Tomohiro Watanobe (centre) and staff at The Barba Tokyo
At the entrance of The Barba Tokyo, a sign proclaiming ‘Man Cave’ showcases owner Tomohiro Watanobe’s intentions for the space to be “a men’s lounge, where men can talk about motorbikes, gambling and women”. While The Barba Tokyo does employ female barbers, its services – wet shaves, fades and perms being among its specialties – are very much male-oriented.
Watanobe, originally from Hokkaido, established the Barba brand in 2013, its aesthetic heavily inspired by 1950s Americana. “I have always been in love with the American ‘oldies’ style,” he says, “I’ve always known that if I opened my own shop, I would have it like an American barbershop”. Now boasting three shops, all located in central Tokyo, The Barba Tokyo’s distinctive interiors are filled with antiques collected by Watanobe, including barbershop memorabilia and taxidermy pieces. Meanwhile, its barbers are clad in either graphic Hawaiian shirts or traditional white barber smocks. “People see the atmosphere of my shops, especially people in their 60s and 70s – the ‘American Graffiti’ Generation – and it brings back memories for them,” he says.
When asked about the ethos behind The Barba Tokyo, Watanobe emphasises the importance he places on mastering traditional barbering techniques. Above all, “a barber must be able to use a cut throat razor”. Classifying himself as a men’s barber and hairstylist, Watanobe expresses a disdain for hairdressers who he feels have recently adopted barbering purely as a trend, rather than being truly dedicated to the art. Describing them as ‘neo-barbers’, he says, “they are barbering but without much knowledge. They like the coolness of it, that’s why everybody is copying the concept.”
“People see the atmosphere of my shops, especially people in their 60s and 70s - the 'American Graffiti' Generation - and it brings back memories for them”