Friday, May 30, 2008

Matsue... Early 1960s

the Keep of Matsue CastleImage via Wikipedia
The earliest memories I have were of being a kid in Matsue, on the coast of Shimane Prefecture near the Sea of Japan. The winters were cold there, and I remember walking down our sidewalk with the snowbanks over my head.

I had the unique experience of growing up in Japan. I went over when I was six months old, and, with the exception of a Norwegian family, we were the only westerners for many miles.

As a young boy, I had blonde hair (it eventually turned brown, and, nuch later, grey). The barber used to collect our hair after he cut it because it was so unusual to him. For some reason, in those days in Japan, a haircut meant "a haircut and a shave" even for 4-5 year old kids. I remember sitting in the barber chair, listening to the slick-slack of the barber sharpening the straight razor on a well-worn leather strap, the gurgling sound as he poured steaming water from the urn in the corner into the cup (I think he used some kind of powdered soap), and the swishy sound the brush made as he worked up a good lather, and then the hot sticky-ticky wetness as he brushed the lather onto my face, and the scrape scrape of the sharp razor removing nothing but lather. Finally, the steaming hot towel to wipe everything away, and the customary chop-chop-chop massage on my shoulders.

"They don't need to be shaved. They're too young," my dad would say. The barber would smile, and agree... then take advantage of my father's attention being elsewhere and shave me anyway.

I remember coming to a barber shop the first time I was back in the states, having my hair cut with electric clippers instead of various types of scissors, and not having a shave. It was a really strange feeling, entirely unfulfilling. "Aren't you going to shave me?," I asked the barber... he laughed. "How old are you, son?" "Six." He would shake his head and grin to himself.

Japan in the early sixties was still poor, especially outside the large cities, compared to the modern Tech Giant it has become. I remember all of the dirt and gravel roads we'd have to drive over. It was much faster to travel distances by train, and I remember the trains well. At that time, there were still quite a few steam locomotives, and there's nothing quite like the sound that a steam engine makes as it is just getting underway... and the smell of the coal fire. In the train, ladies would make their ways down the aisles pushing carts laden with tea, snacks, lunch... various treasures that I was always curious about things like whisky and beer, but soon learned that it was best not to mention those to my parents or their group of peers.

See my Japan map.