I first met Muneo in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, Japan back in 1990. While I am sure I must have met him through the Ohtawara International Friendship Association, I am pretty sure that Matthew actually properly introduced us.
Yeah, yeah - I'm wearing what must be the ugliest shorts ever - but this was 1990, and I am pretty damn sure I had two other more ugly pair of shorts.Still... the color of the shorts actually matches my shirt.
Anyhow... perhaps because I was in shock to actually find myself in Japan - I had never in a million years ever said to myself - "I really must go to Japan some day!" I had not ever thought about Japan in any way shape or form, except that they got the crap bombed out of them during WWII.
As such... being stunned all the time, I was never any good at remembering people's names... and I sure as heck couldn't recall their professions.
And this is the same guy who was taking detailed notes of his one-year (soon to be two and then three-year trek) in Japan, beginning with the flight over.
So, needing a haircut, Matthew quickly suggested I see Muneo at his shop. Oh yeah, I probably said to Matthew... can you show me where it is?
Well, good buddy that Matthew is, he must have set up an appointment for me and even accompanied me to the barber shop: Nakamura's.
Now... when I think barber shop, I think about a small cramped facility with white walls, some barber chairs that have seen better days, piles of cut hair from a few weeks ago sitting in a corner of the place, and a plethora of well-thumbed through copies of Penthouse magazine.
But this is Japan. I don't think they really know what a quaint old barber shop was supposed to look like.
Nakamura's was a spa treatment for men!
I was given some delicious o-cha (green tea) - and none of that cheap watered down stuff I was getting at the schools! No.. this actually had some taste to it!
Then, when it as my turn, I sat down in a chair that slanted all the way back so I was lying on it with my feet raised. Then a hot towel was gently wrapped around my face, which I only suppose was to refresh me and to open up my pores... because as soon as that delight was removed, I had foamy sweetness lathered all over my face and was shaved with the most sublime straight edge razor I have ever felt. Okay... that was the first one I had ever felt. And it felt nice.
Now nice and smooth, Muneo, still wearing a face mask so as to not offend me with his breath or the fact that he needed to exhale, began to trim my nose hairs, then my eyebrows, and then my ears... which didn't seem to need much... no wait... I had hair on my ears?! I never knew. (In 2012, I am very aware of this fact and regularly groom myself I'm of Indian descent and am apparently a hairy guy.)
I only came in for a trim of my hair on my head. I'd been there for 40 minutes already.First discussing what I wanted... the same but shorter, he gently washed my hair. If we were gay I would have married him, but we were both straight so no luck there. That was the most gentle and relaxing hair wash I had ever had... he massaged the scalp as he cleansed the hair with shampoo (twice) and conditioned it.
The man was an artiste. No only could he have done the job in 10 minutes, he took his time ensuring every hair was cut to perfection... taking an addition 40 minutes. But I'll be honest... I had nothing better to do, and certainly would have blown it off if I had something else to do. This was heaven.
I think I understand women better now.
No I don't.
Anyhow... he then shaved the back of my neck with the straight razor... showed me the whole cut with a plethora of mirrors... brushed all the hair off my smock... and just when I thought it was all over, I got a massage.
Shoulders, neck, scalp, forehead.
Again, neither one of us were gay, but if we were...
This went on for 10 more minutes... and I guess my time was up.
i didn't want to leave... and I'm pretty sure I was so relaxed that I don't think I could have left. So we chatted for a while - Matthew was still getting his mop cut by Muneo's dad, I think... or maybe he was leafing through the NEW copies of Penthouse magazine...
And when it came time to pay for the whole event - and it was an event - Muneo smiled and shook his head telling me it was "On the house. For friendship."
That stupid man nearly made me cry with joy.
I miss him terribly, 20 years later... not just for his great skills as a barber, but for his friendship.
On October 30, it was his birthday. I attempted to send him an e-mail courtesy of Matthew having his address. I hadn't communicated with Muneo since I left in 1993. But... the damn e-mail bounced back, saying his mail box was full.
As such... I am left to provide a happy birthday message (belated) to Muneo-kun in this forum and to thank him very much for the kindness and friendship he showed me for three years.
Cheers, my friend!