May, 2005

Catfish, Scholars, and a Geisha Party

by George Takei

May is Asian American Heritage month. It seems this month has become a time when I am called upon to share my thoughts on the contributions Asian Americans have made to this country with diverse groups. Two years ago, I toured U.S. military bases in Germany speaking of Asian American history. Last year, I was in Little Rock, Arkansas, for the opening of eight museum exhibits, a major symposium, and a speech on the subject. This month began with a return to Little Rock with a similar mission, this time at nearby Camp Pike to the U.S. Army, 90th Regional Readiness Command. These are the men and women of the U.S. military who have served or are ready to serve in the hot spots of today such as Iraq and Afghanistan. After my speech, I enjoyed a good southern fried catfish lunch with a group of the committee members. It was a privilege to share some time and thoughts with soldiers who are serving us so proudly.

Then it was on to Louisville, Kentucky, and a different but equally special audience. It was one hundred bright, young high school students from throughout the nation. They were being honored at a banquet with scholarships from Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. I served as the keynote speaker at the dinner. These young people are the cream of the crop - smart, energized scholars, who had, as well, contributed to the betterment of their respective communities in various ways. It was an uplift just to be in the company of these spirited young leaders of tomorrow.

The big challenges were across the Pacific in Japan. The Japanese American National Museum, which I served as Chairman of the Board for two terms and still serve as a Trustee, had scheduled its first board meeting outside the U.S. in Tokyo. We want to contribute to strengthening our bridge across the Pacific in U.S.- Japan relations. In conjunction with our board meeting, we held a major symposium on U.S.- Japan relations. I was a part of the U.S. panel together with Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and General Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff. It was a rare opportunity to share the experience of Japanese Americans with the leadership of the people of Japan. All Americans, I strongly believe, can contribute, each in our own way, to the betterment of America as a member of this global society. Japanese Americans can serve in a unique way in our relations with Japan. The symposium, meetings, press interviews, and personal conversations were engaging exchanges and we were handsomely received. Foreign Minister of Japan, Nobutaka Machimura, hosted us to a lavish reception at Japan's diplomatic residence, Iikura House. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer similarly hosted us the following evening at the historic U.S. Ambassador's residence that General Douglas MacArthur had once called home.

After our many diplomatic events in Tokyo, we traveled to the World Expo at Aichi near Nagoya. This massive exposition sprawled over a vast green valley. It would have required days to visit just the highlights of this Expo. We had only five hours. However, we had with us a special entrée - in our party were two VIPs, a U.S. Senator and a U.S. General. As long lines of people waited patiently at the pavilion entrances, we were quickly whisked past them and escorted in through a back way. We were able to visit a few of the major exhibits in the limited time that we had. At the Expo Theme Pavilion, we saw a rare discovery - the frozen remains of a prehistoric woolly mammoth; at the Toyota Pavilion we saw a spectacular Cirque de Soleil-like show featuring a single passenger futuristic concept vehicle and a musical band made up of anthropomorphic robots. At the Hitachi Pavilion, we saw exhibits that demonstrated nature and technology working together to protect the environment. On the way to another pavilion, we walked past a long "green wall" about two stories tall with a huge diversity of plants growing from it. We were told that "walls" like these would help counter global warming. Finally, after a fast and exhausting tour, we ended our visit to the Aichi Expo at the United States Pavilion. We were greeted by a giant holographic image of Benjamin Franklin speaking in Japanese - of all unexpected things - as well as in English. This year is his 300th birthday and the U.S. exhibit was on electricity and of Franklin's discovery of the proof of electricity with lightening. From lightening to the futuristic Segway human transporter vehicle, it was a comprehensive exhibit on the powers of electricity. The visit ended with a relaxing reception in the Benjamin Franklin Room. An African American young woman serving as a guide impressed me. She spoke rather good Japanese. It was heartening to see young Americans learning foreign languages, going abroad, and serving as citizen ambassadors to the world.

The other mission of this trip to Japan was a promotional tour for my autobiography, "To the Stars," which had just been published in Japanese translation. Titled "Hoshi ni Mukatte," I wanted the fans of Japan to know of its publication. I did radio, television, and newspaper interviews, and, of course, the inevitable bookstore signings. I even did a college lecture on Japanese American history at Bukkyo University in Kyoto. A book signing also followed this event. The word is now out in Japan about my autobiography, "Hoshi ni Mukatte."

My reward for all this exciting but also fatiguing tour was a fabulous treat - a classic geisha party in the storied geisha district of Gion hosted by the publisher of my book, Mr. Ito. Two elegantly charming geishas in lovely kimonos and elaborate headdresses greeted our party at the entrance and ushered us upstairs to a spacious traditional room The long black lacquer table had been set with glistening lacquer bento boxes. My geisha smiled and gestured me to my thick cushion on the soft tatami floor. From that point on, I was completely in her care. She lifted the top off my lacquer box to reveal a sumptuous meal. She suggested I raise my tiny sake cup up to her and she poured the hot liquor for me with a gracefulness only a geisha can perform. As I sampled the delectable morsels from my lacquer box, she continued to charm me with her wit and sparkling laughter. She even took my chopsticks from me and fed me some delicious bits from my box. However, she did not eat with me. Her role was to simply serve me and keep me charmed. My manager, Brad Altman, sitting across from me, also had his own personal geisha serving and delighting him. After the meal, the two geishas disappeared and a woman, who plays the samisen, or a stringed, guitar-like instrument, seated herself off to the side of the sliding shoji door. Cued by her first "twang" on the samisen, the shoji doors silently slid open to reveal my geisha in a classic dance pose. The music began and her lyrical movements, like flower petals swaying in a soft spring breeze, transported all of us. The shoji closed, then, re-opened to delight us with the second geisha's dance. Hers was just as lovely, just as transporting. This must have been what it was like to be a shogun in old Japan. We were literally beamed back in time. Then, the silliness began. I was invited up by my geisha to play the "paper, rock, scissors" game with her. The loser had to sip some sake. I lost often. Once she had me well loosened, I was invited to join them in a "baseball dance" geisha style. I clumsily tried to imitate her graceful movements. I made a laughing fool of myself - but according to tradition, one is supposed to act like a giddy ninny at a geisha party. So, I was being very traditional that night at a classic geisha house in the Gion. It was an enchanting evening I will long remember. I savored that memory the next morning as well. Is that what is called a "hangover?"

The translation, publication, and the fond memories of the promotional tour for my autobiography would not have been possible had it not been for the good efforts of Rev. Chiyu Sadakane and his charming daughter, Yumi-san. They did a fine job of translating "To the Stars" into "Hoshi ni Mukatte." My heartfelt gratitude goes out to them for having made a long held dream a reality beyond all expectations. Domo arigatoh gozaimasu.





George Takei Statement on Proposition 8

Andrew Koenig

Majel Barrett Roddenberry

George Takei Statement on William Shatner

Marriage Equality Comes to California

You Gotta Have Friends

George Takei on Casting of John Cho as Sulu

Second Wind

George's Statement on the Star Trek Feature Daily Variety Story

The Forty-Year Trek

Why Howard Stern?

January, 2006
The Year of Equus

Tribute to Pat Morita

November, 2005
Equality and Justice For All

Tribute to Jimmy

May, 2005
Catfish, Scholars, and a Geisha Party

April, 2005
Two Surprising Gifts

March, 2005
Measuring TV Viewers

February, 2005
Oscars: the Luckiest of the Best

January, 2005
New York, New York

December, 2004
Tsunami of Compassion

November, 2004
An Emperor, Abe Lincoln, and Four Presidents

October, 2004
Fund-raising with fun raising

September, 2004
Life Interrupted

August, 2004
Celebrating Three Legends

July, 2004
Dense Enrichment

June, 2004
Seattle: The Crucible of Imagination

May, 2004
High Times Down Under

April, 2004
Trekkin' in Japan

March, 2004
An Actor's New York

February, 2004
They Call Her Osama

January, 2004
Caribbean Seatrek

December, 2003
My Arkansas Roots

November, 2003
A Month of Glory and Fury

October, 2003
Jet Lag Reminiscences

September, 2003
Supporters and Whoopee!

August, 2003
Beaming Back in Time

July, 2003
Hawaii, Chicago, Tulsa and Kiribati

June, 2003
A Salute to Liberty

May, 2003
Renewal and Nurturing

April, 2003
The Human Spirit

March, 2003
An Anglophile Angeleno

February, 2003
NASA Must Rise Again

January, 2003
A Shiny Double Bow

December, 2002
Holiday Reflections

November, 2002
"Omiyage" Gifts from Japan

October, 2002
Historic Travels

September, 2002
Oscar-Winning Movies

August, 2002
Summer Visitors

July, 2002
Mama's "Pacific Overtures"

June, 2002
Fumiko Emily Takei, 1912 - 2002

May, 2002
Flight of Angels

April, 2002
Surviving a Texas Storm

March, 2002
Hooray for Hollywood; Boo on Secession

February, 2002
Sacramento Roots

January, 2002
Bearing Witness

December, 2001
A Hundred Million Miracles

November, 2001
Serendipitous London

October, 2001
The Aftermath

September 11, 2001
A Special Message

September, 2001
Summertime at the Hollywood Bowl

August, 2001
Voice Transporter

July, 2001
Two American Monuments

June, 2001
Luck Be a Lady

May, 2001
A Global Banquet Table

April, 2001
Joy and Disappointment

March, 2001
Two Guys Named David

February, 2001
Wisdom from a Volcano

January, 2001
Millennial London

December, 2000
Japan - From the Past to the Cutting Edge

November, 2000
Counting My Blessings

October, 2000
The Mother of an Actor

September, 2000
Hanover Expo 2000

August, 2000
Rockin' in the Northwest

July, 2000
Global Interchange

June, 2000
Sky High Challenge

May, 2000
A Month of Theater

April, 2000
Excelsior Passion

March, 2000
Alien World Right Below

February, 2000
Hawaii Connections

January, 2000
A New Beginning

December, 1999
Millennium Musings

November, 1999
Power of Ingenuity

October, 1999
Back to a Diverse Future

September, 1999
Our Human Linkage

August, 1999
Equatorial Launch to the Stars

July, 1999
Celebration of Diversity

The Official Website of George Takei is Copyright © Hosato Enterprises, Inc. 1999-2015 All Rights Reserved