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 that 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 experienced 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 record 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.