The Japanese barber had his straight edge blade to my neck while he shaved my beard. My friend Rick (in the chair in this actual photo), had gotten his shave first. Now Rick was translating for me while I asked the Barber about his life. We stopped at his shop in this small village where this barber shop was quietly tucked away. Rick and I were on our own private bike tour of Notohanto, Japan. I didn’t speak Japanese yet and I had tons of questions and so Rick accommodated me by translating.
“Were you in the war?” I asked the Barber. Having a finer sense of propriety than me, Rick translated a little hesitantly. The barber paused, put down his razor, stepped back and lifted up his shirt. Half of his abdomen and part of his chest were a gnarled, thick mass of furrowed scars.
“I was defending one of our South Pacific islands,” the barber explained, “and the last thing I remembered was seeing a large bomb falling from the American plane above us.”
I was nervous sitting there with my face still half covered in shaving cream and the straight-edge razor blade laying waiting to finish the job. And he continued, “I woke up three months later in a hospital.”
My barber could see that we were a bit nervous and said, “I was a young man, I was fighting for my country. I was doing what I thought was right. I realize now that the American young men were fighting for what they felt was right too. It was a bad war. Americans and Japanese are now friends.”
We smiled with relief. We shared conversations about his family, tipped heavily and continued our bike tour. As we pedaled out of his small rural village and passed the local sentō (public bath), and I thought of his fellow Japanese evening bathers looking at his horrific scars only briefly and not needing to ask.