In my first year in Japan around September, I realized that my split ends were more like split strands. I’d been in the country for three months and couldn’t pretend that I didn’t need a haircut anymore. I sighed, got in my rented little Toyota IST and headed out. With only basic Japanese under my belt, I wasn’t in any way prepared to shop around for a hair salon that was or wasn’t expensive, had this or that service, or whatever. I just needed to get a haircut and get out.
I drove ten minutes to my local hair place near my grocery store. I went inside and a rather adorable hair sweeper girl stared in shock as she proclaimed, “Irasshaimose!” I nodded and said, “Konnichiwa, uh…cutto kudsai?” She laughed and brought me over to a chair. The barber, who I didn’t know at the time would become my hair stylist for the next three years, took one look at my hair and glared at me (he would proceed to do this every time I came in with split ends).
Now, in the United States I’m used to shelling out at least $20 for a shampoo and rinse session, followed by a standard $20 haircut, and then I’ve got to tip at least $10 so someone won’t complain to my grandmother that I’m being stingy (it was a small town, we went to the same place for about 10 years). Basically, $50 for a standard thing, and then more depending on if I wanted a certain kind of nifty new fangled style.
I remember my stomach knotting up as I got my shampoo and rinse, followed by a pretty extensive haircut that involved thinning out my thick hair in under layers. Then I nearly panicked when he put me in for another wash and rinse. This stage is known as triitmento, yes as in treatment. It wasn’t soap but a kind of oily, soft chemicals that keep fly aways down. After that, the sweeper lady conversed with me in broken Japanese and English as she put some other oils on and blow dried my hair.
And then the best thing ever happened: She have me a shoulder, neck, and head massage.
By this point I resigned myself to shelling out a good ¥10,000 ($100) for this haircut. The barber came over and did some last adjustments and asked me what I thought about the new look. I loved it, and the way he made my hair shine was amazing work. When I walked up to the counter, they asked me to sign a customer card, which I did, and then I got my total.
I stared at the price for so long they thought I was mad. I told them I wasn’t, but they didn’t believe me. After using Google translate, they finally understood I was sticker shocked in a good way, and they were really happy. I paid and left, thinking I must’ve lucked out in getting such a cheap place.
Nope, turns out I overpaid. Most salons in Japan have a standard ¥2,000 ($20) for a shampoo, rinse, and trim. If you want to get a perm, it’ll only cost you about ¥4,000-¥6,000 ($40-$60) depending upon the place and how much hair you’ve got on your head. The neck, shoulder, and head massage is always included, so no matter which hair salon you go you can get one.
However, nowadays I overpay and go to the Hair Ash Make salon in my town. The hairdressers there are very accommodating and one of them speaks English. I shall admit that I overpay there by choice because their hair care products leave my hair looking shiny and nice for days afterwards, and also because did I mention one of the hair stylists speaks English?
In terms of my hair, I generally just go into a hair salon and say, “Ni-cenchi cutto kudasai,” which means, “Please give me a 2 centimeter hair cut.” Remember, they use the metric system here, so if you want an inch you actually want about 2.5 centimeters (which I always round down to two). “_____ cenchi cutto kudasai.” will be the most handy and useful phrase at any hair salon.
Most hair stylists will ask, “Layah was dousuru?” as in “Do you want layers?” I usually ask for “undah-layahs” which you might suppose means “under layers” and you’d be right. If you want hard layers, they’re called “blunto layah” and if you want curved they’re called “softo layah.”
If your Japanese language skills are a work in progress, bring a picture with you. If you point to it and say, “Kore wa onegaishimasu” that means “I want this” and you should be golden. Most hair stylists I’ve known have been endlessly patient and will use gestures or even smartphone applications to make very, very, sure they understand what you want.
Guys I know generally don’t bother with salons. They go to the ¥500-¥1,000 ($5-$10) cuts available at nearly any train station in Japan. I won’t lie, I went to one of those to get a quick trim on my bangs (yes I have bangs, I live in Japan and they’re fashionable here, so sue me). The massage thing there is hit or miss, some places do them but other places don’t. The reason for that is because those places are more about efficiency, so a quick cut and then get out. Mine did a quick head massage but left my shoulders alone, and I was sad but understanding about it.
However, if you’re a guy who likes to have really nice hairstyles, I do recommend going to a hair salon over the quick cuts kind of places. They’re nice for a trim, but in terms of styles they are quite limited to standard salaryman looks. So if you’re more of a suave type, spend that little extra and go to a salon.
When it comes to black ladies and gentlemen, be aware that very few hair salons and cut houses will have the proper hair treatment for black hair. Usually you’ll have to trek out to Tokyo or Osaka to get the proper kind of hair care you’re looking for, and it usually costs twice as much as when you lived in America (or really any other country). I’ve heard most black people in the country have taken to self-care and just buy their products through Amazon and do it at home. Still, if you want a nice hairstylist who knows black hair, I recommend the hair places around Roppongi. But there are some tips and tricks other writers shared about their experience you might want to read before making a decision.
In general, I’m more pleased with hair care in Japan than in America. Don’t get me wrong, I miss the chit chat that I used to get at my local salon place in Paducah, and I miss all the ladies who took care of me when I was young. But in terms of service and bang for my buck, Japan definitely wins.
Please, tell me about your experiences with hair salons in Japan. If you’ve got a subject or issue you want me to write about, leave a comment below!