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Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004

WEEK 3

THE MANE MAN

PM's barber keeps 'Beethoven' top of the locks


Staff writer

Tadashi Muragi is a 46-year-old Tokyo hairdresser with a 22-year career of scissor wielding already behind him. Clad in a clean white barber suit at his classically styled, five-seat shop, Muragi may look little different from others of his professional ilk -- though the fact that he is tonsorially responsible for the "lion-haired" head of this country, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, shows just how deceiving looks can be.

News photo
"Lion-hair" Koizumi in a TV tourism ad in April

"The prime minister comes here without fail every other week to keep his hairstyle unchanged. He is smart," says Muragi, director of Muragi Barber Shop Co. "He has been coming for about 30 years, since before he became a politician." Back then, Koizumi was a lawmaker's secretary.

Barber Shop Muragi is located on the third basement floor of the Capitol Tokyu Hotel in the Nagatacho district of Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward -- almost next to the PM's office building and five minutes from the Diet. A key spot in behind-the-scenes maneuverings, the hotel is often where top politicos go to hammer out their policies while reporters hang around in the lobby waiting to be told what they want them to hear.

Since 1963, the barber shop has been attending to the haircuts of both Japanese and foreign VIPs. But the family tradition of attending to top folks' topknots goes back much further than that, to when Muragi's now 81-year-old father Tamotsu was a barber in a PX in Ginza after World War II and he was asked to give Douglas MacArthur a haircut at his official residence. Thanks to that, the list of Muragi's father's customers afterward included at least three U.S. ambassadors to Japan.

Hotel guests -- including many foreigners -- are naturally their customers, too. Muragi's father, who has a good command of English, was able to take care of celebrity guests including actor Sean Connery and pianist Vladimir Horowitz.

Fast forward: Apart from Koizumi, Muragi's recent politico customers have included Shinzo Abe, deputy secretary general of the Liberal Democratic Party; former Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki; and former Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama. In fact, his establishment is so popular with such types that there has even been speculation that his shop has become a favored locale for their secret meetings. But Muragi flatly denies any such suggestion.

"Their visits scarcely overlap," he says. "And especially when the prime minister comes, there are so many Special Police outside from about an hour before he arrives."

News photo
Tadashi Muragi

For security reasons, Koizumi usually visits the shop after it is closed, so he is the only customer. "But he always phones himself to make an appointment," Muragi says.

It seems, too, that Japan's leader likes to control his own hairstyle destiny as well. Muragi says that the PM settled on his current "lion" style himself more than a decade ago. "Then, he had his straight hair loosely permed and created a look quite different from the conventional hairstyles of politicians his age," Muragi says.

Though Muragi doesn't know why Koizumi changed to what's also dubbed his "Beethoven style," he says that "to complete the style, after I have cut his hair and rubbed in some hair oil, he does the finishing touches himself."

Whereas Koizumi used to chat about films in the barber's chair, since he became PM 3 1/2 years ago, Muragi says he has preferred to simply relax, and often closes his eyes for an hour or two.

Stress often damages hair. But Muragi has noticed little change in the condition of Koizumi's tufty locks of late, and says the most difficult part of his job is to ensure that Koizumi can easily maintain his style every day himself.

"I always check his hair on TV and think, 'Oh, I have to cut that part a little more, especially for foreign trips when he is on camera so much' " he says.

Having attracted media coverage since Koizumi became prime minister, it's hardly surprising that the top person's barber has had "at least two new customers hankering for the 'Koizumi look.' "

"One is about Koizumi's age and the other is younger," he confides. "But actually, it is quite hard to create exactly the same style because people's hair is so different."

As to how much money the PM dispenses to maintain his crowning glory, Muragi was discreet enough to decline an answer. Obviously, the way to find out is to go there and get a "lion look" yourself . . .



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