Wednesday, February 04, 2004

I found out about the apron show via That Rabbit Girl.

See? Here, by wearing your apron in public spaces, one can remember aprons. The emphasis, despite the allusion to 21st century aprons, is on the historical apron, the past, not the present of the apron.

When we were neighbours in Japan, we both noticed that women in our rural town rarely took off their aprons. Mrs. Imai, as soon as she came from work, would slip into her apron.

Once we both acquired Japanese mothers, we both found ourselves subtly merging into Japanese wifehood. My gifts went from slinky dresses and discreet jewellry to shapleless granny clothes and ungainly pantsuits. The colours were hardly complementary: bland beiges and dark maroons.

Beth once showed me her giant diarrhea-brown tent dress. Five baboons could have fit inside. Beth wanted to burn the thing, but I suggested she turn the new fabric into some craft project.

When the time came for me to leave Japan, I felt too bad for Mrs. Imai when I was packing my bags. I didn't really want to take those elephant marm outfits with me. But she watched me prepare my luggage. I knew she bought these clothes for me with as much love as she held for her own daughter. So I transported everything to Canada and founded a museum devoted to the Japanese housewife within my bedroom closet.

The one thing that didn't make it to Canada was the apron.

My apron was a perfectly nice fabric - brown with red roses. It wrapped around my whole body, much like a nineteenth century apron. To me it felt like straitjacket. Each night, as I offered to help Mrs. Imai prepare dinner, I had no choice but to put on my apron. JJ, her son, also helped with dinner. He didn't wear an apron.

In Japanese households, even ones less traditional than the Imais', Japanese wives (and established girlfriends) do not eat with the rest of the family. Their purpose is to facilitate the constant arrival of hot dishes. Indeed, on two occasions, the Imai patriarch snapped at me for eating at the table.

The apron is just another uniform that Japanese women wear. A Japanese banking advertisement once had the lifecycle of a woman displayed in photographs of women's uniforms: a Donald Duck suit for adolescent girls, the office uniform* of young women and the white wedding frock. Not so glamourous, the bank left out the apron-and-daikon look that is the final metamorphosis in Japanese womanhood.**

That apron looked better draped over a door knob than wrapped around me. I felt as if I would never sit at the dining room table again. Perhaps I might become a kitchen drinker*** like Mrs. Imai once was. The apron felt like a straitjacket.

One day, I came to the Imais' house for dinner, dreading having to put on that rose-covered prison. After washing my hands, I dutifully reached for my apron. It was not behind the door or on the staircase or in the living room.

From that day forward, no one in the family mentioned my apron. Mrs. Imai did not buy me a new one. I had nothing to do with its disappearance.

I am grateful that the Imai's understood and discreetly made the apron disappear.

Just in case, if an Imai should visit while I was painting, I bought a very masculine blue faux-leather apron at a gardening centre.

*Office ladies wear their regular clothes on the street and change into their uniforms at work. Some women make career choices based solely on what uniform is worn in a particular industry or company. (I'm not exaggerating.)

**Another well-known ad features a stereotypical housewife with an apron and a daikon - the big radish that is a staple of the Japanese diet. JJ told me she represents the everywoman.

***A Japanese housewife alcoholic. She drinks alone in the kitchen while her family eats dinner together in the next room.

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