I’d planned to go get a haircut today, but various events intervened: neighbors, the threat of rain, kids coming home from school with report cards and a dazed and confused teenager (but I repeat myself) who can’t read a map.
This, however, has me thinking about haircuts and my favorite places to get a haircut. In the USA, your choices are barber shops and stylists. Barber shops are primarily about sports, wisdom and life lessons–as one barber told me when he heard I was in Air Force ROTC: stupid, brain dead and moronic is no way to go through life, son. (Something like that. I can’t remember if he’d been a Marine or a soldier). Stylists shampoo your hair and then teach you about the transience of life and physical possessions by sculpting your hair into a shape you will never, ever, no matter how hard you try, be able to replicate on your own.
Albania, though, was an experience. For about 50 cents (if you were really splurging) you got a disturbingly fast dry haircut followed by a shave with a straight razor. That was followed by the application of a burning aftershave that was apparently the acidic by product of some sort of chemical weapons test and then the barber rubbed some sort of lotion on your face as part of a face and scalp massage. After days of extreme culture shock, it was better than drinking (well, it was cheaper than drinking) and better than visiting the Peace Corps nurse for counseling. Even the women in the Peace Corps were interested in getting a haircut at a men-only local place.
In Japan, as of late, you have a choice: therapy or a haircut.
Therapy: When I was in Nou-machi, my barber was Barber Ishii, an older woman of no determinable age whose hobby was taiko drumming. A haircut and shave from her involved first a pile of hot towels on your face for several minutes, followed by hot shaving cream and then a shave and a short face massage. Then came the haircut itself and then a shoulder and scalp massage. That’s when the taiko drumming skills and strong arms took over. By the time you’re done, the world is a great place and all your problems are just insignificant little things you don’t even need to ponder. All this for about 35 dollars, complimentary cup of coffee included. (And, usually, because I was a regular, free food of some sort to take home.)
Haircut: The last several years, the more expensive stylists have been competing with “Ten Dollar/Ten Minute” barber shops that promise a haircut cheap and fast. (In some stations, you can even get a haircut while you’re waiting for the train.) You get to give a few basic directions and the barbers go to town. If you time it right, you can sneak in a few extra minutes, and if you don’t like the results–they usually leave your hair too long, I suspect to keep you coming back regularly–they will take extra time and fix it. All that for 1,000 yen. I switched to them, partly because younger stylists have dropped the massage portion of the haircut but kept the price the same.
Still, whenever I get back to Nou-machi, if it’s not a national holiday, I head down to Barber Ishii for a haircut and some therapy.