>Geisha fooding.

>There is something just too perfect about discussing Golden’s bestseller over a bento. Yup, we’re back at Teaism and I had the seared tuna bento with a chai shake.

One of the things I miss about college is discussing literature, and not just the high falutin’ stuff, I mean any book or story, etc. that you are passionate about. That’s why book club meetings are fun- it’s not like you’ve just read a book and are telling a friend about it and their eyes are glazing over. I love hearing about books that people have read recently, but some find that sort of thing deadly dull. This is better- we’ve all read the book, or at least given it a try, and have our own thoughts and opinions on what we’ve read. It’s fascinating because everyone takes away something different.

I lived in Japan from ’95 to ’01 and I purchased “Memoirs of a Geisha” at Kinokuniya, a large Japanese bookseller with branches in NYC and other American cities. Kinokuniya had a good selection of foreign books and I often went to the Osaka store, which was huge, and wandered for hours.

My favorite thing on a rainy afternoon was getting some tea and then going to the bookstores and doing a little something the Japanese call, “tachiyomi” (standing while reading). Perfectly acceptable behavior, especially given that books are so expensive. My copy of “Memoirs” cost 2,475 yen- about $25 for a paperback!

What always gets me is that people read it and impose their own cultural ideas on it- “I can’t believe women let themselves be treated like that!”, “They should want to do more with their lives!”, etc. It’s silly to think that way. Women wielded so much more power than the reader realizes. They aren’t complete pushovers, they are in control of themselves and as a result can mold their lives and those of the people around them to their satisfaction. And this is a different time, a different culture we’re talking here. When you get right down to it, not everyone wants what we want.

Japan is a country of manners and ritual. Each person plays a part in daily interaction with others. People bow and scrape and defer on a daily basis. Once I was waiting in line for a train and a little old woman, after looking me up and down, stepped right in front of me! I was told later that that happens to everyone- people size each other up and decide how they will treat each other according to perceived rank, age, what school you went to, etc. In the US we have a sense of entitlement and when we treat each other that way it’s hurtful and mean. Who knows why it’s different in Japan, but it just is.

Overall, “Geisha” is an amazing story, especially when you consider that it was written by an American man. His voice is so soft; he captures the character of a woman so well, that I thought it was a translation and not a complete fiction.

The Japanese control themselves so much- the complete opposite of us. We’re so impulsive and aggressive and sure that we are right. The Japanese know that by not rushing into things they are right and they work quietly and persistently to make their goals reality. They know that throwing fits stops the process and nothing gets accomplished. That’s not to say they don’t drag their feet a great deal to get consensus, but at least in the end everyone can be happy with the outcome.

As for whether the main character is a prostitute, well that’s an interesting point of discussion! I don’t think we settled anything, actually. I think geisha are not prostitutes because they entertain with their witty banter and innuendo rather than with sex- they use their minds and skill at dance and music, and rely on a frisson of the unknown rather than putting it all out there for the world to see. This makes them more mysterious and attractive. Flipping the script on this: I’d rather spend an evening out with a hot, well-dressed guy telling me great stories and buying me drinks than… well, I’ll let you fill that blank in yourself. And the definition of “prostitute” makes it clearer: it’s all about sex, baby. Being a geisha is more than that.

I think one problem we are running into in Western culture is that we are too desensitized. It’s one thing to be knowledgeable about something but quite another to be so jaded about it that it no longer makes you feel anything.

The movie is good, but if you don’t read the book you are missing so much. And it’s much easier to eat while you read- in a dark movie theater chopsticks can be a hassle, not to mention trying to balance a dish of soy sauce on your lap.

So, grab a copy and cop a squat at your favorite Asian food place and have a full experience.

Japanese restaurants in DC are listed here.

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