Nathaniel Goes to a Japanese Barber!

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Chorister Nathaniel Janis had a unique experience getting a haircut in Japan last week:


“I was more than a little anxious when the first thing Francisco told me after touching down in Japan was that my hair was too long and unkempt, and I would likely have to get it cut before our first performance. I tried gelling it back, but the combination of hair product and sweat brought about during our sound-check on Tuesday coagulated into a sort of gooey mess, so that plan was out the window.

Which brings us to this morning: I awoke with a strong feeling of unease because I knew this could be the last day for a long time that I would look like myself. Fortunately, fellow chorister and Japanese-speaker Haru Zenda was able to locate a barbershop with a supposedly good reputation. So with Haru and a group of cheerful supporters behind me, I left the hotel feeling a little more confident.

That feeling disappeared as soon as we entered the salon. After stepping out of the elevator I was directed by two women to a sort of waiting-room area, at which time I was presented with catalogs where I assume I was supposed to select the hairstyle that I wanted. One thing I noticed quickly about these catalogs were that they were all of women, so I had Haru check to see if this place actually cut men’s hair. He asked one of the women, which caused her to immediately start waving her arms frantically and quickly directed another woman to rummage up a catalog with pictures of men. Browsing through this didn’t make me feel too much better. Eventually I just had Haru translate to one of the barbers what it was that I wanted, and apparently he was able to understand vaguely what I was talking about. 

I followed the barber into the main area of the salon, where he sat me down in a swivel chair and began to wash my hair. Our early attempts at conversation were scintillating:

Barber: Erm, you speak Japanese?

Me: Uh, no, not really.


Me: Um, do you speak English?

Barber: Erm, no.

Clearly things were getting off to a good start. Eventually we started to bond by shouting the names of random Japanese sports stars at each other:

Me: So, do you know Ichiro?

Barber: Hai! Ichiro! Erm, Hideki Matsui? Yankees?

Me: Hai! Me gusta Yankees!

(At the time I was convinced he would understand me better if I spoke Spanish.)

Now that we were best friends and my hair was nice and clean, he led me over to the actual barber’s chair. What followed was largely uneventful—he was painstakingly precise with every action, snipping the smallest possible amounts of hair at a time. About 45 minutes in, he decided we wanted to blow-dry my hair and cut the rest of it dry. The blow-drying itself took about half-an-hour, making the whole thing about a 90-minute ordeal.


Later that afternoon, while we were rehearsing in the lobby of the concert hall where we were going to perform, someone impressively spotted my barber walking along the sidewalk right outside, so I called out to him and he waved back. I wanted to invite him inside to let him hear us rehearse and maybe get him a ticket for our show, but the lobby door was locked and no one seemed to be able to get it open. Oh well.

– Nathanial Janis/Chorister