The US Ambassador to Seoul shaved off his mustache on Monday after a lengthy wrestle with local media, which resented its Japanese colonial-era look. However, the diplomat denied that it was public opinion that forced his shave.
Having facial hair can be a factor of irritation in international relations, as the US envoy in South Korea has learned lately.
Ambassador Harry Harris’s mustache irritated Koreans’ historic memories, reminding them about Japan’s 1910-1945 brutal occupation of their country.
South Korean media repeated relentlessly – ever since Harris took his post last June – that his mustache was reminiscent of the fashion adopted by Japanese governors-general during those decades.
To make things worse, 40-year-old Harris was born in Japan and is of part-Japanese origin. Still, he resolutely denied that his mustache had anything to do with political sympathy and was a matter of his personal choice.
He explained that was the only available way for him to reinvent himself: “I tried to get younger but I couldn’t get younger. But I could grow a mustache, so I did that.” He stressed that many Korean leaders also used to have a mustache.
But, in an unexpected twist, on Sunday the embattled envoy posted a nearly three-minute-long video online showing the entire process of him bidding farewell to his contentious facial hair.
Still, he insisted he undertook that move so he could wear a facemask more comfortably in hot summer weather, rather than because succumbing to local public opinion. “Covid guidelines matter,” he said.
The hair-cutting decision was generally welcomed by netizens, many of whom said on Twitter that the diplomat looked younger with a clean-shaven face.
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