Fear in salons and barbershops as Japan considers haircuts to be “essential”

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Tokyo – Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike announced on Friday a long list of companies included in an official “closure request” for the coming month as the world’s most populous city is struggling to include one Expansion of the coronavirus epidemic. A long list of companies and private institutions are asked to close, including universities, nightclubs, dance halls, bars, karaoke studios, driving schools, pools, bowling alleys, mahjong salons, off-track betting, pachinko salons, theaters, internet cafes , Sports facilities, museums, art galleries and libraries.

Only selected companies are allowed to stay open: supermarkets, drug stores, public transport, healthcare providers … and hairdressing salons. Prime Minister Abe has highlighted these as services that are “essential … to ensure a stable life for citizens”.

Under pressure from the national government, Koike added hair clippers to the list of job vacancies in Tokyo. Naoyuki Tamura, head of the city’s civil protection department, refused to defend the last-minute involvement, saying only, “We have to adhere to national policies.”

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But the decision raised her eyebrows. Just this week, a group of five coronavirus cases were traced back to a beauty salon in the city of Buzen. The positive tests included a baby and his mother.

Online, the decision seemed irrational to many.

“Is it really an ‘essential excursion’ to have your hair cut?” Asked a commentator. “Who,” said another, “can you cut your hair at a time like this?”

Many pointed out the risk of having to serve someone and anyone who walks through the door while standing just inches away.

A woman wearing a face mask walks past barber bars along a street in Tokyo on February 20, 2020.

PHILIP FONG / AFP / Getty


“Osaka stylist here,” said one. “Are you saying that if we become infected, is it our responsibility? And if we infect our customers, are we alone?”

“I’m also a stylist and I’m really scared,” said someone named Kyoko. “I am a single mother. If I am dead, who will take care of my three children?”

“While we work, we suppress fear,” wrote a hairdresser. “As conscientious as our sanitary facilities are, don’t they understand that we cannot fully protect ourselves from infections?”

Ministry of Health and Labor statistics show that Japan had 368,543 salons and barbershops by 2017 – an all-time high. 31,500 such companies are said to operate in Tokyo alone. The industry employs over half a million hairdressers and beauticians. For this reason, as many in the industry suspect, the government seeks to keep them at work rather than close them – and to be entitled to financial compensation.