Although Omiya initially believed that she was feeling guilty over her relationship with Ishida, the real reason soon became apparent. When Ishida’s body was discovered, the crime became a media sensation – and Omiya’s connection to Sada put an instant stop to his political career.
On the run, Sada traveled to the neighborhood of Shinagawa, where she took up residence in a tavern. Eventually, on May 20, 1936, police came to question her. Announcing her identity, she even produced Ishida’s severed penis as evidence of who she was. She was arrested on the spot and taken for interrogation. In custody, Sada tried to explain what led her to commit the horrible deed.
“I loved him so much, I wanted him all to myself,” she is reported to have said. “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 would touch him again, so I killed him.” Asked why she had taken such a macabre trophy from the body, her reply was similarly bizarre.
“Because I couldn’t take his head or body with me,” she is said to have confessed, “I wanted to take the part of him that brought back to me the most vivid memories.” Strangely, it was this twisted logic that caused Sada’s case to become famous, a legend that endures even to this day. “She had not killed out of jealousy,” explained William Johnston in his 2004 biography Geisha, Harlot, Strangler, Star, “but out of love.”
By the time that Sada’s trial began on November 25, 1936, the former geisha was a celebrity, and crowds lined up to see her appear in court. Eventually, she was found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to six years behind bars. But after spending just five years in a women’s prison, she was released.
Although Sada occasionally courted fame after her release, she mostly kept a low profile, working in a bar in downtown Tokyo. Around 1970, she dropped off the map completely, although one movie director claims to have found her holed up in a Japanese nunnery. Moreover, such is the fascination with Sada’s twisted crime, that the sad story of this jilted geisha continues to be told.