I Get By with a Little Help from My Friend

The Situation

By the 7th week since my last haircut, I am badly in need of one. It only gets worse as the days go on.
What to do when you’re in a foreign country? I’ve had a few hair cutting experiences abroad that weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. With short hair I am well aware that not bad can take a turn to disastrous with just a few ill placed hand movements.

Japanese hair is heavy, thick and straight. Mine is fine and curly. That alone could be confusing to a hair stylist unfamiliar with the hair of a caucasian woman. How to communicate what you want? A possible problem as well.

With this in mind, I still felt confident when I asked my stylish Japanese friend if he could recommend anyone to cut my hair. He didn’t hesitate and within a day he had made an appointment for me. He insisted on coming with me and I didn’t argue. We met him at a train station about 15 minutes away. He led us through the small town for another 15 minutes until we arrived at a very small shop where the stylist was waiting by the door for us to arrive.

The Process

She smiled and laughed nervously. I smiled and laughed just a little nervously. My friend laughed loudly and my husband laughed as well. This round of laughter continued for several minutes until I took my seat in her chair.  Then, it was time to get down to business.

I used a hand gesture to show her how much hair to cut off. She seemed unsure. I showed her again with my hand, an approximation of a half an inch.

She began to cut with focus. I relaxed as I saw she was a pro. At some point when I thought she was done, I think she asked my friend if she had cut enough. He indicated that she should cut it shorter. Somehow my opinion didn’t seem to matter, because I wasn’t questioned.

She kept cutting. I looked at my husband’s face and saw a look of concern. Too late now to stop her, it all had to be shorter by this time.  One thing I’ve learned, it WILL grow.

My hair was cut dry, then shampooed followed by the best head massage I’ve ever had. I let her blow dry my hair out of curiosity to see what she’d do. I liked it.  My husband’s face still registered concern. My hair was VERY short! My friend was smiling. I smiled too and at last my stylist smiled too.  We both high fived.

The Outcome

It’s a great haircut. Next time I’m in Kyoto, I’ll definitely go back to her.  Maybe with a tape measure.

As far as I can tell, no one pays more attention to detail than the Japanese. The cut is precise and slick. Yes shorter than usual, but in two weeks it will be just about perfect. In the meantime, no hats, and the truth is, I’m liking it!

Less than Two Miles in 4.5 Hours

When Danny suggested that we walk to an antique store we like to visit here on the opposite side of town, it seemed like a fine idea.  The weather was mild, the mid-November sun warm and inviting.  And we both could use the excercise.

Taking an A to B walk in Kyoto is hypothetically an easy thing to do.  The city is laid out on an simple grid, the terrain within the city is flat.  That does NOT factor in all the distractions along the way.

So it was that a walk that could have taken us less than an hour, not pushing it, took almost 4.5 hours to complete.  One way.

Let me take you along the route. We headed west towards the lovely Kamogawa River.

We passed a small shop selling the most prized of seasonal vegetables:  the Mazsutake mushroom. Continue reading “Less than Two Miles in 4.5 Hours”

Meanwhile, Only in Japan at Takarazuka

Who and What is Takarazuka??

Yikes!  This really exists! (for full affect, do watch the videos.)

Part of what endears Japan to me is the seemingly never-ending discoveries to be made at both ends of the spectrum from the sublime to the ridiculous.  A few days ago we travelled out of Kyoto to attend a performance of The Takarazuka Revue. I’d known about Takarazuka for years, but this year I got reservations as soon as we got to Japan.  It didn’t disappoint.

from NY Times, July 14, 2016

YOKOHAMA, Japan — On any given night outside a theater in central Tokyo, hundreds of women can be found waiting in neat phalanxes, dressed in matching T-shirts or sporting identical colored handkerchiefs — the uniform of what may be the most rabidly loyal fans in Japanese entertainment.

The stars they’re hoping to glimpse are women, too, actresses who play both male and female roles in the 102-year-old Takarazuka Revue, an enduringly successful theater company.


Founded in 1914 by a railway company that hoped to lure travelers to a struggling hot spring resort outside Osaka, the group began with a handful of teenage singers and dancers and staged its first performances in a converted swimming pool. A century later, Takarazuka operates five sub-troupes and puts on 900 shows a year, in company-owned theaters in Tokyo and its original western Japanese base. Most of the shows sell out.

Cross-dressing, single-gender theater groups have a long history in Japan.

Takarazuka could not be more Japanese. Training is rigorous and the troupes are strictly hierarchical, with designated “top stars” and ranks of junior performers. Rules are strict and extend beyond the stage: Members are not allowed to marry and often “retire” in their late 20s or early 30s. The most popular make the transition to mainstream acting or singing careers.

By putting women in male roles, Takarazuka is aiming less for transgression or social rebellion than for an added level of escapist fantasy. Its members’ duty, Ms. Mine said, is to be “fairies selling dreams,” onstage or off. “You can’t have the smell of a real life about you.”

Despite its Western trappings, Takarazuka draws on “ideas of purity that are very primitively Japanese,” Akio Miki, a veteran Takarazuka director, said. They show up in its productions and in the way the company — whose official motto is “modesty, fairness, grace” — regulates its performers’ private lives.

“It’s an idealized male image, seen through women’s eyes: The heroes are more romantic, more divine,” he said. “They don’t tend to lie or cheat. It’s what the audience would like from men but doesn’t usually get in reality

from Wikipedia:

Continue reading “Meanwhile, Only in Japan at Takarazuka”

Serendipity Strikes Again

A small blurb in a local magazine caught my eye and I  thought it would be worth checking out:

Autumn Book Fair is held by the Used Book Society of Kyoto which consists of many of Kyoto’s used booksellers at Chion-ji Temple in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto city. Throughout the event, the usually quiet temple compound is transformed into the likes of a giant bookstore and crowded with many people.

I’ve always been fascinated with paper ephemera from earlier times and this sale, along with its valuable books, had stacks and stacks of of old travel pamphlets, catalogues, magazines, advertising brochures, etc.  I love the old graphics, the weird and disturbing references to a formerly militaristic Japan during wartime, the early manga drawings, etc.

As promised, stalls lined the temple compound.  Prices were reasonable.  My pulse raced when I found two exquisite bound catalogues of vintage kimono patterns.  I’d only read that they existed, and here they were, affordable and in my eager hands. Continue reading “Serendipity Strikes Again”