David Cook: The art of the geisha

David Cook: The art of the geisha

March 5th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

IF YOU GO

What: Live studio audience taping of "The A List with Alison Lebovitz"

Who: Program host Alison Lebovitz will interview Arthur Golden, author of award-winning "Memoirs of a Geisha"

When: Thursday at 6:45 p.m.

Where: Studio 45 at 7540 Bonnyshire Drive

Why: The taping is a fundraiser for WTCI-PBS. Guests will be part of the studio shoot from make-up, lighting, camera set-up and out takes.

Tickets: $145 individual; $245 couple

For more information: Call 423-702-7800

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse/Times Free Press.

Somewhere in Japan tonight, a man will walk into a bar, order a beer, and gladly pay more money for it than any of us would dream.

"One hundred dollars,'' said Arthur Golden, from his Massachusetts home on Monday afternoon.

But with this cold beer comes the one pleasure that has captivated men throughout time: the attention of a woman.

"You will pay $100 for one bottle of beer because this one woman will sit next to you and laugh at all your jokes while you drink it,'' Golden said.

She's called a bar hostess; her work is a watered-down form of the ancient Japanese tradition that Golden popularized for millions of people.

The world of the geisha.

"A geisha is someone who entertains every night,'' said Golden, as he drank his afternoon cup of coffee.

Golden is a Chattanoogan who left for Japan; a 1974 Baylor School graduate and son of Ruth Holmberg (former Chattanooga Times publisher). Golden published in 1997 -- after throwing away his entire draft, twice -- the globally popular "Memoirs of a Geisha.''

Thursday night, Golden will be in town, part of a unique WTCI-PBS fundraiser: Buy tickets to watch a live taping of Golden being interviewed on the popular "The A List with Alison Lebovitz.''

(There'll also be a silent auction, food ... and beer.)

Born within a Japanese culture of deeply entrenched gender rules -- men go out, women stay home -- geishas are women at work to make men feel good.

By dancing. Elaborate story-telling. Arts. Pouring tea. The act of subservient listening. At times, sex.

Geishas then became both feminist and victim: part of a male-dominated, prostitution-esque profession, they also heroically invented an inverse form of resistance.

In a pre-war, narrowly defined culture, the art and act of becoming a geisha provided a way for women to earn financial independence.

"Run by women,'' said Golden. "For the benefit of women.''

Today, geishas still exist, keeping alive an ancient tradition within a 21st century, globalized Japan.

"It's very hard for Westerners to understand what geishas really are,'' Golden said.

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

We don't have to look far -- take the hyper-sexualization of women in media, for instance -- to see women being manipulated for the pleasure of men.

Consider this: Beyonce's Super Bowl performance. The act of an American geisha, beautifying herself through dancing and singing to please men?

Or an independent woman, doing exactly what she wants?

Golden -- whose new book about the migrating son of an Amsterdam furniture maker is nearly completed -- cautions against making large moral judgments.

"It's not about right and wrong,'' he said. "It's that things are done differently.''

Think about that when you drink your next beer.