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A breezy morning in spring, in Tokyo, Japan. 6-year-old Chidori is an only child, staying under one roof with her parents and paternal grandmother in a typical 2-storey home. She is about to enter elementary school in two days’ time. Her mother and grandmother were chatting over tea.

Grandma: “…and now that Chidori has turned 6 years old and is going to start elementary school in a few days’ time, I think she should be getting her hair cut shorter to get her freshened up and ready for school.”

Chidori’s long and straight hair had reached past her mid-back, with very outgrown bangs. It was a dark shade of brown, very close to black. Her mother had let her grow it out, helping her trim about a couple of inches every 2-3 months at home. Chidori liked it too, like many other girls in her kindergarten, who also usually had their long hair tied in pigtails or braids.

Chidori’s paternal grandmother, however, was quite a conservative Japanese woman. She thinks that Chidori’s hairstyle is, however lovely, not very suitable for elementary school.

Mom: “Hmm, I like her hair long though… But it’s not a bad idea to take off some length as a fresh start in a new environment… I guess…”

Grandma: “I can sense your hesitation. It’s going to be quite a hot summer too; it wouldn’t hurt to do it now.”

Mom: “Alright then. I’ll get Chidori prepared. Hopefully she likes the idea.”

Grandma: “I’ll go set up in the bathroom upstairs then.”

Mom: “Thanks, Mother.”

Chidori was watching morning weekend cartoons on the television, when her mother came to sit with her, turning down the volume.

Mom: “Chidori, are you excited to go to school in a few more days’ time?”

Chidori: “Yes, I am! I can’t wait till I see my friends again. Hopefully we’ll be in the same class too.”

Mom: “You know, since it’s a fresh start, shall we get your hair cut? I’m not referring to a trim, but a new and shorter hairstyle.”

Chidori starts to frown at the thought of a haircut that’s shorter than what she is having now.

Chidori: “But… I’ve always had my hair long like this… I think it’s a little scary to get shorter hair…”

Mom: “Well, you haven’t tried, so how do you know? Trust Mommy, it won’t turn out bad. Who knows, you might like it after all!”

Chidori’s mother took out her smartphone and looked up for photo examples of medium length hairstyles that would reach a below the shoulders. She showed them to Chidori.

Chidori: “Wow, pretty… It’s still kind of short though… Will it turn out nice?”

Mom: “Yes, it of course! Come with me upstairs to your bedroom, Grandma is expecting us.”

They both stepped into the bathroom, where Grandma had reached out for a hairbrush, a pair of haircutting scissors, comb, cape, hairclips, and spray from a large box which kept all their haircutting necessities. Two backless stools were placed on top of some sheets of newspaper covering the floor for easier cleaning up later.

Grandma: “Come on in and sit on the stool, Chidori. I’m sure you’ll look like a smart young lady after this.”

Mom: “…I guess that’s right. We’re ready when you’re ready.”

Albeit afraid, Chidori trusted her mother and grandmother, went forward to sit on the stool. Not knowing if she’ll like the hairstyle she’ll be stepping out of her bedroom with, she was uncertain about this. Her thoughts came to a halt when her mother covered her with the haircutting cape. With her heartbeat starting to accelerate, she knew that it was too late to back out.

Chidori’s grandmother and mother went away from her and started speaking to each other very softly. It’s making her even more uncertain that they’re not discussing the length with her, so she couldn’t know how much hair will be cut off later.

Mom: “I’ll cut till about… below shoulder length.”

Grandma: “I think it shouldn’t be longer than neck length. It’s still quite long at shoulder length, you know?”

Mom: “That’s honestly very short for her, I think she’ll get a shock. We can always cut it at that length another time.”

Without further ado, Chidori’s mother stopped further discussion and sat down behind her, starting to brush her long hair as her mother-in-law watched. She then wet her hair with the spray. Readjusting her body to be straight and keeping her head up, she was ready to cut her hair.

Mom: “Try not to move, Chidori. I’m going to start.”

Chidori: “Okay, Mommy.”

Grabbing the scissors, Chidori’s mother started at shoulder blade level, and snip snip snip. The sound of the scissors working on the hair resonated throughout the bathroom, and the continuous sound of hair sliding off the cape and falling onto the newspaper sounded like bad news. Chidori closed her eyes, hoping that all of it would end quickly. Though, her head was starting to feel lighter.

When the sound came to a stop, her hair was cut one length across her shoulder blades. Chidori spotted the hair that had came off on the newspapers. She was shocked at the amount of hair she had.

Chidori: “That’s a lot of hair, Mommy!”

Mom: “You’re doing fine so far, Chidori. But just a bit more and we’re good to go.”

Chidori’s mother continued cutting, this time a tad bit below her shoulders. Again, snip snip snip, the sharp scissors quickly severed her hair to a shorter length. Her mother then went in front to comb out her outgrown bangs. Snip snip, she now had bangs below her eyebrows, straight across her forehead.

Perfecting the one-length cut, her mother decided that they were done with a shoulder length long bob. Hearing that there was no more cutting, Chidori opened her eyes and heaved a sigh of relief.

Mom: “That was fast. Alright, I think we’re-” (RINGING)

Chidori’s mother received a phone call, interrupting her speech. At that time, Chidori’s hand reached out to touch her hair at the back. It was short! She started to feel a bit panicky.

Mom: “It’s quite an important call from the hospital about my father. I think it’s going to take more than 20 minutes, so Mother, I’ll be thankful if you could clean up here!”

Chidori’s mother left the room quickly, shutting the door and going downstairs. Chidori’s grandmother started to walk over. Chidori wanted to get a view of her new haircut immediately. About to head to the full-length mirror at the corner of her bedroom, she got up with her legs feeling like jelly. However, her grandmother promptly held her shoulders down and sat her down again.

Chidori: “What’s wrong, Grandma? We’re done with my haircut, right?”

Grandma: “No, Chidori. I don’t think your haircut is quite right yet. We’ll have to go shorter. Don’t worry, we’ll be done soon.”

Chidori looked back in horror at her grandmother, who grabbed the hair spray. Her grandmother straightened her back and turned her head back. She didn’t even know how she looked like with her new shoulder length haircut, and it was going to go shorter! Feeling extremely worried and unsettled, she was trembling a little. She really wanted to run out of the room.

While wetting her hair again, Chidori’s grandmother could sense her panic.

Grandma: “Chidori, you have to keep still. Be obedient, or I might accidentally cut your hair shorter than required if you move.”

Feeling defeated, she gave in.

Chidori: “Okay, Grandma. Please promise me it won’t look bad.”

Grandma: “Trust me, it’s for your own good.”

Chidori’s grandmother started cutting. Snip snip snip, hair was sliding off the cape again, and onto the newspaper. Keeping very still, Chidori eyed the chopped off hair and realised her grandmother was going to cut her hair shorter in stages. She could now kind of feel her own hair brushing past her shoulders.

She shut her eyes tightly in fear, feeling upset at the amount of hair she was losing today, and also for the fact that she had to comply to the adults’ wishes. After all, it was her own hair!

Grandma: “I had asked for your mother to cut it around this length, perhaps shorter, but she wasn’t convinced and decided to keep some length. Chidori, you have to know that long hair is not very acceptable of a young lady. That’s why I’m taking matters into my own hands. Too much time is spent on your hair, so it must go.”

Chidori’s grandmother now came in front of her and combed her bangs. This time, she had cut it higher above the eyebrows, straight across.

Grandma: “Another reason why I’m doing this is that I don’t want your hair getting all over your face when you study.”

Chidori’s grandmother returned behind her, and started cutting her hair at the neck. Snip snip snip, Chidori was shocked to hear the sound of the scissors again. She felt the cold metal scissors come into contact with her neck. Her grandmother wouldn’t stop cutting her hair. She felt like her grandmother was prolonging this haircut on purpose.

Chidori also started to feel that her head was getting lighter again. It felt different from when she had all that long hair. For a moment there, she was accepting her new haircut. Her grandmother had finished cutting her hair shorter, into a neck length blunt bob.

When Chidori’s grandmother had paused, she heard her speaking to herself softly.

Grandma:”Hmm, should I stop here…? No, it needs to last her through the school term.”

Snip snip snip, Chidori’s Grandmother then proceeded to cut her hair a little above chin length this time. It was quite close to the ears, and the sound of the scissors cutting hair amplified. She could also feel the cold scissors against her chin this time, and it felt cooler at her neck since it is now exposed.

Chidori was on the verge of tears, because her grandmother wouldn’t stop. But she held it in with all her might. Her hair was now shortened to a blunt chin length bob. Hair finally stopped falling onto the cape. She thought that her grandmother had finally stopped… Or so she thought.

Her grandmother started sectioning her hair with the comb and hair clips to pin up the hair along the top of the occipital bone.

Grandma: “It was looking quite thick at the back. Doing this will help you feel much cooler in summer. Don’t be afraid.”

Chidori’s grandmother went to dig something from the box. She heard her grandmother plug something into the socket. She then heard a loud pop, followed by a constant buzzing sound.

She was going to get her nape shaved for an undercut bob. Feeling fearful about the unknown, Chidori started to sob. She couldn’t see what her grandmother was doing as there was no mirror, and she the buzzing was very unfamiliar.

Chidori’s grandma tilted her head downwards. Buzz buzz, she drove the clippers up her nape. It had a guard, so that the cut won’t look too short for the girl. When Chidori felt the clippers, she started to realise that the feeling of the clippers didn’t feel too bad and soon calmed down. She didn’t hate the feeling, yet she was wary of it.

Soon, her grandmother was done with the undercut and turned off the clippers. She then proceeded to unclip her hair and fix the chin length bob in the back, before grabbing a brush to brush off the stray hairs at her neck, and then finally removing the haircutting cape.

Grandma: “Now you look like a proper young lady. Try feeling your hair.”

Chidori’s hands proceeded to feel her hair in the back. It was a huge difference, feeling a little bare and shy without any hair to cover her neck and shoulders. She thought that felt nice to feel the clippered nape.

She then ran over to the mirror to check out her new haircut. She couldn’t believe her reflection was really herself! She shook her head left and right, and never felt more free than ever. At least, the bob covered most of the clippered nape. Feeling like it wasn’t too bad after all, she ran over to her grandmother to give her a hug.

Chidori: “Grandma, it’s really very, very short… But, I think it’s not too bad. Thank you for the haircut. But Grandma, were you a hairdresser? You’re good at this.”

Grandma: “It’s because I had cut it like this for your two aunts back when they started elementary school too. They had always worn their hair above their collars until coming-of-age, which is 21 years old. And it’s your turn now! I promise I won’t cut your hair shorter than chin length next time, but I need to shave your nape frequently.”

At this time, Chidori’s mother came back into the room. Shocked to see piles of hair on the newspapers, but she was even more shocked to see Chidori sporting a chin length bob. She couldn’t believe her eyes, because it looked really cute on her. It was also quite a pleasant surprise for Chidori’s father, though he immediately knew who’s doing it was. For a girl who just lost more than 14 inches of hair that day, she was brave.

The first day of school finally came, and the entrance ceremony was in progress. As Chidori sat quietly listening to the principal’s speech, many students sitting behind her could not stop glancing at her neck and nape which was peeking out. It was unfamiliar for them, but it seems like many of them liked her hairstyle. She managed to make friends easily, making it a smooth start to her schooling journey.

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