What jet lag? Reset yourself in Tokyo
Kenro Miyazaki is doing his best to make me feel like I’m not just another pretty face.
The 29-year-old is standing above me in his pinstripe suit and thick-framed glasses, carefully prepping me for a shave.
A blast of steam loosens up my whiskers. A series of serums firms and moisturizes my skin. Searing-hot towels round out the routine.
To my right, three sharp blades sit on standby.
I’m stretched out on a reclining chair at The Barber, a wood-and-leather-filled man cave in Tokyo run by attendants in dark suits armed with razors, clippers and strong hands.
They offer treatments tailor-made to help locals de-stress and travelers get over jet lag in a jiffy.
I’ve walked past this place for a couple of years, curious about what goes on inside.
However, it wasn’t until an expat friend went for treatment last fall that I decided to find out.
Matthew Pace and his wife, Anna, had just moved to Japan from Washington, D.C., and she’d booked him a haircut, head massage (called shaspa) and shave to help ease him onto Tokyo time.
The 44-year-old walked away feeling fresh and more than ready for his Monday-morning start.
“They find tension spots in your neck you didn't think you had, along with the pressure points on your face,” Pace tells me.
And so with another big event on his horizon -- he was then just on the cusp of fatherhood -- we’re back, both sporting a couple days of stubble, both ready to be pampered.
In a manly way, of course.
“The concept is men’s style and healing,” says The Barber’s Masamichi Nagai of the mampering menu.
The salon, which has four locations in Tokyo, has successfully tapped into the booming global interest in men’s grooming.
The metrosexuals, pansexuals and dandys among us helped spawn a multi-billion-dollar industry catering to needs some men never knew they had -- manicures and pedicures, facial regimens and manscaping (removing hair from the chest, back and other regions).
"Men today say they feel they have to look better to be competitive,” founder and chief executive of Skin Authority, Celeste Hilling, told the New York Times recently.
Magazines such as GQ, Details and Esquire have been at the forefront of the mascu-primping movement, telling guys how to look and live.
Issues such as whether men should wear sandals (yes, but pedicure recommended) or Uggs (depends on how comfortable one is wearing a product so closely associated with women).
Then there are the new grooming products sold by the likes of Skin Authority (powders, creams) and instruments (tweezers, clippers) that have crept into medicine cabinets and travel kits.
Still, while this focus on appearance has taken a few debatable detours -- guyliner and guylashes could qualify -- the prevailing wisdom is that caring about his packaging doesn’t make a man any less manly.
“Being a man means being everything a man can be,” writes GQ’s Glenn O’Brien in his 2011 book “How to Be a Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman.”
“Under the right circumstances and with the right effort, a man can be far more than a man,” he continues.
“He can be a gentleman, a sportsman, an inventor, an artist, a philosopher, a bard, a magician or a hero.”
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Suits you ...
That sentiment is at the core of another Tokyo establishment, Wildlife Tailor. The tiny shop in tony Ebisu aims to appeal to the gentleman and urban hipster inside every guy.
If a trip to The Barber will wash away stress and jet lag, a visit to Wildlife Tailor will prepare you for a meeting or a night out on the town. (Full disclosure: I own two of their excellent suits).
“This store’s concept is traditional, the base is traditional,” says Kei Nakamura, a PR rep for parent company, Adam and Ropé. “But it’s wild, so the name is Wildlife Tailor.”
“It’s a modernized mix,” adds clothing consultant Wataru Noda, dressed in a three-piece Italian wool suit by in-house designer Taishi Nobukuni.
Noda counts James Bond and the late Jiro Shirasu, a dapper, Cambridge University-educated Japanese bureaucrat and politician, as influences. It’s that kind of sartorial style Wildlife Tailor sows -- a blend of fantasy and reality, of old and new.
British bowlers and hunting caps are placed carefully near Oliver Peoples glasses. Argyle socks are a tiptoe away from chic bottles filled with shaving creams, face toners, and lip balms.
A moose head stares blankly at customers who walk up the concrete staircase to check out designer jeans and crumpled cotton shirts.
“We’re different than other shops,” says Nakamura.
Be the boss
The guys at Wildlife Tailor -- some wearing carefully cut suits, others bow ties with rolled-up white jeans that show off their socks -- want their clients to look their best, whether they live a walk, train or plane ride away.
So if you’re a wool-silk blend type or Scottish tweed sort, they’ll size you, style you, and do their best to suit you before your next big occasion, or before your flight leaves Tokyo (10 days is the fastest they move, though).
“A man must wear a suit. He must not be a suit,” says Glenn O’Brien. “You paid the cost, so you be the boss. Wear it. Don’t let it wear you.”
One could argue the same could be said about vacations. You paid for it, you call the shots.
The next time you visit Tokyo, consider planning a mini-mancation in between sushi and sightseeing, or arranging one for the man in your life.
It all makes sense to me as Kenro Miyazaki finishes up my shave at The Barber.
After painting on the foam with a brush made of tanuki hair (Japanese raccoon dog), he’s going after every last whisker with gusto, even running the razor along my earlobes to shoo away peach fuzz.
“Do you want coffee or tea?” Miyazaki says when it’s all over. I opt for an espresso and decide not to tell him I really feel like a cocktail.
Time to head home, don a suit and head out for a martini. Let the mancation roll on.
The Barber has salons in Hiroo, Daikanyama, Shibuya, and will soon open in Aoyama. Go to the company website for more information or call +81 (0) 3 5728 6558 (Shibuya salon). Treatments range from ¥4,200 (US$54) to ¥17,000.
Wildlife Tailor is located at 1-32-12, Ebisu Nishi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, +81 (0) 3 5728 6320. More information on outlets and the Osaka branch can be found online. Tailored suits range from ¥50,000 (US$640) to ¥1,500,000.
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