Popeye the Stylist Man

I’ve decided to keep up the photo posts and continue with the retro comics theme I started a couple of days ago. As some of you know, we live in a part of Kitakyushu called Tobata Ward (戸畑区). About a half-hour walk from our apartment is an older market area called Tenjin (天神). From what I can tell, many cities here have a Tenjin area, in the same way that most North American cities have a Main Street. The most famous Tenjin in Kyushu is in Fukuoka City, about an hour away by train. It’s a district of offices, shopping, clubs and other entertainment.

Tobata Tenjin (for the rest of this post, I’m going to refer to it simply as Tenjin) has everything you’d expect from a Japanese inner-city commercial district: fishmongers, fruit and vegetable stands, convenience stores, karaoke bars, pachinko parlours and mom-and-pop drinking establishments. Many of the shops in Tenjin appear to be fighting a losing battle with entropy. The area once thrived on the business of the thousands of men who worked at the Nippon Steel factories, most of which have been moved to sites closer to Tokyo. In fact, Kitakyushu in general is trying to emerge from its industrial past and from Japan’s post-bubble economic doldrums.

But this was supposed to be an entertaining post so I’ll spare you any further stories of economic decline. In Tenjin there are a couple of market streets, one of which has recently been repaved in brick, and closed to vehicular traffic.

Here are a couple of views of the market street. There are all manner of shops down this street—clothing, tea, household goods, and more—but I found the vegetable shops the most photogenic. Here’s one. The shopkeeper is probably inside, huddled under a blanket or cozying up to a kerosene stove. It was January 29, 2005 and probably 10-12°C. Yes, that sign does say 350 yen for eight mandarin oranges.

vegetable shop in Tobata Tenjin

A couple of ladies in front of another vegetable-seller’s shop. Strangely, the red-and-white awning over the second veggie shop has the katakana characters that spell “pan”—Portuguese for bread—on it. Katakana is one of two Japanese phonetic “alphabets.” It’s used exclusively for words borrowed from other languages. There’s a rant about xenophobia in there somewhere but I’ll save it for another post. Meanwhile, back at the bakery-turned-produce stand… Maybe the bottom fell out of the bread market around the time of the factory closures. More likely the baker retired at age 90 and has decided to fund his pachinko habit through cabbage sales.

ladies in front of vegetable shops in Tobata Tenjin

A stone’s throw from the above location is what appears to be the beauty zone. Salons abound. And that is where I took this next photo. The characters (美容屋) mean beauty salon.

popeye beauty salon sign

If you squint a little, you can see my reflection in the window below. I think my presence must have disturbed Popeye. His gesture certainly tells me that I should move along. If not, then he’s either in violent disagreement with the black-on-pink message below him, or else furious to be sharing window space with a couple of snowfolk.

Would you trust this man with your hair? All I can say is that you’d certainly get styling with attitude.

shop window: popeye beauty salon