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The Turkish Japan

                                                                                                 Kobe, Japan

By Michelle Cox

    My friends and I walked into a Turkish hookah bar in an alley-way off the streets of Kobe.  It was on the second floor of a really narrow building, the bar about the size of one of our ship's cabins.  We all sat down on the bar stools and ordered a hookah.  It wasn’t long after that three Japanese men with the look of professional businessmen and one woman walked in.  At first they looked confused.  There were Americans at their usual hangout and they began to turn around and walk out.  But the bar owner convinced them to come in.  There was no interaction between my group and theirs and we all minded our own business until the older business man noticed my tattoo on my back peeking from the bottom of my shirt.  He came over and lifted my shirt to see what it was, which startled me.
This was a conversation opener, even though there was a large language barrier.  They spoke very, very little English and we speak no Japanese. The older man and the other men proceeded to talk about us all.  One guy actually went up to one of my friends and rubbed her stomach and then grabbed her breast, telling her she looks like she is pregnant and that is why she has a large chest.  My friend got really offended and rubbed his stomach back, saying he is no prize himself.  The men obviously didn’t understand that they were being offensive, possibly because they were drunk.  After the three men conversed for a few minutes we asked the bar owner to translate to us and he said they were calling us “beefy” Americans.  We all became really disappointed at our unusual encounter and tried to ignore the men while we finished our drinks to leave.  Ironically enough, we learned that they all work in a butcher shop together; hence the beefy comment.

     Finally, the one woman accompanying the men walked over to us and struggled with her English to tell us we are all very beautiful, as if to apologize for her co-workers’ behavior.  As we were getting ready to leave, I walked over to the woman to introduce myself holding out my hand to shake her hand.  I had forgotten that Japanese do not believe in shaking hands and as I pulled away in my attempt not to insult the woman, she grabbed my hand, kissed it, and then bowed to me.  I felt this was a very kind and sincere gesture meant to make me feel better.

     All in all, this encounter was a very strange and angering experience, because my friends and I are all very aware we are much larger framed than Japanese women.  However, it was a learning experience and it was worth it to me because I walked away feeling as though I had some sort of connection or understanding in that one moment I shared with the young woman, despite our difficulty of communicating through language. It was almost as if she was trying to show her admiration for us American women.  It made me think of Mikiko Ashikari’s article “Urban Middle Class Japanese Women and Their White Faces,”  in which she explains how Japanese women have always looked at fashion magazines and tried to mimic Western styles and make-up techniques to look like American actresses.  I will never forget that night in Kobe. 

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