When I first met Kenji as a university freshman, he had shoulder-length hair. Well, to be more precise, the back of his hair reached past his shoulders while the hair around his face fell at mid-neck; he had obviously let a boyband-style mushroom cut grow out. The effect was shaggy and rather 1970s.
He told me one day that he used to have a buzzcut for extracurricular baseball, but had not had a haircut since he quit baseball two years ago. “But what are you going to do when it’s time to start looking for a real job, when we get close to graduation?”
“Oh, I don’t have to worry about that. I’m not joining a company.”
It must be nice to be a rich kid, I thought at the time. Little did I know how wrong my assumption was.
Over the next four years Kenji continued to let his hair grow. It grew in wavy and thin at the bottom, because he wasn’t even getting trims. It’s a myth that all Asians naturally have stick-straight hair. There are more than a few Japanese who have naturally wavy or puffy hair. Why else would there be a chemical straightening process with “Japanese” right in its name?
Other students went home for summer vacation, but Kenji never did. I didn’t have to, because I lived at home anyway, but Kenji wasn’t local. He was from a little town on the other side of the mountains. Whenever I saw him on campus during summer, he was just as often running on the track or working out as studying in the library. He was smart and had good grades, even being chosen to be a teaching assistant for the freshman introductory course when he was a junior.
When March of our fourth year rolled around, I noticed Kenji started wearing his hair in elaborate braids and updos. Nobody commented on it, because all the years spent working out had been effective in making him quite muscular. He most certainly did not look like a girl.
One day, about two days before graduation, Kenji approached me in the cafeteria. “I have a favor to ask you. I don’t have anyone else to ask, because my guy friends would all laugh, and I can’t afford a professional.”
“Wait a minute, I thought you were a rich kid.”
“Rich kid? No way. I’m only here at university because of a special scholarship. When I applied for it, I signed an agreement guaranteeing that I was going to enlist in the Maritime Self Defense Force after graduation.”
I stared at him in surprise. I had no idea such schemes even existed here in Japan. On the other hand, he was from a town not far from a MSDF base. Maybe it was a local arrangement.
“As you must surely be aware, that’s basically military. I know we’re legally only an ‘enhanced police force,’ but we’re only fooling ourselves. Obviously, being in the military means no more long braids for guys like me. I let my hair grow super long because I knew I was going to be spending decades of my life with a military buzzcut and wanted to cross having long hair off my bucket list.”
Aha, Kenji was going to ask me to cut off his hair before he had to report for basic training. He couldn’t even afford a barber. That, or he was too cheap to go to a professional. On the other hand, he was going to be sporting a buzzcut. An amateur could probably handle that. I agreed on the spot.
When I entered his dorm room, I was surprised to see anime-style character posters on his walls until I looked more closely and realized that they were military recruitment posters. His roommate was nonplussed to see me, a girl, entering their room.
“Here, let me get set up.” Kenji spread out a newspaper on the floor and cut a hole in the bottom of a garbage bag, to serve as a cape. He handed me a pair of ordinary scissors for cutting paper. It was not going to be easy to cut off all of his hair with these.
First, he took down his elaborate updo, so that he had four braids dangling down, and I snipped each one off right at its base. We were going short. I ruffled what was left before I began hacking at his hair haphazardly, trying to take off length.
Once I had reduced the longer parts to a length that was more or less the same as the shorter parts, I inserted the scissors at his nape and pressed them as close to his scalp as I could. There was something strangely satisfying about watching the hair fall as I cut it off. I worked my way up the back of his head, all the way to the crown, before coming back down to his nape to cut another row.
Next would be the sides. As I snipped behind his ears to expose their backs, I noticed him smile ever so slightly. He could probably hear the scissors louder than ever, now that I was cutting close to his ears. Up and over around his ears I went, pulling his ear down to get close with my scissors.
Now for the top. I didn’t need to worry about gradation, because we were going for an allover buzzcut look. This would be much quicker and easier if we had clippers, but I was enjoying the intimacy of touching his scalp.
I moved to stand right in front of him in order to cut his fringe. It would be the same length as the rest, so it would be only a couple of millimeters long—it would definitely stand up. Maybe he would be shorn all over again as part of his induction, but at least it would be quick and easy to go over this cut with clippers. I went over his head again with my scissors, getting as close as I could with the tips of the blades.
“There, all done.” I moved to the front to get a look at him. Wow, he was much more handsome than I had realized, now that I had an unobstructed view of his face. It takes a very handsome man to look this much better without hair than with.
Kenji’s roommate stopped and stared, too. “Whoa. You look good without all that hair. I guess you’ll be keeping it because you have to, but wow.”
“No, I won’t be keeping it. I’ll probably go shorter when I have access to military barbers.” Kenji grinned mischievously. “It’ll be peach fuzz from here on out for the foreseeable future.”
Sure enough, Kenji sent me two photos of himself in his uniform after his induction, one with his hat on, and the other without. He looked better than ever with the burr cut he had received, and his smile proved that he knew it.