Tochigi Prefecture, Japan – On 7 January 2024, a LongeviQuest delegation traveled north from Tokyo to the rural Tochigi Prefecture to visit Shitsui Hakoishi-san, age 107, the world’s oldest barber. After a previous visit last year by LongeviQuest Japan President Yumi Yamamoto, a larger delegation returned to formally commemorate Hakoishi-san’s record.
Hakoishi-san has lived in the same house in Tochigi for nearly 80 years, and operates her barber shop out of a specialized room in her home. Her son, Hidemasa-san, and daughter-in-law live in the house with her, but Hakoishi-san lives and runs her business with minimal assistance. Hakoishi-san is a prominent celebrity in Tochigi Prefecture. When the prefectural government was asked to nominate a representative to carry the Olympic Torch in advance of the Tokyo 2020 games, they asked Hakoishi-san. And upon the LongeviQuest group’s arrival at her home, a group of local media reporters was present to cover the latest honor bestowed upon their famous neighbor.
Hakoishi-san stood at the entrance to greet her visitors, bowing and standing straight again with no difficulty. LongeviQuest representatives, including Yamamoto-san and CEO Ben Meyers, presented her with flowers. They also provided her with a formal plaque honoring her status as the world’s oldest barber. It is possible that this recognition does not go far enough: Hakoishi-san may also hold the record for the longest active career of any person on the planet. She offered advice to young people beginning their careers, including, “I think they should do what they’re doing seriously without being distracted and without losing their way.”
Her commitment to her career was not easy. Hakoishi-san spoke about the challenges she faced early in her career, including how she initially moved to Tochigi from Tokyo during the war. “From the day I started,” recalled Hakoishi-san, “I resolved to remain fully committed down this path without losing my way…Things don’t go well when you lose your way.”
She is eminently qualified to provide this advice: 93 years after first starting her career as a barber, she maintains a list of regular clients who she sees at least every month. And on this day, she added a new client. LQ’s Meyers was the first American fortunate enough to receive a haircut from Hakoishi-san.
Her experience is evident on video. She quickly decided to focus on cutting the sides and to leave the length of hair on top unchanged, a strategy Meyers believes made his face appear far thinner. Using only scissors, she was able to cut a consistent length without any need for a buzzer. Her well-honed routine included hairspray as well as various creams she mixed fresh in her barber shop during the haircut. While Hakoishi-san’s approach was meticulous, it was also smooth and gentle, resulting in Meyers nearly dozing off from relaxation a couple times during the haircut.
Once she was done, Hakoishi-san could add the name of yet another happy customer to her nearly century-long list of clients. She expressed great happiness that she had the opportunity to cut an American’s hair. Despite working hard for an hour, she stated, “I don’t get tired” and instead directed Meyers to rest. Her son, Hidemasa-san, and his wife then served a platter of delicious pears which are native to the region.
During this time, Hakoishi-san proudly displayed the Olympic Torch she carried in advance of the Tokyo 2020 games. Despite the torch weighing over 3 kilograms and her needing to lift it over a long distance, she had no issue whatsoever, saying, “I was so focused at the time, I didn’t notice.” Her son Hidemasa-san explained that Hakoishi-san had years earlier created a style of gymnastics which helped prepare her for torch bearing.
The LongeviQuest group and local media were present in her home for over three hours, but Hakoishi-san showed no sign of being worn out. Later, LQ learned that she gave multiple haircuts to regular clients the day after our visit. When it was time for the group to return to Tokyo, they left with the understanding that they would return. In addition to the honor of meeting Hakoishi-san and receiving her family’s generous hospitality, Meyers was delighted with the haircut itself, referring to Hakoishi-san as a “master at work.”
Hakoishi-san’s joyous approach to work and life is an example for the entire world, and it seems that she made a conscious decision to live her life this way. In response to a local media question, she explained the origin of this attitude. Referring to a period of her life after her husband was conscripted, Hakoishi-san recalled, “I was left with our two children. I resolved to work as hard as two people, for both of us…My life was very difficult while everything was going on, but now I am as happy as I could be…I’ll carry on working as hard as I can.”
LongeviQuest thanks Hakoishi-san and her family for their generous hospitality, and we congratulate Hakoishi-san on all her well-deserved recognition. We wish her many more years of life, health, and happiness.