Lost in Translation: Not every burka is visible to the naked eye

We had some international guests last night at the open mic/jam. A 20-something Japanese couple joined us on the patio. She was beautifully clothed in a wide striped dress. He was an Asian hipster. They were chatty and fun. Her English was much better than his and we spoke most of the night. She even complimented me on my Japanese pronunciation. I’ve never studied Japanese but because of my father’s business connections, I learned how to be polite to Japanese speakers at a very young age.

My dad traveled to Japan quite frequently in the 80s and on one trip he acquired a painting by (I believe) Osawa Seiichiro. It depicts two pregnant women with no faces. My mother instantly hated it. At the time, I didn’t quite understand why. But I figured it out. She had an issue with the way some Japanese men treated women and the painting just gave it an image. I had never really though about it. We hear a lot these days about Muslim women and the hijab and burka. I’d never thought too much other cultures. Out of sight out of mind, I suppose.

Last night at the bar, I left the patio to pack up my stuff at the bar. The young woman I’d been talking with for most the evening came in to order a round of drinks and asked me what all “the men” were drinking. I told her she did have “to buy any drinks for those bums,” but she insisted because it was her duty to do so. It dawned on me then that she’d been filling the glasses all night, adjusting my chair every time I stood up or sat down.

I told her that I did not mean to insult her or her culture, but Western men open doors for women and should never walk in front of them. The idea of not walking behind a man almost frightened her. She told me, nervous and quiet, that she wasn’t “Japanese enough” when in Japan and never felt Canadian enough when here. I told her whenever she came to our pub and sat at our table, she was just our friend and didn’t have to serve anyone if she didn’t want to. She smiled, her dark eyes shining, but I am certain we will never see her again.

When we returned to the table, without the drinks, her boyfriend cast an accusing glance at us. His hipster charm wore off soon there after.

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