Clean Cut in Japan


“Ah! hisashiburi desu”—“it’s been a long time,”—shrieked Mrs. Yamada as the door tinkled me in. I don’t know why I was surprised. I’d been their only foreign customer for a decade; they were unlikely to forget me, even after three years away.

Day one of our flying visit. My wife was already up and out, and my in-laws were busy mollycoddling their increasingly Anglicized grandchildren. I had some plans of my own: things to buy, old friends to look up. I’d scribbled a list, but first things first.

The shop-front had been revamped with a modern sign—“FUJIMI Bar-Bar” [sic] “Since 1979"—and stripy new pole. The interior had been spared though: outdated posters and the tart smell of hair-tonics and freshly laundered towels. Nothing had changed.

Mr. Yamada, the ‘master’, beamed over and signalled that he wouldn’t be long. His wife lovingly hung up my shabby jacket and fussed around. “I’m so happy to see you again,” she said, “is coffee OK?”

The master beckoned me over, “Dou shimasu ka?”—“What'll it be?” he said; I couldn't help grinning. I used to dread this question. Younger and fussier, I’d falteringly describe a style that was short but slightly tapered at the sides. I’d often forget the Japanese for ‘taper’ and lived in fear of coming away with a Mohican. I needn't have worried. “Makasemasu,” I said– “I’ll leave it to you,” and settled back to enjoy the ride.

We chatted as he set to work. The conversation came in comfortable bursts but was never allowed to take the controls. A mere haircut this may have been but, like everything else in Japan, there were exacting standards to be maintained. Things were done properly here.

Reclining my chair, Mrs. Yamada draped a steaming flannel over my face and whipped up a mean lather. Her husband sharpened his cut-throat. “Don’t move,” he encouraged with a grin. I needed no persuasion. Gently stretching my skin, he eased the blade over all the places that needed shaving and over several others—forehead, nose, and ears—that hopefully didn’t.

“You look tired,” he said, misinterpreting my expression of relief at surviving his blade unscathed. No time to reply. Clamping his hands on to my shoulders like jump leads, he set about kneading away the niggling aches of an uncomfortable flight. Working down, he throttled and pulverized my meagre biceps before tackling my head with double-handed temple squeezes and a rapid hail of skull knocks and spine-jarring blows. It was an extraordinary sensation that now, as always before, had me fighting back tears of agony and elation.

As I paid up, Mrs. Yamada—the real boss—used two hands to respectfully slide one of my notes back over the counter. She raised an index finger to her tightened lips, “That’s fine this time,” she said, feigning secrecy from her husband, “but come again soon".

Outside the air was fresh, each breath fortified with a hint of my
visit.

Now, where was that list?

D Mosley

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