I force myself out of the bed, undress and crawl under the covers. It’s now three in the morning, but I just can’t fall asleep. Resigned, I get out of the bed, fix myself a cup of coffee and call Chicago and brief my boss Lee Hall on the meetings of the day. It’s two in the afternoon in Chicago, no wonder I can’t just lie down and fall asleep. I pick up Beauty and Sadness.

Oki Toshio – the protagonist of the book is on his way to Kyoto traveling on Kyoto Express. Upon his arrival, he grabs a cab at the station and checks in at Miyako Hotel. The story flows like a gentle creek. Not too complicated a love triangle among the middle aged Oki Toshio – the novelist of some renown, his long time mistress Ueno Otoko, a painter and Otoko’s young protégée, Sakami Keiko. Already a tricky tangle. Made further complicated by the involvement of Oki’s son, Taichiro. How do you untangle the four gnarly branches so intricately entwined and manage one or more of them not to crack?

Inspired probably by the book, I decide to take a side trip to Kyoto that weekend. I board the Kyoto bound Tōkaidō Shinkansen, and upon arriving take a cab from the station to the hotel, which quite by coincidence turns out to be Miyako – booked by Ray Falk’s office. As the bullet train slithers south west of Tokyo at more than 200 km/h, I take in the blur of the scenery outside the windows while still absorbed in Beauty and Sadness.

I arrive in Kyoto around afternoon. I only have the rest of the day and that night to make the best of that ancient – once the dreamy capital of the country. First I take the guided tour that gives me a bird’s eye view of the city. There are modern areas and buildings that are no different than one would see anywhere else in the world, but what sticks out above and below them are what you would imagine Samurai and Imperial Japan to be. Multi roofed and multi colored pagoda like buildings dotting the lower skyline of the entire city. The vermilion Torris gates to the Shinto shrines and the Buddhist temples, delicately groomed Japanese gardens, narrow and the crowded streets and yet narrower stone tiled labyrinth like alleys lined with clusters of small boutiques, bars and restaurants.

My destination that night is the famous Geisha district of Gion and the surrounding Higashi-oji street and Shirakawa river. I walk the alleys, rubbing shoulders with the locals and the tourists under the multiple-low grey roofed buildings and let myself be amazed at the huge and colorful lanterns hanging outside a variety of establishments, bearing their names. Doused in  predominantly yellow and red, the warm hues illuminate the streets that lead and guide your way through the neighborhood, making you feel as if you were moon walking on clouds.

And then suddenly you see the beautifully and artfully painted white faces of the illusive and alluring Geishas, tiptoeing their petite steps on the stone squares of the street. Then you see a pair and before you realize, clusters of them scurrying this way and that, going about their chores,  chatting, crossing the small wooden bridges over the creeks, twirling their red oriental umbrellas, their faces peeking out of the automobile windows. Looking more like a movie set, you suddenly become aware that those Geishas are for real. That they live and breathe there in Gion. That they are bred and brought up in a house not too far from where I am walking. That they work in the restaurants, tea houses. They sing and dance and entertain like the famed Tawaifs above the store fronts and in the bazars of Lucknow. And like their sisters on the Indian continent, many of them are mistresses to some of the richest and the most powerful men in Japan.

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