Mysteries of the Hair Salon Revealed

Over the years I have noticed that a lot of people new to Japan have a HUGE amount of anxiety when doing simple things that they probably wouldn’t give a second thought in the US. For example some people won’t purchase produce or food unless it comes from the military bases or even go to a hair salon out in town. Naturally I try to take the mystery out of some of these things with my blog and video so today, since I went to the hair salon, I figured I would give you the scoop of hair salons here in Okinawa.

First lets start with a little background about me. Up until about 4 years after I moved to Japan I hated going to the salon. Every time I went in to a place where some type of cutting implement was taken to my locks I would come out $100.00 poorer and hate the way I looked. When I got to Japan I basically gave up. It wasn’t that I didn’t have faith in the Japanese salons or that I was afraid of them but I just was fed up with paying money to have my hair hacked off. Then one day I thought to myself that it might be a good idea to get a trim and why not go to an American person (there was a small American salon at the time with “licensed” stylists) because it was just a trim, how hard could that be? Not to mention the shop was close by so win win right? I will never forget it. My appointment was at 11:00 and at 11:05 she said “ok, you’re done”. I looked in the mirror and was blown away. The right side of my hair was 2 inches shorter then the left side. One side was angled the other side straight. . . . . goodness knows what the back looked like. Being as polite as a person possibly can be I asked her to fix it to which she responded “fix what”.  Again as polite as possible I proceeded to explain that I intended to have even hair that was somewhat the same on the right as the left. One more slice of the shears on the already short side of my hair and I was done. Off came the cape and out of the chair I flew. . . there was no way I was returning to my bowl cut days. As I walked away she said to me “where’s my tip” to which I responded that her tip would go towards the bill to get my hack job fixed as would the amount of money she expected me to pay. I walked out at 11:11.

Looking like the Barbie of a 5 year old with safety scissors it was clear that something needed to be done because this surely wasn’t going to grow out on its own. Knowing that things couldn’t possibly get any worse I showed up at a Japanese salon and haven’t looked back since.

In general Japanese hair salons (at least here in Okinawa) are very similar to American hair salons. There is a front counter, work stations and wash stations. You can get all your favorite services (or “Menu” ) as well. From a perm that will bring you back to your fanny pack days to something to cover those pesky grays you’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Naturally there are also items that are unique to Japan such as hair manicures (it’s not what you think) and other treatments. This varies from salon to salon but nevertheless there are a lot of options to choose from.

There are also some things here in Japan which are very different from American salons. For example when washing your hair you will most likely have a towel put over your eyes and receive a scalp massage. You may also be covered with a blanket while you’re in the hair washing station. It’s also common to receive a short massage after your hair is washed or once your hair has been styled. It’s also common place to be served tea (with all the fixings). My salon in particular serves up a glass of tea and candies while you wait for your hair to set.

Right about now you’re probably worried about language. How on earth would you communicate harithat you want to get this or that done without knowing Japanese (or knowing a small amount). First let’s get making an appointment squared away. Your best bet is to visit the salon you want to go to in person. (Doing things in person is always easier when you have limited language skills then over the phone.) It’s important to know what you want to have done so you can communicate this to the staff. In most cases salons in the cities are likely to have someone who knows at least a little bit of English and if they don’t it’s OK because many basic hair style terms in Japanese are borrowed from English. For example a cut is “kah-to”, trim is “tu-ri-mu”, color is “ka-ra-rin-gu” and so on. Couple these basic terms with a photo of what you want (which is always a good idea no matter where you are) and you’re golden. (As with anything else over time you will learn more language stills and communicating will be much easier.)

With all the nitty gritty covered let’s go over some of the methods and practices that I have noticed to be different here in Japan compared to America. The most noticeable thing that I have IMG_0539experienced at the salons I have visited (although it may vary based on where you go) is the amount of people who work on you during any one visit. For example at my salon I have my stylist, his assistant, the person or people who blow dry my hair and the person who washes my hair. All are different and rotate depending on what I need done at a particular time. There is also a good chance that you could have more then one person working on your hair at a given time.

As with everything there are limitations. Here in Japan dark black or brown relatively straight hair is common and this is reflected in the standard color choice and the way your hair may be styled when at the salon. This does not mean that you can’t have other color options (just look at my hair) but it does mean that you will have to work with your salon to get what you want. I for example came with various pictures of the color I wanted and because it was so strange and outlandish (at least for Japan) there was some trial and error but at the end of it all it worked out and now it is on my record for successful results again and again.

Speaking of record one of the many great things about Japanese hair salons is that they keep IMG_0543record of you so that regardless if you have a different stylist the next time you visit they know just want to do. They even go so far to contact your last salon to get your records if you switch. This prevents color combinations that don’t come out the way you expect. (Bye bye bright orange hair) This has been especially helpful for me when my hair stylist landed in the hospital and was out for months. It didn’t change anything because everyone knew what had to be done.

The best part is the price. Although there are a lot of people out there who complain about the high price of Japanese hair salons I have yet to understand why. When I was back in the states I spent an average of $150.00 each time I visited the salon for a cut, color and style (which apparently warranted extra cost) but here I find myself spending an average of about ¥5500 for the same service. Not bad when you factor in the tea, massages and amazing customer service. Of course with all other places in Japan (aside from the few here in Okinawa which have adapted the “tip jar” system to get some extra cash from American patrons) tips are not necessary and so I walk out of there feeling and looking great for only a small amount of cash.

Japanese hair salons are not for everyone but I can confidently say that if you find yourself needing or wanting to go to one you don’t have anything to worry about. Just sit back, relax and enjoy being pampered.


Cheap Food – A typical breakfast

Eating cheap is something that I am often approached about by those who are coming to Okinawa for long stays. Of course spending extra money on food is sometimes necessary but why not save money where you can and then spend those extra yennies in a place where it’s more worth it?

In this video, per request, I show an example of something I make as a typical breakfast in my house. If you check the video description you can see a full break down of what it costs me to make but all in all it’s about 30 yen per serving which is not bad at all.

On top of being cost effective it is also easy and quick to make and keeps well in the fridge perfect for summer months when cooking every day can become difficult.

Groceries – Finding Reasonable Prices Out In Town

One of the questions that I am often asked by those who are here in Okinawa is “Where can I find reasonably priced groceries in Okinawa”. This question usually comes from military members who are familiar with shopping at the base commissaries but have not had the chance to venture out to the grocery stores just outside the gates. Most are looking for reasonably priced food because the commissary prices are unreasonably high on some items. Others are looking for food which has not been shipped in from the US resulting in produce which is fresher, longer. Luckily Okinawa has a number of places where shoppers can get reasonably priced and fresh groceries.

If fresh produce is what you’re interested in then you may want to check out a local Farmer’s Market. These markets are located all over the island and feature various products from Okinawa’s main island as well as the small island’s just off the coast. Unlike farmer’s markets in the US the markets here in Okinawa are structured almost like a grocery store with shelves and food packaged with price tags on the packages for easy sale.

The variety of foods and prices that you find at the farmer’s markets here in Okinawa vary by season and location so be aware that you may have to adjust what you intend to eat based on what is available and in season if you so choose to shop at the farmer’s market. It’s also important to understand that the selection your farmer’s market has available changes not only from day to day but also hour to hour. For the most selection it’s best to visit the farmer’s market early in the day.

Another option for getting reasonably priced food is to visit a local grocery store. Most of the grocery stores here in Okinawa feature some of the same goods that you might find in farmer’s markets as well as goods from other parts of Japan and neighboring countries. The selection also includes fresh foods as well as packaged foods like pasta, canned goods and cookies.

Although some of the deals you can find at grocery stores don’t beat the prices you can find at farmer’s markets on week days there are ways to get better deals on the weekend. The best time to go grocery shopping here in Okinawa in on a Sunday morning (usually at 9AM when the store opens). This is a big shopping day here in Okinawa and there are special sales on everything especially produce, meat and fish. You can save quite a bit of money shopping on Sunday morning as many items are marked down to 99 yen for what is called “Pay Day Sale”. 

So where should you go if you’re new to the island and want to dabble in the art of shopping at a Japanese grocery store? I recommend heading to AEON in Mihama. I realize that this may be far for some of you based on your location but it’s a great place to visit at least once so that you can get your feet wet. Aeon has a large selection of decently priced groceries and the best part is that the store over the years has done it’s best to accommodate to those who cannot read Japanese. English labels are throughout the store helping you find your way around and try out some items that you may not have found otherwise. Once you get the hang of shopping here you can figure out how to get what you need at other grocery stores throughout the island.

That’s my advise on finding reasonably priced (and fresh) produce while here in Okinawa. It’s really not too hard to do if you take the time and put in the effort to actually get out and see what the stores have to offer. The only thing to keep in mind is that although a person, even who eats American cuisine, can get everything they need off base there are a few things that you might not be able to find because the brands are not available here OR because the items are not produced in Japan. It takes a bit of adjustment but you can get it squared away in no time.

Happy shopping!

Box Jellyfish – The habu of the sea.

Who can resist taking a dip in the ocean? There’s nothing like it and Okinawa is no exception. After all a trip to the beach is a fan favorite among tourists regardless the hundreds of other things the island has to offer. Although it might be tempting to find an empty spot of shore, strip down to your skivvies and jump right in there are some hazards you should be aware of. One of those hazards is the box jellyfish. 

The box jellyfish or the habu jellyfish as it is sometimes called here in Okinawa is a cube-shaped jellyfish which, much like the habu, is known for its potent venom. A sting by one of these squishy menaces is very painful and can sometimes be fatal (depending on the severity and the species). Unlike other jellyfish the box jellyfish hunts its prey rather then just drifting along and can reach speeds of 1.6 meters per second. What makes box jellyfish dangerous are it’s tentacles which contain about 500,000 harpoon-shaped mechanisms that inject their dangerous venom. In humans once the tentacle is stuck to your skin it will pump in venom (nematocysts) which causes a stinging sensation followed by agonizing pain.

So what do you to if you have been stung by a box jellyfish? The first and most important thing to go is get out of the water. Once you are safely out of the water you are going to need to stop the stinging which you can do by immediately rinsing with vinegar. Although vinegar is not something most people think to bring to the beach it is a good idea especially if you’re at a beach which has not taken steps to protect patrons from jellyfish. DO NOT USE fresh water or tap water because it may reactivate stinging cells and make the entire situation worse. Some sources state that you can then carefully pick off the tentacles ensuring that you do not make direct contact with them to avoid secondary stings. If doing this you should also ensure that you continue to rinse with vinegar throughout the process. Next you’re going to need to seek medical attention. The most important thing to remember during this process is to never rub the affected area with your hand, towel, sand or anything else. This will spread the injury and cause more burning.

The big question is how to prevent getting stung by a box jellyfish. The easiest way to do this is to only swim in areas which have what is called a jellyfish or stinger net. You’ve probably already seen these nets at popular beaches and wondered why people are swimming inside this contained area and nowhere else. It’s not because the Japanese are scared of the ocean (like one blog I read suggested) but rather because these nets create an area for swimmers which is safe from jellyfish. Something else you can do is avoid swimming in areas which have “Danger Jellyfish” or “No Swimming” signs. The signs are there for your protection so follow them.

If you laugh in the face of danger (muah ha ha) or simply can’t be tamed by a jellyfish net then there are a few things you can do to protect yourself although it is important to remember that you will be at a greater risk. Firstly wear a wet suit or long sleeves and leggings while swimming. Some sources also recommend wearing nylons which are known for preventing stings from box jellyfish. Above all never swim alone.