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The Geisha Stylist Who Let His Hair Down

After rapidly applying the right thickness of wax according to the day's humidity, he tied a string of paper to hold her hair in place, tightening it with his teeth. He then put his hands on her porcelain-white neck, stuffing required patches of yak hair to give her a variation of the split-peach geisha hairdo that some Japanese consider highly suggestive.

"This one," Ishihara said, "she's a good sleeper."

Tetsuo Ishihara, referred to by his clients as the teacher, holds court between stylings in his three-room hairdressing salon in Kyoto's Gion geisha district. (Photos Anthony Faiola -- The Washington Post)

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He was, of course, referring to her ability to keep her hair in pristine condition each night.

"The maiko I had in yesterday, she has no idea what she's doing and breaks her hair" on her wooden bed pillow. "But I love her for it; she has to come back to get fixed all the time. But not this one," he scowled, looking at Hisacho. "She's too good. She doesn't give me enough profit!"

A bystander in the salon came to her defense, saying she looked beautiful, profit or not.

"Ahh," scoffed Ishihara, dismissing the comment with a wave. "It's her hair that's beautiful, not her!"

Hisacho feigned shock, putting a sleeved hand over her mouth. But Ishihara settled her down with another joke.

"Don't worry," he said. "I never call the really ugly ones ugly. So you're safe."

Special correspondent Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.

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