Barber Shops: Nipponese and Manhattan

Scene: Like similar places elsewhere, the usual chairs, mirrors, and bottles; the usual odor of the usual hair-tonic.

CUSTOMERS: allowing for differences of dress, and the single feminine presencemuch the same.

But here the resemblance ended; for all five waiters were half asleep, including the lady who had dropped round for an eyebrow-shave, and who now nodded, with one kimono sleeve held modestly before her face, like a tired lily. The occupants of the four chairs scarce held up their heads; the very barbers dozed. Blessed little shop, far from Yankee rush and moil; such a spot one might find in Paradise, if — Dantean thought! — the angels shaved.

From my seat by the huge iron firepot, I drowsily fell to studying a nearby poster, relic of the summer’s Sanitation Campaign. ‘Swat That Fly Before It Swats You,’ flamed the Chinese legend above a little girl pouring oil (or was it water?) on some magnified musca domestica larvæ, while her baby brother — in spectacles — looked on approvingly.

Whether it was the weariness cleverly depicted on their chromoed faces, or the sleepiness always associated with flies, or the drowsy contagion of my fellow customers, I know not; but the volume of ‘English Humorists’ crowding my pocket somehow did not appeal just then, and I also slept — and the scene changed.

I was being shaved in New York.

‘ Yeh,’ said the barber, waving his razor perilously near my nose. ‘I ‘ll say the fat boy has n’t a chanct. With Teddy’s hat in the ring it’s all over but the shoutin’.’

The reader now knows how long, how very long, ago the scene of my dream was.

‘But what about Wilson?’ objected a lathered face in the next chair.

My barber stropped judicially, his head on one side.

‘Has n’t a chanct. Not more than you or me has, or them — those guys out there on the coiner. When Teddy’s around, who wants a college professor? I seen — saw Teddy last week down to the Grand Central, and I says to myself—’

A neighboring colleague was also pontificating: —

‘You’ve got to hand it to Ty. Best all-round player baseball ever produced. Yes sir, I’ll say so. Of course Wagner was a good man in his day; so was Mathewson; so was Napoleon Lajoie; but —’

From all about came luminous phrases: ‘ Went down for ten’ — ‘No, I don’t want a bath ‘ — ‘ Yes, I suppose so, but make it brief’ — ‘ She says to me’—

‘Shampoo, sir?’ cooed my barber. ‘Scalp really needs it, sir.’

The little Japanese barber was shaking my shoulder.

‘Next,’ he grinned.

Obediently I took my seat in a fauteuil built after — a long way after — the style of Louis XIV, and gratefully opened my Thackeray. What bliss to have one’s locks snipped in comfort to the pulse and rhythm of great literature!

‘In treating of the English humorists of the past age, it is of the men and of their lives, rather than of their books

‘Bery hot to-day,’ essayed my barber in English.

‘Yes,’ I agreed pleasantly.

Taihen atsui desu,’ repeated the barber, this time relapsing comfortably into Japanese. ‘ Is it hot in Sensei’s country?’

‘Very — in winter,’ I fear I said.

‘What are your impressions of Japan?’

I sighed. ‘Really,’ I countered with a vain attempt at sarcasm, ‘as I’ve lived in Japan only ten years, I have n’t any.’

A fat individual, large for a Japanese, — evidently a crony of my barber’s, — planted himself between me and the solitary light, and I closed my book in disgust.

‘Who’s the foreigner?' he inquired, obviously considering the local dialect a sufficient lingual camouflage.

‘Lives up at Hakoshima. Teaches in the Normal College.’

‘Oh-h-h. Sa-a-a. So desuka? [Is that so?] Young yet, ain’t he?’

‘Yes,’ somewhat hesitatingly replied my barber. ‘ But not so young as he used to be. See, over the ears here he has some gray hairs.’

The friend looked.

‘Sa-a-a. Oh-h-h. So desuka? Can he talk Japanese?’

‘Yes,’grudgingly; ‘but not so well as he thinks he can.'

‘So desuka? Oh-h-h. Sa-a-a,’the fat fellow commiserated.

After a generous stare, returned with interest, he sat down in the place I had lately vacated.

For a time my barber snipped in silence, and then suddenly shouted, —

‘The gentleman in the next chair on your right is a great musician. He plays in the orchestra of the Nisshin Moving Picture House.'

So desuka ?’ I queried politely in my turn. ‘What instrument.?’

My barber did not know, but would inquire. In an equally loud voice, he put my question to the gentleman’s barber, who put it in a louder voice to the gentleman himself, who replied at length (and not at all gently) to his barber, who, by the same circuitous route, and with ever-rising intonation, relayed the information back to me.

‘The violin, piano, ‘cello, bass viol, kettledrum, and flute.’

‘And I am also master of the cornet, piccolo, and organ — both baby and mouth,’the gentleman himself added modestly.

So far, so good; contrasted with its Yankee contemporary, the Japanese barber-shop could at least offer something piquant.

‘Sensei, Waseda defeated your boys last week, did n’t they? Why was it? Ichioka’s a good pitcher. My theory is they trust too much to his speed and don’t stay wide-awake enough on bases. I was just saying yesterday — ‘

The shop had generally come to life. The fat newcomer was deep in dialectic converse with the man the other side of the fire-pot. Liberally translated, his remarks would run something like this: —

‘Sure, ‘t was a knock-out. What am I tellin’ yuh? Under proper conditions and with fair rules, boxin’ ain’t got a chanct, not a look-in, with jujutsu. Why, at the bout last night up to the Eiga Club, Murata threw Murphy in five seconds by the timekeeper’s watch, landin’ him on his ear for the count. Naw, boxin’ ain’t got a chanct, not wan.'

And the barber on my left — the light-colored boy with the knife-scar over his right eye — was discoursing emphatically on politics, the while he flourished a razor perilously near his victim’s nose—

‘ Baron Kato is n’t much of a premier. That’s all I’ve got to say. Hara was better. Look at what Kato done at Washington! Sold out to the AngloSaxons. Now Japan can’t do a thing.’

‘Shampoo, sir?’ my barber cooed. ‘Scalp really needs it, sir.'