Why I Need My Japanese Barber

My Tokyo shop, Barber Shop Takeda, gives me a great cut and shave.

I need my Japanese barber, like I needed my Detroit barber, Chattanooga barber, Canadian barber, and Belgian barber. Why? Obviously they tend to me when I’m there and I value my time there.

Most important, they help me look and feel good.

Tokyo Daddy Issues: Why I Need My Japanese Barber (Even Though I Don’t):

In this column I usually talk about my young daughter Hana and myself, with a slight emphasis on Hana. Today I will focus on me. I still believe this episode to be on topic, however, since I am the titular daddy. Also, I completely blame my daughter for the significant change in my lifestyle that I am going to talk about.

I have said before that I often feel like an honorary Japanese mom, because I spend so much time among them when I entertain Hana in public. Like every other mom, Japanese or not, once in a while I long for something that is just for myself.

I have finally found something. After having been my own hairdresser for over 20 years, I am now back in professional care. I am the last person on earth who needs a hairdresser, but that’s beside the point. Here is a fittingly short history of my hair: In my twenties I let it grow wild and free – in my face and on my head – until I could no longer deny the fact that I am balding (still talking about my twenties). People had been pointing it out for a while, but I took them for jesters. Balding was simply not something that would happen to me. At least not before the old age of, say, 40. It was something that was only supposed to happen to other people, like serious illnesses or hot dates.

So I did what every balding man of my generation and subsequent generations has done – the contemporary equivalent of the old comb over: I shaved off everything and pretended it was an intentional “cool bald look.” I got the black rim glasses and black outfits to go with it, and I almost fooled myself.

“The point is that for one hour I get to sit or lie in different positions, almost all of them comfortable, and somebody is taking care of me instead of the other way around”

So I don’t really need a hairdresser to get rid of my hair, but I enjoy the extra service I am getting at a Japanese barber shop. I always chose the full package: cut, shave, shampoo, massage, and removal of every tiny hair in the general vicinity of my face that I never knew was growing there. It takes about an hour versus under five minutes at home, but as I said: that is beside the point. The point is that for one hour I get to sit or lie in different positions, almost all of them comfortable, and somebody is taking care of me instead of the other way around.

Some aspects of that package are more rewarding than others. The massage is too weak, it feels more like someone is shyly but persistently tapping my shoulder. I need a massage to hurt, badly. I actually want to feel worse afterwards. Yet I can’t bring myself to ask my barber to just skip it; I don’t want to hurt his feelings.

I would never want to skip shampoo, although I admit it’s the aspect that makes the least sense in my case. I could swear my barber was actually laughing behind my back the first time he shampooed me, after reconfirming several times that I was serious. There really isn’t much left to shampoo. It is more like rubbing skin with soap. But it is a much more satisfying massage than the actual massage.

I knew I could trust my barber when I saw his manga collection in the waiting area. Not that I’m much of an expert. When my Japanese wife and I were in our hot dating phase, she made me swear that I am not “one of those manga freaks.” Of course I denied my allegiance to the brotherhood of manga freaks before the rooster crowed. I wasn’t even lying, not completely. I wasn’t a total freak, yet I was getting freakier and freakier the more time I spent in Japan. I still don’t read a lot of manga. However, I do appreciate the masterworks, like Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys (skip the movies, read the comics) or Monster. So when I saw volumes of these very series on my hairdresser’s shelves, as well as some others that I knew and cherished, I immediately lost my fear of the new situation. I knew I was among friends.

Going to the barber is also what I do instead of language class these days. I studied Japanese long before I actually moved here, but arrogantly and foolishly I stopped when I got married to a Japanese national. I assumed that I would simply absorb the language through daily life. Japanese is the language of love, isn’t that what they say?

No, apparently German is the language of love, as my wife picked it up in no time. My Japanese actually deteriorated. Until I decided to have my hair cut professionally.

I am no friend of idle chitchat, but I do honor the tradition of at least a little bit of small talk at the hair salon. That means I can only go when obvious topics are in the air, so I can anticipate, if not control the conversation. Unusual weather conditions are helpful, as are national holidays. Fortunately there are a lot of both in Japan, so what remains of my hair never has to grow too long between visits.

And when I come home, Hana will point at me and exclaim: “I have nice hair! You don’t have nice hair!”

And that is exactly how I like it.

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(Via Tokyo Weekender)

My barber experience is as much the utility as it is something spa-like. I found there are many barbers in Tokyo who do shaves but few who can do a western haircut.

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