Chikan, Chikan by Cathy Ulrich

If I were a bartender in Japan, I would work in a gaijin bar.

You’re not from here, are you, my customers would say. They’d say it in English; they’d say it in French. Never in Japanese.

Wakarimasen, I’d answer, showing them a bland, perfect smile. I don’t understand.

If I were a bartender in Japan, I’d ride the train to work. I would be so polite, and offer my seat to elderly Japanese women.

I’d say: Dozo, dozo.

They would say: What a nice girl. They would hold their purses in their laps. They would want to introduce me to their grandsons.

If I were a bartender in Japan, I’d wear short skirts, because I’d get better tips from the gaijin. I’d know the word for groper—chikan—that they teach all the girls before they ride the train.

Japanese gropers would never touch me: afraid of my tattoos, my American skin. They’d cup the asses of the small Japanese girls next to me. The small Japanese girls would look up at me, eyes trembling. They would want me to come to their rescue. They would want me to be their American white knight. I would mouth chikan, chikan. I would never be brave enough to say it out loud, and neither would they.

If I were a bartender in Japan, I would have a Japanese boyfriend. He’d be taller than me, but only a little. He would look so good in a suit.

I would have met my Japanese boyfriend in a bar. Not a gaijin bar, just a regular Japanese one. He’d be sitting in a corner by himself. There’d only be room for three tables. I’d be sick of sitting at the bar with Japanese businessmen who wanted to practice their English. They’d know just by looking at me that I’m an American.

They’d say: Nice to meet you. They wouldn’t offer to buy me drinks.

I’d pretend I needed to use the bathroom, but instead I’d sit down at the table with the lonely Japanese boy.

Are you waiting for someone? I’d say.

Maybe he’d say no.

Maybe he’d say you.

If I were a bartender in Japan, my boyfriend would stop by the gaijin bar to visit me. He would sit at the end of the bar by himself. When I came past, he would extend his hand toward mine and we would touch fingertips, briefly.

If I were a bartender in Japan, the gaijin would wait for my boyfriend to leave. They’d watch me pour their drinks. They’d leave me 500-yen coins. They’d say: I like your skirt.

They wouldn’t be afraid of me like the gropers on the train. They’d touch me all they want. They’d grab my hands, brush my hair out of my face. I could say chikan if they did. It would never mean anything to them.

They’d say: So where are you from, anyway?

Wakarimasen, I’d say. Wakarimasen.





Cathy Ulrich likes mixing drinks, but hates staying up past her bedtime, so a career as a bartender is right out. Her work can be found in a variety of journals, including The Citron Review, Monkeybicycle, and 100 Word Story.

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