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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Absolut Golden, Vodka And Geisha

This morning (August 13 - the day of my first date with my wife), the July/August 2001 issue of The Atlantic, a monthly literary magazine, was just sitting there on one of the tables in my workplace's cafeteria, looking as new as the day it was printed.

It's why I didn't really notice for about an hour that it was from 2001.

Who the fug puts out free magazines that are 13-years-old?

Regardless… I picked it up because the lead story says it was presenting a never-before-published 8,000-word novelette from Mark Twain (real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens), that was apparently sent to The Atlantic back in 1876, agreed to be published - and then nothing… until 2001 when The Atlantic finally got around to publishing it.  

Wow… that is one busy publishing schedule (heavy sarcasm).

Anyhow… I'll read the novelette when I get home.

Because I suppose I am a Japanophile—which is not someone who wants to have sex with Japanese kids, but rather is someone interested in all things Japanese, not including having sex with Japanese kids, of course—I searched the 2001 issue of The Atlantic for a Japan-related topic or cartoon, or merely a mention.

Not finding anything, I flipped the magazine over—and there it was… an Absolut Vodka advertisement on the outside back cover that's about as Japanese as it gets.

That's it above.

And, in case you can't read the dialogue, here it is:

Kohina turned out to be an even more celebrated geisha than I was in my prime, but I don't think she ever recognized her own beauty. She never understood why men treated her the way they did.

I remember when she was an apprentice, there was a certain actor—let's call him Mr. Ikeda—who used to come to the Gion district all the time.

He was quite popular among the geisha because he was rarely moody, but he never once asked for me—until, that is, I took on Kohina as my younger sister and began to train her.

I could tell from the start that Kohina found him enchanting: she'd seen all his films, and she was in awe, really.

Yet somehow it never occurred to her he might feel attracted to her too.

Then one evening as we arrived at the Mitsuyo Teahouse, the mistress took us aside to say that Mr. Ikeda had been sitting alone a half-hour in the little room overlooking the moss garden, turning down all her offers of company, just waiting for us and no one else.

We slid the door open a crack to peek in, and there he sat, drawing lines in the beaded moisture on an unopened bottle of Absolut Vodka.

Beside it on the table stood two untouched glasses.

"Only two glasses," I said to Kohina. "He's waiting for you, not both of us."

She was wearing a cinnamon-colored kimono with a design of autumn grasses, and she looked magnificent, but I could see she had no confidence in herself.

I'm not sure what she would have done if I hadn't stepped aside and slid the door open so she had no choice but to go in. She gave me such a look!

Nervous and excited all at once. The flush in her skin reminded me how she'd appeared that afternoon when she'd stepped from the bath into the chilly air, still steaming.



Featuring dialogue created by Arthur Golden—which is why its says Absolut Golden at the base—the whole copy really sounds like something taken out of a novella or novelette.

Which got me wondering if that was true—partly because I didn't understand the concept of the Absolut Vodka ads or know just who Arthur Golden was...

So I searched the Internet to see if I could find a match… and I did...

While the words on the alcohol advertisement do not appear to be taken from The Story Of The Geisha Girl, a 322-page book written by Fujimoto Taizo (surname first ) first published in 1917, I found a reference to Kohina, a young and beautiful geisha on pages 110-116, in a story entitled Sympathy of the Hostess.

Kohina, by the way, is the surname of the geisha.

But that's where it ended. I couldn't find the vodka ad copy in the story—paraphrased or not—so it would appear as though Arthur Golden merely borrowed the named Kohina for the original Absolut wonderful story he composed.

Does anyone else marvel at the imagery utilized in the advertisement?

Where is the bottle of vodka formed within the picture?! Isn't there always a bottle?

Is the imagery of a puppet on a string symbolic of the geisha herself—someone with no control over anything? A mere object to the whim of any man like Mr. Ikeda or her master geisha?

Does she dance when Ikeda asks her to? Drink when Ikeda tells her to? Do as Ikeda propels her to do?

Poor little Kohina puppet.

Now… just so you know, I then decided to do a search on Arthur Golden.  Man... you can color my face cinnamon!

Arthur Golden did indeed write this story specifically for Absolut Vodka, to which many of you are saying—so?

Well, Arthur Golden is actually a well-known writer of fiction, who wrote the historical novel Memoirs of a Geisha, a first-person perspective published in 1997 of a fictional geisha working in Kyoto, Japan before and during World War II.

While Memoirs of a Geisha is about Sakamoto Chiyo (surname first) who is sold into servitude to an okiya (geisha boarding house) in Gion, which is the geisha district of Kyoto.

So… obviously, Arthur Golden when asked to create this ad—which first appeared in 1999, I believe—he channeled the spirit of his own book and perhaps borrowed the name of a geisha (Kohina) from The Story Of The Geisha Girl.

Dammit - I just wanted a nice, simple blog to write. Why do I always go deeper? Because I can, I suppose.

Whew! I need a drink.

And maybe a babe wearing cinnamon lipstick.

The odds are even less if I clamored for one in a cinnamon-colored kimono.

Andrew Joseph
PS: Maybe I should end my blogs with the word 'kanpai' from now on - the Japanese salutation with the equivalent of 'cheers.'

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