Friday, 26 October 2012

Best Haircut of My Life?

So, Jo and her family arrive from Nagoya this morning and my hair has gotten, well...'big'. I have been putting off a haircut for weeks now; not because I didn't want one, but because it's relatively expensive here.  We're talking 3000Yen (£24 quid) at least at most places! In England, I pay about £10-£13, because I am too tight to be trendy!  Anyway, I spotted a place in the car last night, 1800Yen.  That'll do me I thought.  I set off on my bike this morning, to get there for nine, (opening time).  It's quite a new building, all white, with banners and barber shop poles indicating its place next to the main street in Mino.  I was greeted by a auburn-haired Japanese woman, really sweet faced, with an exceptionally calm demeanor, she motioned me towards  the ticket machine almost blocking the doorway.  Upon the machine were, what I guessed were, different menu choices, rather like a car wash menu system, 'wash and cut', 'cut and shave' or the 'whole works'. Anyway, she asked me "Wash hair?", I said "no" and she motioned me pointed at the correct lighted button.  1650Yen.  Okay, so you put in your money and get a ticket with number on it.  She directed me to sit down, I did and began glancing at a Japanese Biker Magazine, the local equivalent of "Back Street Heroes", chopper motorcycles, leather clad models etc etc.  Amazing photos of American and Japanese road trips, images of U.S. Biker Gangs in various states of drunkenness, attending barbecues and rallies, all very sweet really!  Anyway, it's not long before I am called to the chair.  There were already three or four customers in the shop, I am looking for one haircut as a reference point for my own desired 'style'.  It's not long before the greeting lady came along and tucked an impressively clean towel down my neck and applied the, hair catching, apron to my front.  I felt very calm.  It was then that the first barber approached.  In Japanese, he asked me how I would like my hair; of course I could only answer in English, but I motioned toward the man sitting in the next chair, "I would like it short on the sides like his", I patted the sides of my head.  "And I would like a half an inch off the top", I mimicked the action of scissors cutting hair off the top of my head.  He seemed happy and appeared to understand. He gathered some electric hair clippers, said "okay?" and I replied "Hai".  We're were all set.  He began cutting around the base of my 'barnett'. He clippered away the hair and left it at that.  He bowed, said thank you in Japanese and the next guy moved on in.   He was younger, maybe late twenties, early thirties; tall and thin, with a very impressive leather pouch hanging from his belt.  The wallet contained four pairs of scissors, and various hair clips are attached to the rim.  There was a also and American 60's Harley Davidson, 'Number 1" key ring dangling from a thick lanyard chain, (this probably explains the bikers mags').  He carried on where the other guy left off, deftly using his, very sharp, scissors like a machine, (like the clippers) his whole upper body guided the tips, quickly round and round my skull.  I still felt calm, safe in the hands of a highly skilled crafts person, a well rehearsed and previously programmed robot.  But he smiled, he says "okay" I say "yes" and he said "perfect", I was a little shocked at his perfect pronunciation and echoed his exclamation.  We both laughed a little and he carried on.  It wasn't long before he was bowing, saying thank you and moving onto someone else.  Now, I was sitting there thinking, that's it, hair looks good and I just need someone to free me from the confines of the barber bib, I was rather stuck!   

Just when I think I was ready to be released, the next guy introduced himself.  A man in his late sixties/early seventies, he was here to shave the nape of my neck...okay I thought, this will be interesting.  He placed a VERY hot towel upon my neck, he prepared soap in a dish, mixing with a brush...okay, I was still calm.  So he began, (but only after putting on a paper face mask upon his own clean shaven face).  He lathered my neck and deftly sliced away the stubborn stubble neck hair, then before you know it, it's over, he'd finished; or so I thought! He requested that I move forward, I did, and the chair was lowered away from my back...Oh god, no.  I had shaved this morning in readiness for seeing the family, I had used my new, complimentary 'Feather' four blade safety razor, (the kind you need to be a 'real man' to use!).  I was impressed with the result.  So imagine my surprise when the next hot towel arrived, this time over my face.  I had to breathe deeply at this point, I wasn't so relaxed by now. I was left for a minute or so, he then returned, thankfully. He uncoverd my nose and eyes, the towel was still over my mouth...He pointed towards my eyebrows, said "okay" and I say "hai", why? I don't know.  He began.  He used a single, tiny, blade and trimmed my upper face, he neatened my eyebrows and shaved between my eyes.  It happened so fast, he was so quick, decisive in his actions and once again, like the previous barber, his hand work was mechanistic, repetitive and firm.

I didn't open my eyes, I kept them closed as he applied foam to the rest of my face. I thought he used a single blade to remove the foam.  His fingers pulled and stretched my skin, he contorted the surface of my face, the blade noisily scraped away the tiniest of hairs.  It was an amazing feeling, I felt massaged, pressed and pushed, gently pummeled and my calmness soon returned.  My chair was restored to its upright position, the towel was removed and I dared to look in the mirror.  Brilliant.  A good job, I can't imagine what they thought of my hair, or the texture of my skin, how did it compare to the Japanese? Had any of them ever cut western hair before or shaved an Englishman's face and neck?  Who knows, all I know is , I was treated with kindness and unquestioning respect, I could have been turned away, (I half expected that outcome), but each of the employees, carried out their part with such efficient dignity.   They kept their cool, the least I could do was keep mine.  

It's another thing I've learned from my time, here in Japan. I continually think, I am in a difficult situation, I am having to 'dig deep' etc etc.  But it's the people I encounter that have to be brave, they have to face up to me! They have to 'dig deep' because they have no choice, because I am standing there before them, and I ask them a question in English and they do their best to respond.  I am very fortunate to be tolerated here, to be accommodated by people; this is a gift I will take home with me and will never forget. Thanks to all the staff in the Rabbit Barber shop Mino City.