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Barber

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  • Japanese: 髪結 (kamiyui) or 髪結床 (kamiyuidoko)

Barbers, or hairdressers, in Edo period Japan served not only to cut and style hair, but also as officially recognized agents who reported on goings-on in their chô (neighborhood) to local authorities in return for a regular stipend.

Barbershops developed organically into communal meeting places where residents of a chô relaxed and chatted. As barbers quickly got to know everyone in their neighborhood, it was perhaps only natural that many came to have a keen eye for newcomers or strangers, and a keen ear for important gossip. Early in the Edo period, therefore, local authorities in Edo and many other cities developed a system by which each chô could have only one officially licensed barber, and that barber would receive his license, and a regular stipend, in exchange for providing services in the form of surveillance and security to the community.

By the 18th or 19th century, this system began to break down somewhat, as unlicensed wandering barbers began to move from chô to chô offering their services (in cutting and styling hair), and the licensed barbers began to lose their monopoly over local business. The licenses also began to be bought out by wealthy businessmen, who would then rent them out to those who did the actual barber work, thus placing a strange extra layer between the licensing (and obligations to the local government) and the one actually doing the work.

References

  • Tom Gaubatz, "A Barbershop on Every Corner: Urban Space and Identity Performance in the Fiction of Shikitei Sanba," guest lecture, UC Santa Barbara, 7 Jan 2016.
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