An era has passed with the death of 102-year-old 'Asaji of Yanagibashi', the nation's oldest geisha. Japan has few real geishas anymore and Ms Asaji, who died on Sunday, had come to epitomise the style, gentility and refined skills of a milieu Japan is losing. She died of kidney failure. More than 80 years of service marked Ms Asaji as one of Japan's classic artisans. Her skills entertained the nation's top politicians and businessmen. A master of tokiwazu-bushi, a type of kabuki music, and a skilled shamisen player and singer, Ms Asaji's skills were increasingly rare in a nation fascinated by karaoke and pachinko. Geisha belonged to an older, richer world where wealthy men had the time, desire and cash to be catered to by skilled courtesans. Traditionally, geishas entertained their male customers with songs, music and 'table talk'. Nowadays, the cost of one such evening can run to US$600 (HK$4,620) per person. Girls destined to be geishas were often sold into the 'willow world' by destitute farming families. The girls, some as young as 10, were indentured workers forced to pay off the cost of lessons and luxurious kimonos to their owners. Freedom came when they had saved enough to buy themselves out or when an admirer offered to do so. Born Haru Kato in 1894, Ms Asaji grew up in Tokyo's Taito district. Her father was a carpenter, who on seeing her pleasure in playing a toy shamisen as a child, promised he would make a geisha of her. He did. At 11 she joined a tea house in a nearby entertainment district. She made her debut as Tsutakiyokomatsu Asaji at 16 and continued working as a geisha for the rest of her life. When she turned 100 she was still giving lessons to some friends. At the same age she released her autobiography, Women Should be Strong-minded.