And I did not come to Japan to have my forehead shaved.
Frankly, I haven't gone anywhere to have my forehead shaved. As an item of personal hygiene, it has never crossed my mind. It’s just not shaveable territory.
Walt, my 82-year old barber in Southbury, Connecticut, has never suggested shaving my forehead. He has queried the crazy long hairs that occasionally sprout in my eyebrows, and offered to trim them. But his shaving work is focused on the chin, cheeks and upper part of the neck. Were I to ask “Walt, would you shave my forehead?” I’m sure he’d laugh, call me a joker and ask me to leave. But here in Japan, a forehead shave is part of a basic haircut. Apparently, everyone gets them….
After six weeks in Japan, I need a haircut. My friend sends me to Mr. Deguchi, downtown near the Omicho market. On Sunday afternoon at 3pm, Mr. Deguchi’s shop is busy. Five chairs are full and two other barbers are hard at work. They all call greetings in singsong unison when I walk in, as for every customer. I take a number and sit down with 8 ahead of me. This is just fine by me: I can watch what happens before going under the scissors.
Mr. Deguchi sports a spiffy hipster haircut, with his scissors in a low-slung cowboy holster. He occasionally spins them as he takes them out. The other barbers apparently don’t do haircuts. One washes hair and shaves foreheads. The other wields a clippers for buzz cuts. Only Mr. Deguchi wields scissors. The customers first get a haircut with him in the middle chair, then change chairs for their forehead and chin shaves, shampooing, and coloring done by the other barbers. There’s a lot of customers moving around this shop, wearing bright blue plastic smocks. It has a bit of Alice in Wonderland feel to it, except all men with wet hair.
My turn comes up. Figuring giajin heads are few and far between in Kanazawa, I show Mr. Deguchi an old cell phone photo of me with a short haircut. He studies it for a few minutes than point to the back of my head.
“Shoto?” he asks.
“Short, hai” I reply.
He lowers the back of the chair and I flop on my back horizontal. Out comes a hot yellow towel for my chin, which is a most pleasant sensation. While the heat and moisture soak in, I close my eyes and my mind wanders.
I begin to wonder if I have a lot of forehead hair. I wonder if Japanese men have particularly hairy foreheads. Or maybe Japanese women find the light peach fuzz on male foreheads a generic turn-off, the way that arm-pit hair is a generic turn off for American men. I know that I haven’t remarked many hairy foreheads in Japan, but this may be because they have them shaved regularly. Or there's nothing growing there in the first place but Japanese men need to feel sure there isn't. My head begins to hurt.
In 2006, I had a haircut in India that involved a scalp massage bordering on assault. The shop was small, crowded because a cricket match blared from an old TV. Mr. Deguchi’s shop is spacious and silent except for the sound of scissors, clippers and hair washing. Nobody talks. Or if they do, they do it so quietly, I can’t hear them. It is a near-perfect place for meditation.
I'm brought back to consciousness by a scraping sensation on my forehead. From this I conclude that gaijin don’t move chairs for the forehead shave. Or he saw a sleeping customer and took advantage of the moment.
It was a sadly unremarkable feeling to have a razor drawn across my forehead. And it took less than fifteen seconds. No wonder they throw it in for free.
Mr. Deguchi then gives me a very close shave on the chin, soft as a baby’s bottom, and I’m unceremoniously done, up and out of the chair, blue plastic smock off in a jiffy and guided to the cash register.
I pay up and head for the door, but catch a look in the mirror as I go out.