Patchwork Yokohama
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
          stand straight.

          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
          decent barber?"

          "I like Mr. Matsuura!"


          "Because he's my barber."

          "But why?"

          "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
          the works.