Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mogwai's Guide to Haircuts in Japan

Today, was haircut day. It used to be that I didn't mind getting haircuts, it used to be that I could speak to the person cutting my hair and I was confident that they understood what I was saying.Getting a haircut in Japan is an interesting experience for several reasons and depending on the person getting and giving the cut, your mileage may vary with what I am about to say.

First, if you are a Westerner with curly hair and are going to be staying in Japan for any length of time, may God have mercy on your soul. Most Japanese stylists from what I have witnessed, I have absolutely no clue how to deal with naturally curly hair. It will show on their faces and it will show on the curly person's hair. That is not to say that curly haired people won't be able to find a good haircut in Japan, it just means that they will have to do a little searching and will pay for it when they do. The reason behind this is most Japanese people...most Asians...have straight, black hair. It is the dominant gene in this section of the world. Curly hair is uncommon, as is any other hair color other than black or dark brown. As for hair color, uncommon may have been an understatement; I read somewhere that finding a naturally occurring Japanese blonde is akin to winning the lottery statistically speaking.

Having said all of that, I am lucky in that way. My hair is straight and dark brown to black. Any haircut a Japanese guy would normally get will work fine on me without any adjustments. This is about the only fact that gives me confidence when getting ready to get my haircut.

Haircuts here are either really spendy, kind of spendy, or dirt cheap. Those are the three choices. If you going into a place and the people behind the counter call themselves, "stylists" your screwed. If a Japanese barber is a stylist the cost of your haircut has just jumped $30. This was the case with my first Japanese haircut. I had been told about a particular place in my town that was friendly toward Western hair styles and I ventured there after days of putting it off. As soon as I walked into the place, I knew I was going to end up paying more than I wanted. But I was new here and I had my courage all worked up and so I stayed. There was a kids section to this place that had the chairs in the shape of robots and whatnot and Pokemon was playing on the television. There was the scalp massage section of the building where people were getting their domes worked over with a loving tenderness that can only be purchased. And then there was the actual adult cutting floor with a pit crew of five or six stylists going at hair with the aid of their assistants. Yup, for every two stylists there was an assistant. I was so screwed.

They were very nice to me and had me fill out a customer info card. Then they directed me to a large sectional leather couch and told me to wait until I was called. Upon being called, I was taken to the shampoo station that was also in the scalp massage area. After a thorough scrubbing, my scalp was deemed tense and the extremely good looking scalp rubbing girl went to work rubbing my head. I have to admit, the scalp massage almost made the bill worth what I paid.

After my head had been tenderized I was led to the guy that would be my stylist. Not much to say about him, he was like any male hair stylist worth his salt, quasi-gay looking, nice smelling, and well-dressed. This is where I learned the second rule of getting your hair cut in Japan; the Western definition of short is the Japanese definition of very short. Japanese guys tend to where their hair longer and with more hair spray. The Japanese models you see in Western magazines with the straight hair that is spiked out and blown dry in all sorts of directions are sporting a hairstyle that is extremely common here. I think you could refer to it as a bedhead look if you had pretty long hair. Anywho, it reached the time in the haircut in which I had already told the guy to take more off the top, twice. We kind of hit a point where he was having a minor conniption and I was starting to get a tad tired of not getting what I wanted. After a bit more, I called it good for the sake of the sanity of the stylist and the inaugural haircut was ended. Then came the bill. For women who are used to paying a bit more for their haircuts the amount probably won't be that big of a deal, for me, I was almost ready to kill; it was just under $50. And then I went home and cut the rest of my hair myself.

Fortunately, I have found a place in one of the towns that I teach that cuts my hair for a more reasonable price of $17. I may not get a scalp massage but both of the people that work there don't have problems with cutting my hair shorter than the Japanese norm. As a basis of comparison, I like my hair probably about 3/4 of an inch long, maybe a tad shorter, and on the sides I like a #2 razor guard. I figure that if I can see my bangs my hair is way too long. For most Japanese men, if you can see your bangs, that means you have just finished walking out of the salon. The only real exceptions to this rule are the athletes. Most Japanese athletes have their hair cut more to my specs. You can also tell which schoolgirls play sports because they all have a hair style similar to each other and pretty short by Japanese schoolgirl standards. The term I have heard used with similar hair styles in America has been "The Dyke Cut" only in Japan, the hair is a bit longer.

They don't exist in my town, but I have also had my hair cut at a place where you put your ten bucks in a vending machine and it gives you a ticket you hand to the guy cutting your hair. Ten minutes and ten bucks later, your hair is done. I can't remember the name of the place but their motto was the three Q's: Quickness, Quality, and Quest. Honestly, I think they ran out of Q words after Quality and thought Quest sounded cool. I liked that place though because they did as good of a job as my current place and for $8.50 cheaper.

One last note about haircuts in Japan, razor guard sizes are different here. What would be a #2 guard in the States is a #9 guard here. If you ask for a #2, expect to get that haircut that was really popular in 1991 where you have no hair on the sides and a bunch on top. I know from experience, thankfully my hair grows super fast. Also, if you are a person that wears gel in your hair, bring some with you to apply after your haircut because you won't be getting it there, at least I don't. I think the Japanese have their own words for "hair gel" and "I want it spikey on top". They laugh at me when I say, "spikey". Usually, it’s easiest to just bring in a picture of you with the hair style that you like and just point at it and grunt like a monkey. They will do the rest. The other, wiser, option is to learn Japanese.


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