Old-Fashioned Barbers

Most would agree that there are few advantages to being bald. One, however, is that it becomes extremely easy to cut your remaining hair. Despite what Donald Trump may think, there is no such thing as clever-combing, and longer hair and the bald head just do not go. No, for baldies, extremely short or completely shaved are the only credible options, and a set of clippers makes this a simple home-task. The time and expense of a trip to the barber’s becomes unnecessary. Anywhere else, I might be pleased about this, but here In Japan I can’t help but feel that I am missing out. A trip to the barber’s here, you see, can be a wonderful thing.

In my first month in Japan, when I still had too much hair to handle by myself, I had discovered a barber’s shop just around the corner from where I lived and when a deeply unfashionable mess had made its home upon my head, I plucked up the courage to pay it a visit. I felt this was quite brave in a country where I could not yet make a comprehensible sentence. I had learned how to say ‘just a little’ in Japanese, but it was still with some trepidation that I stepped through the door. What if the barber thought, ‘just a little’ meant ‘just leave a little’ instead of ‘just cut it a little’, and what if he asked me if I was going somewhere nice for my holidays, or if I’d like something for the weekend? These fears were nothing, however, compared to the sight of the person that I was about to entrust to set about my head with blades.

There were no customers in the shop when I entered. The barber was watching television but, upon spotting me, he stubbed out his cigarette, wiped his hands upon a dark blue, deeply stained apron that put me worryingly in mind of a butcher and, revealing  teeth that a jack-o’lantern would mock, he smiled an unsettling, almost leery smile and motioned for me to take a seat.

He stood behind me, and without so much as a word asking what I would like done, pushed my head face down into the sink in front of me.
‘Oh Jesus!’ I thought, ‘I’ve walked into a psycho hairdresser’s and the bastard’s trying to drown me.’ After a couple of upward thrusts with the back of my head against the palm of his hand, like a woman trying to escape from the crotch of an over-eager gent, I realized that there wasn’t actually any water in the sink, and the man was simply about to wash my hair in a different and slightly more dominant manner than I was used to in Britain.

Once I’d relaxed somewhat, the barber washed my hair as I remained face down in the sink, and then raised me to a more comfortable position and began to snip away. He smiled at me often but sensibly refrained from attempting conversation. The cutting was followed by a quick shave of my ears, which I rather hope wasn’t entirely necessary, some lovely warm towels pushed gently onto my face and an unexpected but wonderful round of drumming and thumping on my head and shoulders. The barber smiled knowingly, as I felt the knots of stress leave my body and began making small, embarrassing moans of painful pleasure. The massage was all part of the service and more than made up for the unorthodox hair-washing manner. I gladly paid the man and walked home feeling relaxed and relieved. I was already looking forward to my next visit.

All things considered, it had ended up being a thoroughly enjoyable experience. At home, I looked in the mirror and examined the handiwork. It wasn’t too bad. Well, it was as good as one could expect from a barber who had permed his combover.

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