Let’s go back to my first visit to a Japanese barbershop…
As I walked in, an elderly gentleman was just finishing having his hair cut, and the lady who was working with him asked me to wait. I sank down in a creaky, brown leather sofa, and glanced at the piles of Japanese magazines that I couldn’t read. Either side of the sofa were two tall ashtrays, and the whole place smelt of a combination of cigarette smoke and unidentifiable hair products. The elderly man left, and then I waited ten minutes, alone; the lady had mysteriously disappeared.
Finally, she came back into the room, and gestured for me to walk over to the chair. I showed her a photo of myself, and said konoyouna kamigatanishite kudasai (“please cut my hair like this”). The lady, who incidentally, was sporting a bubble perm (never a good sign), sprayed my hair with water and then left me sitting there for five minutes. In the meantime, she went through a pot of combs, and cleaned a couple of them. I wondered if she was looking for a special comb, to use with foreigners’ hair?
Eventually, she focused again on me, and wrapped a hot towel around my head, like a turban. She took it off, and then did the exact same thing, but with a new towel. After that, she got yet another towel, and roughly dried my hair.
A man in a white coat appeared from nowhere, armed with a pair of scissors in his right hand. He took a quick look at the photo, and set to work, quickly cutting away chunks of hair. He tried to talk to me in Japanese, but I couldn’t understand much of what he was saying. I managed to tell him my name, where I’m from, and the schools that I worked at. He grabbed some clippers, and started shaving away more hair than I would have liked, but without any Japanese words at my disposal I was unable to intervene. I let out a sigh of relief when the clippers were switched off.
However, the scissors returned; this guy must be a perfectionist, because to my eyes my hair cut was done, but he continued to snip little bits off here and there. He eventually put the scissors down, and disappeared through a side door.
The lady with the perm came back, and applied something called “Silky Milky” to the back of my neck. In her other hand she wielded a cut-throat razor. My hands gripped the arms of the chair and I closed my eyes; I could already picture the news headline: Foreign Man Murdered by Mad Woman With Perm.
After a few brisk movements, she rubbed a strange lotion into my hair, which smelled like nail polish remover, and then proceeded to massage my head, although what she was actually doing was hitting my head as if it were some kind of percussion instrument.
Finally it was over; I paid my 2000 yen and went home to look in the mirror and inspect the damage. I looked fine, and returned to the barbershop many times after that.