They came to our
room together, shuffling along with tiny steps, giggling lightly and bowing
frequently. The first was middle-aged, and she smiled winningly at The Graduate
right away, displaying an impressive array of steel teeth. The Graduate bowed
and muttered, "Love her dentist." The second geisha was young and quite
pretty, with fewer steel teeth. The third was the leader of the trio, a stocky,
lighthearted lady with a small Band-Aid on her forehead. She was heavily
powdered and dressed in the traditional geisha kimonos and carried a tiny
bottle opener in her obi (the sash around her waist). Her name, we learned, was
Komomo-san. That means, she said, Small Peaches. It turned out that she had
been close friends with a number of American GIs 20 years ago or so, and she
still retained a smattering of English. "Hubba-hubba," said Komomo-san.
"I rost my heart at the Stage-Door Canteen. Hubba-hubba." We
laughed—The Graduate's laugh actually sounded more like a strangle—and the
party got under way.
Now, before I move
on to the monumental drama of the evening—in which The Graduate challenged
Komomo-san to the janken-pon championship of all Hokkaido—let me briefly
explain about dinner parties in hotel rooms with geisha, whatever their class.
There is about as much likelihood of sin or sex at such an affair as there
would be at the birthday party of an 8-year-old boy. Indeed, there is a great
similarity between a really smashing geisha blast and a child's birthday party.
On this night in north Japan, amid gales of giggles and much flashing of steel
teeth, we played games such as passing matchboxes and chopsticks from nose to
nose, we did various balancing feats and, of course, we played a lot of
janken-pon. It turns out that this is simply the ancient and honorable game of
paper, rock and scissors in which one tries to outguess his opponent by
displaying the symbol which defeats the other. (Paper covers rock, scissors
cuts paper, rock breaks scissors, remember?)
We dined, seated
on the straw matting in our kimonos. We drank pints and pints of sake. We
laughed heartily when Komomo-san crossed her eyes and pretended to be drunk. We
giggled merrily when the geisha with the steel teeth hiccupped. Oh, such fun.
And then the All- Hokkaido janken-pon championship Super Bowl occurred.
No one expected
it. But before we knew what was happening, The Graduate and Komomo-san were
both on their feet, standing nose to nose, shouting a Japanese chant about
baseball that includes such rousers as "out-u, safe-u, yoyoi no
The rules of
janken-pon with geisha dictate that every time a player loses a round he must
discard an article of clothing. The Graduate seemed at an obvious disadvantage,
since all he had worn to dinner was his kimono, a sash, a pair of Jockey shorts
and his famous brown sweat socks, now dried out. Komomo-san was dressed as a
traditional geisha should be—with four separate layers of kimonos and shifts,
plus countless sashes and bands and a pair of socks with those split toes.
grinned at us cockily and said, "She don't know it, but she's dead. Lissen,
I used to beat every damned Italian kid on the whole Lower East Side of New
York at this game. This is my game, you guys! In fact, I am probably the best
rock-paper-scissors player in all of America!"
announced that she was the best janken-pon-playing geisha on Hokkaido, perhaps
in all Japan, even the entire Far East. The two champions bowed formally to
each other. The stage was set.
For more than half
an hour the contest went on. The Graduate was magnificent, as promised. Early
in the going he lost his sash. Then his kimono. Even his brown socks. But with
only his shorts remaining, he settled down and, incredibly, Komomo-san went
into a losing streak (at one point her paper was cut by The Graduate's scissors
seven times in a row). One by one she removed kimonos and sashes until a
sizable pile of clothing lay in one corner of the room. The other two geisha
ceased giggling and began to look rather pained. We shouted again, "Out-u,
safe-u, yoyoi no yoi!" Komomo-san shrieked. The Graduate's rock had broken
her scissors. She removed the last sock and now stood in her shift, her
absolute final article of clothing. She blushed and bowed to The Graduate,
indicating she wanted to quit. He refused. She pleaded. He was adamant. With
bowed head and lowered eyes, she agreed to the final round—but only if they
could play it in the entryway of the room, where the rest of us could not
watch. The Graduate agreed.
We could only hear
the chant of the two of them—"Out-u, safe-u, yoyoi no yoi!" Then a
great bellow went up from The Graduate. Komomo-san shrieked again, giggled,
then shouted a single word before she shuffled back into the room, still in her
shift: "maerimashita!" The Interlocutor nodded. "It means 'I
surrender,' " he said. The Graduate stalked arrogantly into the room, made
a deep and serious bow in his Jockey shorts. "Hubba-hubba," he said. He
was the janken-pon champion of Hokkaido. It is a title he still holds and will
carry into the 1972 Winter Games.
When one is in
Noboribetsu and the baths have been taken and the pachinko and janken-pon have
palled, there is one other thing to do. Visit the Kuma Bokujo. That is a bear
ranch. Which is almost exactly what it sounds like—a place given over
exclusively to bears. On Hokkaido the bear is rather a sacred beast. The first
Japanese—the aboriginal Ainus—held religious ceremonies based on the
personality of the bear because he offered them both meat and clothing. On the
streets of Noboribetsu one can see six-foot wooden statues, not unlike the
cigar-store Indians of America, of a woman with a bear cub feeding at her
breast. As The Interlocutor explained, "This means that the Ainus so loved
the bear that his women would suckle the babies. Without the bear, the Ainus
could not live. Without the bear, maybe Japan would not be."