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A Cocoon in Kyoto

Updated: Apr 13, 2019

I kept thinking, I must get a haircut, I must get my hair cut, I will get a haircut in Kyoto, as soon as I get there. I had trekked through Kumano Kodo for 6 days, never caring about what I looked like under my plastic poncho and 100-yen hat/scarf and long, shaggy hair always dripping wet with rain. But now I was on my way to Kyoto, a city of well-dressed, elegant women, and I felt like an ogre. I had been wearing the same clothes for the past 2 weeks. I had only my huge (or so they seemed to me) hiking shoes and I was never without my 30-litre backpack. Although I am a small woman, I felt bulky; ungainly next to Japanese women, especially if they were tottering about in their spring kimonos, all butterflies and flowers, giggling and taking selfies, holding their little pouches with their elegant hands. As soon as I arrived in Kyoto, where I had left my suitcase with my work clothes inside, I transformed myself -- put on make-up, wore my tight black jeans and black heels and left the backpack behind – and felt naked!

I had spent hours on Sunday looking for a hairdresser near my hotel and which was open on a Monday. I called one which had very good reviews on Google Maps. The woman who answered transferred me to a man who spoke English. He gave me an appointment at noon. Yay!

The place was called Lu Cocon Ikuri and it turned out to be in a small, pretty, yellow house in a very calm spot by the river Kamo. There were no buildings, only two or three-story houses, including on the opposite bank.

See the big window above the door? More about that later...

I entered, was welcomed, and seated in a small room. It was indeed a cocoon! The walls were fully curved and covered with an earthen material. There was an ipad on a pedestal in front of me (argh, no more screens, I said, and refused to turn it on). Soon a young man arrived and presented himself as the person who had given me the rendez-vous on the phone that morning. Yoshihiro Nonomura was the owner (along with his wife) of the establishment and he would cut and dye my hair himself.

One of the 6 cocoons. Each was different. Total privacy!

He didn't agree with my idea of cutting my hair very short, saying it was always "a gamble." We agreed on a length, then he convinced me (very gently) to use Japanese henna dye instead of Indian, which he explained, smells more and makes your hair slightly green for a few days. Hey, no way! I am here to feel as pretty as a Kyotoite, not to wait around for the green in my hair to fade away! He cut my hair while it was dry, explaining that it was silly to wet hair before cutting it, since no one goes around with wet hair, and you should cut it as it will normally look. Logical. And he never needed me to stand while he cut, as most hairdressers do. A Japanese artist will not trouble his work of art. That is indeed how I felt in his hands; like a work of art in progress. The care and grace with which he used the scissors, with circular motions, following the curve of my head; the softness of his touch – never once did he even graze my ear or my scalp, or jerk my head from this side to that. Unthinkable! Once he finished cutting my hair (this was the first stage of the haircut, by the way – to be continued!), he left and, to my astonishment, came back with a sink! This was the first time I ever saw a sink coming to the client and not the opposite. He washed my hair – of course wonderfully gently, but not irritatingly so; just perfect -- then applied the heavy, earthen henna (which went very well with the walls!) to my now short hair. It was quite an experience to have nearly a kilo of green earth slowly piled upon my head. He laughed and joined me as I took selfies, and once I was ready, he covered my head with a towel and then, to make me look pretty even as I waited in the seclusion of my cocoon, he tied a pretty pink cloth over the whole package. He asked whether I wanted tea or coffee, and then brought a beautiful box full of teas in thin glass capsules, each of which he introduced to me, saying that his favorite was the one with blue flowers. Blue flowers it is, then! A few minutes later a beautiful teapot and glass were set beside me, and he brought me reading material as well – not your usual hairdresser's reading material. It was called Why does life exist? Evolution of the heart and insight to true happiness: Discovering Man's fundamental purpose and mission in life. I truly was fated to leave this establishment a different woman, inside and out! He told me he often stayed up all night and drank with the 70-year old author of the book. When he heard that I was Turkish, he also brought me the photo album of his honeymoon in Turkey. Later, when we were talking about travelling, he went off and brought the photo albums of his 2-year trip around South East Asia; beautiful photos he had taken all around India and Nepal… Little by little, I learned that he had studied design at university, then taken off to travel, come back, then at some point he had met this lovely woman (I was lucky enough to meet her) who had become a widow a few years ago. She had opened the establishment with her late husband with whom she had had two children, and now she taught Yoshihiro the ropes of the business. And gave him two children, too! He was already an artist, good with his hands, so it didn't take him long to become an accomplished hairdresser. But he also designed and sold toe socks and shoe soles and had a whole booklet explaining the health advantages these could bring. This guy was the coolest hairdresser in the world. I was there for 3,5 hours and I was never bored. It was like spending time with a good friend. We talked and laughed and looked at photos and read through "Why does life exist?", but I was also able to spend time alone for 40 minutes with that delicious tea while the dye set…

Then… then… he came in my cocoon room, asked me to follow him, and we went upstairs. I was asked to take my shoes off before entering the room. I gasped when I saw the view. A huge climbing rose encircling the big bay window… The wide river with its natural berths… The old, low, wooden houses… And the mountains in the back drop. Inside, again, beautiful, curved, earthen-black walls. In the center of the room, across from the window, a comfortable leather seat and a sink behind it. I sat down, lost in the view. Yoshihiro said that he liked to have his first coffee here in the morning, once his noisy children had all gone off to school. But it seems they had the same view from their home, which was just upstairs. Once I had my fill of the view, he closed the curtains, lit some incense below the sink and I saw smoke swirling up from both sides of my head. He put on relaxing music and turned the lights off. Then he began to wash the henna out from my hair. He said, let yourself go. I obeyed. Oh, my joy that henna should be so difficult to wash out! It took a long time. He massaged my scalp. I kept my eyes closed, savoring each moment of this incredibly sensual experience.

When I opened my eyes, I continued to have the best trip of my life. I was delightfully dizzy, I was not there, I was still elsewhere, in some realm of utter well-being; it was as if I were coming back up from some sensual, pleasurably tight, soft tunnel that caressed me from within and without. And he gave me the time to come back; he let me take my time. I opened my eyes and there was that view again… Perfection. Perfect satisfaction. Fulfillment. How can I explain the bliss of that delectable moment?

We went back downstairs to my cocoon, where he started stage two of my haircut. Wait. I have to take a pause before continuing. Just remembering that moment upstairs in that room made me lose myself again.

From those soft, unhurried, graceful movements of his fingers appeared the best style I have ever had. He really elevated everything that he touched to an art form. I could see that he was satisfied with his work as well. He said, "you're so cute!" He dried my hair (with a special dryer which didn't heat up too much), put in some mousse; just a little, because he knew I had a long day in store, and accompanied me outside to say good-bye. He said that it had been a pleasure to spend all this time with me. Not for a second did I doubt his sincerity; probably because for me, too, each instant had been a pleasure: to meet him, to watch him work, to listen to his stories, to tell him mine, to drink his delicious tea, to be cared for so delightfully well, to experience such rare feelings and to feel beautiful again – it was sumptuous. And now, each time I look in the mirror, I thank him. I wish my hair would never grow! Or, I'll just have to go back in the autumn -- darn!

He sent me a friendship request on Facebook. I was grateful for it. It's great to see his big family and his green-tinged hair and sincere smile. Also, I asked him to send me photos of his shop so I could use them for this piece, which he did. Thank you, Yoshihiro-san.

The river, the climbing rose, the mountains...

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