Yesterday morning Takumi came downstairs with his head shaved. He got his friend to do it for him the night before. Tetsu took one look at him and said,
"Why did you shave your head? Is it a statement or is it fashion?"
Takumi answered that he thought it made him look "cool". He claims that longer hair doesn't suit him. Hmmm. I'm not sure I agree... I think I like a bit longer look.
Tetsu went on to explain that in his days a shaved head meant something and that got me thinking about what I know about shaving your head in Japan. None of this has anything to do with Takumi.
When I first arrived in Japan 30 years ago, there was another foreign girl and she had a Japanese boyfriend. However, part way through their romance the girl decided that things wouldn't work out after all and she approached the boy about splitting up. She thought it had gone off pretty smoothly but a few days later the boyfriend turned up on her doorstep with his head shaved. She and I about dropped our teeth. What was with this guy? Is he for real? He wanted her to reconsider their break-up and he was expressing his despair over unrequited love by shaving his head. The girl was supposed to realized the depths of his emotion to the extent that he would disgrace himself, and she was expected to throw herself into his arms. In this case, it didn't work for this foreigner. She just thought him weird and they never did get back together. As a third party, I thought the shaving of the head was an odd way to show love.
A more common statement of a shaved head is when someone will do it as an expression of shame. Not too long ago, one of my English students woefully told me that his elementary school's baseball team had performed dreadfully in the tournament and because his father was an assistant coach, the father was going to shave his head to apologize for the shame and dishonor of his poor coaching. I thought it interesting that the baseball team wasn't held responsible because I have heard of whole teams shaving their heads after losing a game. Sure enough, a few days later I spotted the very skinned-looking father/coach. Hopefully the baseball team will be so humiliated that they will try harder to spare their coach from such disgrace again. I'm sure my brother, who assistant coaches my niece's softball team, is very glad he doesn't live in Japan.
I heard somewhere that the custom of shaving the head as a sign of disgrace stems from the samurai era in Japan were the Japanese warriors wore their hair long but tied up in a knot on top of their head. (A similar custom is still seen in sumo wrestlers.) However, if the samurai did something to cause shame, he was required by the feudal lord to cut off the top-knot, the ultimate sign of dishonor. (Actually, I guess the ultimate was to slice his stomach open...) Until the top-knot grew back, the samurai was ostracized by the very visible sign of short hair. You will still see this custom in Japan today in different forms. A famous political figure who sported a ponytail for years was found guilty of misdealing and the very next day he cut off the ponytail in order to show the citizens of Japan how very sorry he felt for the dishonest affair. Actually it seems a mild form of self-inflicted punishment to me. His hair grew back and he is back swaggering around his office. I don't know how honest he has become.
It comes to me that all this is not unlike Samson...
Ah well, as I say, Takumi just thinks he looks cool and he likes to wear his hair (or lack of it) this way.
I still remember him looking this way...