Maybe It’s a Geisha Girl

I have some of my best ideas while running.  (Something to do with more oxygen to the brain, I suppose.)  This weekend I remembered a story from one of my first marathons, although this time it was in the aftermath of a race.

I was in the 1984 Honolulu Marathon.  Two nights before, there was a huge carbo-loading party and T-shirt swap.  If that seems like a strange combination, most races provide T-shirts as an entry premium; recently I calculated I’ve accumulated over 50 race-related T-shirts through the years.  Anyway, during the course of the evening, I’d befriended a young man from Massachusetts who had acquired a very unusual shirt.  There was a large contingent of runners from Japan, and he had traded with one of them for a T-shirt with three Japanese-language characters on the front and what appeared to be the portrait of a Geisha girl on the back.  It really was beautiful artwork; the portrait was so vibrant it could have been embroidered.

Naturally we both wondered what the Japanese characters said, so we began a quest to find an English-speaking Japanese who could translate.  We found several young ladies, but the results were not what we expected.  We would show them the portrait, then the characters.  Invariably, they would giggle and blush, then blurt “It’s a Geisha girl” and quickly walk away.

We finished the evening more puzzled than enlightened.  I didn’t think we ever got an accurate explanation for what the shirt represented.

By the way, I traded for a Japanese headband  — white with the Rising Sun emblem and a round symbol on either side.  I don’t know what these mean, either, but it did lead to a nice surprise.  A man who apparently didn’t speak English came up to me, said something in Japanese, and pressed a tiny box into my hand.  Inside was a round enamel pin with the outline of Mt. Fuji, the Japanese flag, and what appear to be three cherry blossoms.  Was it from a running club or simply a symbol of friendship?  I have no idea, but I wear it every time I race.


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