I recently got my hair cut in Japan, not my first time, and certainly a long shot from the experience I had the first time I went to a salon here.
Seeing as how I was practically a tomboy up until a few years ago, hair cuts and hair products (with the exception of hair spray and mouse) were never a huge concern of mine. Now? Well, just consult my boyfriend about the number of hair products that exist under and around our bathroom sink. I don’t even know how to properly use all of them, I just buy them because I think I need them. I’ve got wax (hard and spray), mousse, hair spray, a few different types of heat protection, anti-frizz, anti-humidity, anti-rain, and the list goes on.
What I’m really here to talk about are my salon experiences in Tokyo.
The first time I ventured out out of the comfort of my damaged, mangy hair was maybe a year after I arrived in Japan. I was desperate, so I chose the most appealing sign and price in my neighborhood (yes, I did little to no research). But back then I wasn’t quite willing to pay ¥6000~ for a hair cut at Sin Den or Watanabe; back then, I was still cheap. Now spending ¥6000 is easy as pie.
And so I went. I made sure to put my phrase book/dictionary in my bag and away I went as if heading to the last stand.
The first thing I noticed about the salon was how friendly the staff was even though we didn’t understand each other. I was even brought a drink while I waited for my turn in the electric chair. When they were ready for me, they brought me to my seat and I attempted to explain what I wanted. It wasn’t anything too complicated, just a trim. I really don’t think the stylist ever interacted with a foreigner before because he was just as nervous (if not more than) I was.
From my experience a quick shampoo is usually a give in when you get your haircut. However, in Japan that shampoo time is something completely different. As your legs are covered with a blanket, your face with a sheet (to protect your makeup), the stylist gently leans you back and then begins to massage your scalp. The series of thoughts that went through my mind were, “what the…? That feels pretty good……………Wait! What the hell? I didn’t ask for this. This better be free.” and, it was. Intense scalp massages are a part of the incredible Japanese service you receive at salons, legitimate salons.
The cutting itself went fine, aside from the constant reassurance I had to give to my stylist about the length. Then it came time for drying and styling. As you probably already know Western hair and Japanese hair are very different and I don’t just mean in terms of color. Texture, thickness, volume everything is different and for someone not used to dealing with Western hair let alone CURLY Western hair well, I’m sure this was a daunting task for my stylist.
My salon experiences in Canada always guarantee a blow dry and straighten with an iron something that I apparently took for granted because I didn’t get the same treatment during this experience. I got what probably most Japanese customers get, a straight blow dry. Anyone that knows me, knows my hair and a simply blow dry (despite the use of product) always results in frizz, a big ol’ head of frizz. This time was no exception. I said it was fine, paid my dues and left wishing I had a hat, a hood, anything to cover my electrified head. As soon as I got home the straightened got plugged in. Phew!
The next few times I visited a salon it went relatively smoothly because I brought pictures AND made sure I asked for straightening.
Then, I found Watanabe and my saviour, Chie. I grew tired of having stylists who didn’t have experience with western hair and that didn’t speak English. I know that I’m in Japan but when it comes to things like doctors, dentists, esthetician and hair dressers they absolutely have to speak good English. It’s a requirement because my horrible Japanese can’t be trusted to get me what I need and/or want.
The first time I went to Watanabe was when I was turning or had just turned 30 and I had decided that I needed a more grown-up look. I went for a dramatic cut and color with the artistic director of the salon, Chie. She worked her magic and gave me one of the best hair cuts I’ve ever had. I trust her so much now that I just let her do what she thinks is best and it’s always a win. But that’s beside the point.
Its customary (at least at Watanabe) to not only give scalp massages during shampooing but once you are back in your chair you also get a full neck massage. Going to a hair salon here is not just an in and out therapy session (although I’m sure you could shorten it by opting out of the wonderful extras, but why would you want to?) its a process, a very relaxing process.
Some other hair salons with English-speaking staff include: