The Mukōda Barber Shop

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The Mukōda Barber Shop
Author: Hideo Okuda
Specifications: ISBN  978-4334910891
256 pages
13.0 x 18.9 cm / 5.2 x 7.6 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Kobunsha Co., Ltd.
Tokyo, 2016
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The story takes place in fictitious Tomazawa, a town that once grew to a population of 80,000 in the middle of a flourishing coal-mining district in Hokkaido. Since the advent of cheap oil, the town has fallen on hard times and suffers from severe depopulation. One of just two remaining barbershops in town is owned by Yasuhiko Mukōda, now 53, who took over from his father at the age of 28. What weighs most on his mind of late is his 23-year-old son, Kazumasa, who quit a perfectly good job in Sapporo after just one year and returned home saying he wanted to carry on the family business. Kazumasa is fired up about joining hands with his local buddies to revitalize the town, but Yasuhiko worries that his son will jeopardize his entire future by getting back onto a sinking ship.

For better or for worse, Tomazawa is a town where relationships are close. Yasuhiko’s own livelihood is entirely dependent on the lives of those around him, and he gives back to the community unstintingly. He offers his support to a man he grew up with who must care for his 82-year-old father while working at a job in Tokyo. When he learns that a regular customer is keeping his marriage to a Chinese woman quiet because he’s afraid that neighbors will ridicule him for taking a foreign wife, he offers comforting words to dispel the man’s fears.

Then a 25-year-old local boy away in Tokyo, Shūhei, is involved in a swindle, and becomes the subject of a nationwide manhunt. As Yasuhiko and other members of the community do what they can to support his devastated parents, who are growing more haggard by the day, word arrives that Shūhei has escaped back to Hokkaido. A short time later Shūhei turns himself in to the police?accompanied there by Kazumasa and a group of his friends. The group had told Shūhei he should give himself up once he’d had a chance to see his mother, and they had also urged him to return to Tomazawa to make a new start once he has paid his debt to society. It would be better, they said, for him to return home where he will be surrounded by people who already know his past and can look out for him as he gets back on his feet. “We want to build a community where we can live together without judgment and with each other’s support instead of getting shunted out into the cold the minute you make a mistake,” says Kazumasa. Seeing this new side to his son’s character, Yasuhiko feels more hopeful about the future of Tomazawa than he has in quite some time.

The six stories that detail the neighborly interactions between a barber and other members of his community as they grapple with a variety of problems link together into a single overarching tale of a town that is in the process of redefining itself.