I kid, I kid. Of course, there are several people with mustaches in Japan. After writing about the history of mustaches in Japan, we felt like we needed to talk to someone who has a mustache in this day and age. With people taking their mustaches to court under threats of termination (for the rights to keep them) as well as all the social movements against mustaches, it is important to take a look at the other side of the issue here.
We found one such Japanese man to talk to. His mustache has come to define him. Not only that, we hear local legends are abrew around his facial hair. Remember, facial hair in Japan is quite rare, by worldwide standards. Salarymen (and most other people) are expected to be clean shaven. So what's it like when you go against the bends of the mustache we call society? We "mustache" the expert: Hige-man Ume-chan.
Let's begin with his stats:
Name: Keisuke Umeda
Length Of Hige: about 7cm
Type of Hige: Kaiser mustache
Morning Setup Time?: 5-10 minutes
Occupation: Designer at a game company
And now with the pressing questions…
What do you think of hige history in Japan after reading "Japan's Epic History Of Discrimination Against The Mustache"?
It's very interesting. Although I didn't know that hige was that popular during the medieval period to the beginning of Edo period, I was very surprised that hige was banned and there was even a punishment for having hige. What tough days for hige-holders.
Compared to that, I'd say we entered an era where we can enjoy our hige freely. I'd definitely prefer to freely enjoy having hige.
What do you think about hige in Japan today?
As I mentioned, we can enjoy our high freely in Japan today, but people tend to have the same kind of hige. I want them to find their own style. I believe that the high style that suits you will lead you on a good path.
However, the hige-man population is still such a minority in Japan. Hige doesn't just make men look manly but also charming, even sexy! I can't wait until the day comes when all Japanese men have their own hige and can happily live their lives.
What do you think of the hige court cases?
This is a difficult issue. I'm a salaryman, so I might face this issue someday as well. It's not simply a concern of some stranger I don't know.
I'd say that the key to acceptance will be found by talking to other people and finding some common ground through compromise. If people around you can learn to accept hige, then everything will be great, but if they can't, it forces someone to either fight for their hige, or give it up. I really hope that everyone simply comes to understand and accept one another. That's the best way to form good relationships.
Why did you start growing your hige?
About three years ago, I went on a vacation to India for a little more than 2 weeks.
During the trip, I never shaved my hige. When I came back to Japan, I looked in the mirror and actually thought, "Wow, that's dirty. It doesn't suit me at all." But I had a lot of difficulty saying goodbye to the hige that took me so long to grow, so I decided to keep it. Then, having hige turned out to be pretty fun for me. My friends all liked it, too.
So since then, I've grown it and the shape changes from time to time. I even feel as if I'm doing cos-play every day. Every feeling was new to me.
Hige has become my trademark now. Even strangers passing by me on the street often get surprised and start talking to me. Of course all the kids I meet like it too. It's a good thing to be memorable to people as well. Oh, once I was also mistaken as a member of the Japanese imperial household!
I was surprised to hear a rumor about myself where I had become "Hige-man Ume-chan" among people that I didn't know. So many fun things happen just by having hige. I actually joined a hige association that was established in Kyoto, too.
I keep growing my hige because I like seeing people's reactions to it and there are so many fun things related to hige.
What does your boss think? / What does your employer think?
For quite a while I was afraid that I was going to be told to shave it off, but they've accepted my hige so far. Some people even praise my hige and say things like, "Such a majestic hige!".
I think it all depends on how you grow your hige. I believe that my hige-style is a cleanly trimmed style, so it's more easily accepted than other styles. I even started choosing formal clothes to match my hige-style.
So, I think it's important to choose a hige-style that suits your circumstance.
What do your family and friends think?
Both my family and my friends were shocked upon seeing me with hige after my trip for India. Nobody in my family has ever had hige, so my parents looked very uncomfortable with it at first. They eventually adjusted to my new look and now they share in my joy of having hige. Since my hige nestles itself between my upper lip and nose so naturally, people say that they can't even remember me without hige anymore.
Do you have hige friends?
Yeah I do. I mentioned earlier that there was a hige association called "Aihigekai 愛髭会" (Love Hige Group) established in Kyoto and I became a member. Almost all of the members are over 60 years old, but I met a lot of great people there and I never would have met them if I didn't have hige. So, I really appreciate my hige for that.
I also became friends with some foreigners because we had this same thing in common. I believe people with hige can become quick friends.
How did you grow such a passion for hige?
Although I started growing my hige just by letting nature take its course, it is such an essential part of me now.
Now I'm pretty set in my preference to the Kaiser mustache, but I used to challenge myself and tried many hige styles. Every day was a new chance to try a different style. I didn't get enough information on how to grow a beautiful hige or how to set it, so I just had to find out for myself.
I don't remember exactly how my passion for hige grew, but I do know that I've continually thought about my hige for as long as I've had it – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You know? Hige is the most distinguishable hair on your face.
If your hige could talk to you, what would it say?
I wish us a long-term relationship and please give me a treatment every day.
How has your hige changed your life?
I don't have any remarkable experiences, but hige has been at the most prominent part of my face and whenever I meet people it is the most memorable to them. I've met many people just because of my hige and I hope I meet many more people because of it.
I think my hige has had a small effect on the people around me, just as it has influenced me. I change and then they change, until they make me change, then I make them change again. We keep changing.
It's a sequence of simple and small changes, but when I look back on my past, I see that big change has occurred.
What's one story about your hige that you haven't told anybody?
I've mentioned a lot of good things about my hige, but there are some bad stories too.
For example, if I don't set it, eating food is extremely difficult. Something you have to use both lips for, such as soft serve ice cream or a hot dog, will definitely make contact with my hige. For those kinds of food, I need to open my mouth really wide, or else I'll eat my own hige. My hige gets pretty stinky if food does touch it or if I eat my own hige. Thus, I always have to have Kleenex in my pocket.
Another bad thing about having hige is that it gets wet and even freezes in the winter. When it's cold, the water vapor in my breath quickly condenses into water droplets that stick to my hige. On really cold days I've even had icicles form on my hige.
Setting it up is really difficult too. I use gelatin or a solid oil called "歌舞伎油 (kabuki abura)", which is used underneath the white foundation of Kabuki actors. In order to form a beautifully shaped hige, it takes a lot of time to find the right tools that will help you to set it properly. My hair is really curly too, so the longer the hair in my hige grow, the more difficult it becomes to set them and keep each side in good balance.
I also have breakage or a split hige issues, too.
Who has your ideal hige?
I think the hige of Salvador Dalí is wonderful. Upon seeing my hige style, everyone instantly recognizes it as "Dali's hige". . It's totally iconic. I personally think his hige increased his craziness, toughness, charm, and his sexiness.
Do you have special tools or goods?
I have a T-shirt with a picture of a man with hige printed on it that resembles me a lot. I came across it in Taiwan.
Actually I have a lot of hige goods because my friends give me them from time to time and I also buy them if I find a good one in a shop. Many hige goods come to me.
This picture is just a part of my hige goods collection.
Have you ever thought about competing professionally with your hige?
Yes. But the world is wide and my hige is not yet strong enough. When I look at all the hige in the world, my thoughts are that I could never beat them.
They are truly amazing. If there was a mustache-only-contest or a Japanese-only-contest, then I might be able to compete.
Are you going to keep growing your mustache?
As long as I don't get sick of it, hahaha.
I'd like to be a man and as majestic as my mustache is.
This interview was a great opportunity to consider about my hige. Thank you.