The Japanese Barber

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.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

10 responses to “The Japanese Barber

  1. That’s quite a triumph of goodwill for him to be able to say simply, “We’re friends now.”

    “It was a bad war.”

    Are there any good wars?

  2. Hey Leah
    Indeed. I think that was exactly part of what he was saying. “There are no good wars.”

  3. Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Only you would ask if he was in the war, while he had a razor to your throat. Love it! 😉

  4. war is awful. good for you to go to the uncomfortable place.

    on another note: i’ve been meaning to ask you your thoughts on the tsnumai. if the area you traveled through was affected by what’s going on over there. we have many congregation members who have family in the north and our denomination has really geared up… there is a historical connection between the german-reformed churches and Japan. even my seminary’s chapel has a stained glass window with Mt Fuji and a Japanese Gate on it… pretty incredible considering.

  5. I wish the Chinese and Japanese could have this same conversation, sans the razor. It’d do both countries some good — especially China.

  6. imarriedaxtian

    My father first fought against the communists, then against the japanese, and then the communists again, before he was finally kicked out out of China with the remnants of the Kuomintang.

    Its a long story, but he made his peace with the japanese in the late 70’s when he finally met up with one of his former adversary. They became friends, and spent some time together.

    Growing up with my brothers, we often wondered why our father was such a difficult person to cope with, unlike some of our friends’ fathers. But we soon learn over the years. I am so grateful that I never have to point a rifle at another human being.

  7. @ I Married,
    Great story, thank you for sharing. I agree — philosophy and opinions are one thing, but when you see from whence they spring, you understand more about the person than can be put into words.

  8. @ Ghost
    Yeah, we tend to care more about people we know, people we visited, people who look like us and people we are associated with. Odd, the human mental caring neurons, eh?

  9. War is a strange and terrible time that asks ordinary people to do the most extraordinary things. I’d imagine that was quite a conversation. Thanks for sharing.

  10. @ Edward
    Indeed. I think, in war, we manifest what Walt Whitman said:
    “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” “Song of Myself”

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