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Jewish, Female and Hairy in Japan

One of the hardest parts of my first labor was taping the IV needle to my arm—or rather, removing the tape when all was said and done and a healthy girl with all her delicate features intact was looking up at me. I was group B strep positive and had received penicillin just prior to the time my baby would cruise down the birth canal. I don’t mean to sound like a total jerk complaining about tape. I had a wonderful labor and delivery in a sanctuous birthing house in Tokyo, of which I am most thankful. Everything was marked with abundant peace, but blast that tape! You see, I am on the hairy side, a far cry from the Japanese women I encounter. I am the Ashkenazi Jew with memorable arms. My midwife ripped. Off came two bald spots and an embarrassed little clump of womanly-pride. (I know. Vaginal, drug-free delivery, with a baby coming out, the words “Ring of Fire,” and here I am whimpering about arm tape). 

I tend to be dramatic about this predicament, or so my husband says. He doesn’t hear my students, four- and five-year-olds, point and liken it to their dads’. He is generally not with me when I encounter outspoken school children on the train. Kids are exactly who I should listen to; they are brutally honest, but not necessarily mean. Theirs is usually the opinion one can trust. Of course, here, moms take a razor to even the most already-naked arms, shaving off brows to draw them in. Naturally, I would land here, and not some hairy area of wherever, with tropical/hippy/cavemen/French Polynesian/pre-Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific ladies with their hairy underarms, or in some remote swampland, sans Vogue or Seventeen. I should be with untouched women like this, perhaps crouching with a tiger under a banana tree, in a Gauguin painting. I could stand with the prominent brows of Frieda. I am here, though, in the land of everything Feminine, everything smooth, without hair or furrow. I am late 1960s moonlighting on an early 1950s set. 

It isn’t just Japan—when I taught in the Latino community of Lake Worth, Florida, one of my students pulled my arm hair and said, slowly and disgustedly in a thick Spanish accent, “Que?? What is this? It’s like my Papa’s!” I am at home nowhere with these arms.