5. Hirsute Yokohama
by Pencil Louis
If Vince Patchwork clashed with Japanese culture in many
ways, he rarely felt it. One of the few exceptions was his
three-monthly visit to the barber. As far as he could see,
the average Japanese man felt that his monthly haircut was a
pampered treat that he could hardly do without. For him, it
was a time to relax and be preened. For Vince, it was quite
the opposite and maybe as painful as having a tooth removed.
Vince had, after all, gone to high school during the
seventies when every school boy wanted to grow his hair long
in imitation of rock idols like Robert Plant and Rod
Stewart. It was an open symbol of rebellion. There were wars
to be fought against and love to be made. Vince was very
grateful that most of the sixties didn't reach Australia
until he was old enough to appreciate it.
His principal, Mad Dog Morgan, had other ideas and, strap in
hand, would parade the rows of boys, ordering the head
prefect to measure the distance between the hairline and the
collar of anyone who appeared to be infringing The Rule. The
Rule was that a minimum of half an inch should separate
collar and curls. If nothing else, it taught Vince how to
Even today, Vince Patchwork hates having a haircut. But he
isn't trying to grow it long. Instead he prefers it short,
very short and would sport a skin head or a crew cut if
Connie hadn't once threatened to divorce him if his hair
ever got shorter than an inch and a half. Although Connie
has never measured it with a foot long ruler or wielded a
strap, her threat carried much more weight than Mad Dog
Morgan's ever did. As Vince's hair got sparser, Connie
preferred it to get longer on the eaves.
As for Vince himself, he had had his fill of western style
barbers ever since the age of 13 when he had seen the
possibility of saving 20 cents on his haircut, money that
could have been well spent elsewhere, by going to the oldest
barber in Collins Street. The man had not put a pudding bowl
on his head and shaved around it, but the effect had been
much the same. He had endured three weeks of ridicule from
his peers and approving smiles from Mad Dog Morgan. He had
also suffered one barber of Polish extraction, who believed
that long hair was the principle cause for the rise in crime
and the decline in moral standards across the globe. Vince
could admire the man's convictions in his own trade, but
quickly switched to another barber. He became a regular. He
never did find out the man's name, but this barber could cut
Vince's hair in less than eleven minutes on a rainy day,
less than seven if it were fine.
Finding a decent barber in Yokohama, who spoke no English,
was a difficult task. Vince had already had one disastrous
appointment with Connie's hairdresser. To this day, Vince
could not remember how she had talked him into it. He did
remember scoffing at the very idea and Connie claiming:
"Of course, he does men's hair!"
Occasions when he was right and she was wrong were, however,
rare, and indeed were to be savoured. So rare, in fact, that
it was worth taking a few risks. Yes, he went along to her
hairdresser. No, the man couldn't cut hair unless he was
going to put a perm through it afterwards. In order to cover
up his mistakes, the hairdresser spoke far too much, asking
questions about this and that in very bad English while
whipping Vince's curls into a goulash and applying super
glue so that it would stay that way. Then, he insisted on
taking a Polaroid shot of the disaster, so that he could
botch it up in exactly the same way, next time.
Vince had already decided that there wasn't going to be a
next time and went to one of three local barber shops just
around the corner from his home in Saedocho. The business
was run by a man and a woman in their sixties, Mr. and Mrs.
Matsuura. Vince guessed that neither of them had ever really
been trained to cut hair, that they had once been farmers
who had since sold their land and needing something to do
had taken on a barber shop as a hobby.
He actually received his first haircut from Mrs. Matsuura.
She was a wizened old specimen with a practical sense of
humour and straight to the point way with her words. She was
the kind of woman, Vince imagined, who had got Japan back on
its feet after World War 2 and Vince sometimes wondered if
she hadn't done it singlehandedly.
Vince had not been studying Japanese for very long at this
stage, so armed with only two words of appropriate Japanese
- mo (shorter) and stop (stop) - and an expanse of hidden
talent for mime, he explained exactly how he wanted his hair
cut. Mrs. Matsuura, who definitely knew better, disobeyed as
many of Vince's instructions as possible, but, at the end of
the whole ordeal, he had a reasonable haircut and had
avoided all the normal barbaric practises of barbers in
Japan in which most of their clients delighted.
He had not had his finger or toe nails clipped, pared,
filed, polished, varnished and engraved. He had not been
pummelled or subjected to a collar bone breaking shoulder
massage. He had not been shaved on his chin or anywhere
else. No hair oils, artificial colourings, creams or cements
had been applied.
By the time of his second visit, it became obvious Mrs.
Matsuura had decided that Vince was really just too much
trouble and he was handed over to Mr. Matsuura, a man with a
sanguine complexion and a Father Christmas figure to match.
Vince's new barber didn't speak any English. Nor could he
cut hair. But he made up for both of these by speaking as
loud as he possibly could in Japanese, filling Vince in, no
doubt, on both the latest jokes and the local gossip. He was
accompanied by both the radio and television which were on
full blast. The TV reception was so bad that Vince could
only barely make out the image amid the war of dots on the
screen, but the sound was good and loud.
Mr. Matsuura seemed to have a perpetual runny nose which he
stemmed with little wads of toilet paper that were inserted
up both nostrils. Vince could undoubtedly have painted a
more revolting picture of Mr. Matsuura, but the truth of the
matter was that, within the space of one haircut, he had
come to like the man so much that he actually began to look
forward to his three monthly trim.
It was not only that Mr. Matsuura became the first Japanese
barber ever to finish a haircut in less than an hour and
that he stunned the critics by repeating the feat every time
Vince decided to have a cut. No, there was something naively
good-humoured and good-natured about Mr. Matsuura. Vince had
no doubts that all the business acumen in the family
belonged to his wife.
Connie was horrified by the succession of crooked cuts that
Vince brought home from the barber's. Some were so bad that
she felt compelled to bring out the scissors and try to
restore some sense of balance.
"Why don't you get a new barber?" she would nag at Vince.
"He can't cut hair."
"Lots of Japanese barbers can't cut foreigner's hair. They
admit it themselves. Some even refuse to tackle the job."
"But Mr. Matsuura can't cut anybody's hair," she would
explode. "There are 50,000 of the most meticulous barbers in
the world in this country and you have to pick the one
bumbling, cack-handed fool. Why don't you get yourself a
"I like Mr. Matsuura!"
"Because he's my barber."
"Because he's my kind of barber!"
And that was the answer. Mr. Matsuura was hardly the world's
greatest barber, but then again, Vince was hardly a
superstar when it came to the barbered, either.
One day, he entered the Matsuura's barber shop to see a
forlorn figure sitting there waiting in pyjama bottoms and a
singlet. Vince assumed that it must be another customer. He
would have to wait his turn for a haircut he decided and
sighed. He had just picked up his book, a blockbuster
especially chosen for long waits outside doctor's surgeries
or in barber shops, when he was surprised to see Mrs.
Matsuura beckoning for him to sit in the barber's chair.
He turned back to the strange pyjama-clad figure to indicate
that the other man had been first and recognised Mr.
Matsuura. The old fellow had lost a lot of weight and was
bordering on thin, in the way that only a bean bag can get
thin. He couldn't speak and Vince assumed from what Mrs.
Matsuura had to say, that he had had a stroke. No more
talking, no more laughter.
"We bring him out here, so he can see some of his old
customers," Mrs. Matsuura explained.
Vince was so despondent when he sat down in the barber's
chair that he couldn't have cared less what Mrs. Matsuura
did to him. She cut his hair, clipped his nails, shaved his
face, ear holes, cheek bones and forehead, plucked his nose
hairs, kneaded and pummelled his shoulders, took his shoes
off and massaged his feet. She moisturised his face,
dry-cleaned his jacket and car waxed his hair.
Connie couldn't believe the Vince that came back from the
barber shop, that day. He looked like a latter day James
Dean. With some coaxing, he finally admitted that he had
enjoyed his first real Japanese haircut and he finally
discovered that his quick trim cost just as much as the
Vince never returned to the Matsuura's. He couldn't face the
thought of the old barber the way he was. Much later, he
passed the shop and saw that Mr. Matsuura was up and around
and back cutting hair, but the sheer joy he had once taken
in the job was gone. Vince could tell. Still, from then on,
whenever Vince went into a barber shop in Japan, he demanded