This month marks exactly one year since city employees in Isesaki, Gumma Prefecture were given the hands crossed “dame” to facial hair. According to city officials, “citizens find bearded men unpleasant, so beards are banned. Public servants should look like public servants.” A full year has passed since this ruling was made, yet I still ponder the question; why have we turned against facial hair? This is especially true in Japan, where companies hand out manuals as thick as the Bible to new employees on dress codes. Always included is “no beards, no moustaches, no sideburns, no five-o’clock shadows.”
Where have we gone? Facial hair is an opportunity for gentlemen to express fine fashion and consideration for appearance. Naturally, it can go horribly wrong—case and point are the exhibitionists with braided beards, the 1992-era soul patch, pencil-line mustaches, and not to be out-done, the Hitler ‘stache (which still survives on the faces of some middle-aged men in Austria). When done correctly, however, facial hair is an expression of class, consideration for gentlemanly appearance, strength, and professionalism. The ladies of the world can use make-up, nails, ear-rings, accessories, shoes and shoes and shoes to show a sense of fashion and still be presentable in a board meeting, yet the man of the 21st century is only allowed a necktie noose, the empty suit, the Ken-doll haircut, and a shave.
I for one demand a return to facial hair being recognized in gentlemen’s fashion. We don’t have to look too far back in history to a time when facial hair was such, but shall we scan throughout? In religion? Confucius, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and even Al Sharpton have very handsome pieces of facial hair. In power? Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Eric the Red, Vladimir Lenin, Gandhi, Fidel Castro and Abe Lincoln wear their mustaches and beards with dignity. Great thinkers? Einstein, Darwin, Alexander Graham Bell, Orville of the Wright Brothers, Sigmund Freud, and Groucho Marx can be seen with a stately feature. This popularity of the facial hair piece continued on into the twentieth century, and was huge. There was a fine day not too long ago you were hard-pressed to find a gentleman in British parliament who wasn’t sporting muttonchops, or an even handlebar piece above the lip. I want to see classy pieces on the faces of world leaders, presidents of major corporations, doctors, teachers, pilots, and city employees as well. Nothing says well kept like a nice facial accent on a gentleman. Nothing is more masculine and exemplifies power than a full beard on a CEO. Nothing expresses “I’m a hard-working man with class” like a thick set of muttonchops.
So, to bring this discussion full circle, what about in Japan? I have compiled a list of well respected Japanese gentlemen with respectable facial pieces from yesteryear and today. Considering the honored individuals who are on this list, it’s appalling how city officials are restricted from facial hair expressions in some rat-hole part of Japan (yes, I’ve been to Isesaki, and it’s a concrete jungle).
Having spent more time than I’d like wrapped up in Japanese bureaucracy, I’ve had to visit my local city office on occasion. Facial hair would not offend the least. More of a concern to these bureaucrats should be city officials strive with foul orders, disguising teeth, or fingernails which could be used to devour small prey.
Hiroyuki Sanada (manly actor): Hiroyuki is a well-known actor, even in the West for his parts in Ringu, Rush Hour III, and The Last Samurai.
Naoto Takenaka (comedian/actor): Scruffy and scrappy, Naoto is known for his performances in Shall We Dansu, Waterboys, and Swing Girls, but of all his films be sure you don’t miss Shiko Funjata.
Yoichi Watanabe (useless ippatsuya slow-talking “tarento“): here’s a fella who should be missed altogether. One of those people you’d love to rough up in a dark alley because he annoys the hell out of you. Why? Because he’s not at all funny, but for some reason the J-folks can’t get enough of him (yet). Nevertheless, I’ll commend him for the facial hair. That’s all.
Self-Defense Force fellas: true respect for these fellas. I remember meeting up with a few Japanese SDF fellas back in Vietnam a few years back, and sharing stories while enjoying a Bolivar on a breezy afternoon in a Saigon cafe. If you’re looking for where the manly fellas have gone in Japan, this is it. Salt of the earth types, and they’re leading the way with the clean-up and restructuring in the tsunami-hit areas. Oh, and they also tend to sport handsome ‘staches.
Hideyo Noguchi (on 1,000 yen note): the face of the most common folding money in Japan is covered in hair! Noguchi was a bacteriologist who did studies on syphilis. He also sported a fine mustache for the duration of his adult life. Good thing he didn’t work as a public servant in Isesaki!
Ainu: the native peoples of northern Japan. I’m not going to lie and say they’re highly revered in Japan, but their culture and heritage is the base of many tourist traps in Hokkaido. Either way, some amount of Ainu blood is in the Japanese and they are an important part of the nation, but damn weren’t they hairy folks?
Prince Akishino: no, it looks as if he’ll never make emperor as a second born, but thank Buddha his son will! Behind dad and big brother, Prince Akishino is third in line to the throne, and always sporting a fancy facial piece, disregarding the fact it doesn’t match his salt-n-pepa on top.
Showa Emperor Hirohito: Prince Akishino isn’t the first of the Japanese royal family to sport a distinguished facial piece. So highly revered that we had a holiday in his honor this week, Showa Emperor Hirohito showed off his upper-lip hair in war and peace, and in pride and shame.
From celebrities, to ancestors, to defenders, to scientists, to royalty, the display of dignified facial works have, and continue to be seen. In Isesaki today, Ainu blood runs through the veins of it’s citizens, 1,000 yen bills pass hands daily, tv viewers tune in for mind-numbing comedy, the royal family is still highly regarded, and the protection by soldiers helps everyone sleep a little more peacefully at night. Is it not then hypocritical to say “citizens find bearded men unpleasant?” Truly something to thing about as I pour myself another borbon.
A wise man once wrote the words,
The parting on the left is now the parting on the right,
And the beards have all grown longer overnight.