My husband and I went to get haircuts yesterday. It isn’t the first time — this was the 3rd Japanese haircut for me, and my husband has had several haircuts at various places — but every time, it is still sort of a stressful ordeal… not just for us, but also for the hair-cutters, I think.
There are plenty of hair salons and barber shops here, and I am sure in the expat areas of town, we could find salons where they speak English, but we choose to go to local shops that are in close proximity to our apartment. These salons run the gamut in price — from no-frills 1000Yen shops (about $10), to full service cut and style salons that will run about 3000 to 6000Yen. Most will offer “katto nomi” (cut only) prices, as well as full service which includes shampoo, cut, style, neck massage — and for men — ear and nose hair removal (ew), as well as a straight-razor shave!
The first hurdle, of course, is making an appointment. Only the 1000Yen shops take walk-ins, so when we need haircuts, we have to first go in to make an appointment. I know, I know… we could just call on the phone, but the language issue makes that more complicated. It has been easier for us to go to the shops the day before to make an appointment: “yoyaku shitai kudasai” (I would like to make an appointment.) They point at available time slots, and we point at the one we want, and then write our names in katakana.
My husband has found a barber shop at Narita Airport that he likes, and he goes there when we happen to be at the airport. They speak English, and do an excellent job at a very reasonable price… but they don’t cut women’s hair. I tend to prefer the walk-in, no-frills-type salon — similar to what I use back home in the US — but the last two haircuts, we have gone to a little salon just down the canal from our apartment. The woman there who cuts my hair knows pretty good English and likes to practice speaking to me. I, on the other hand, know a tiny bit of Japanese, and like to try it out on her. Lol… she asks me about things she doesn’t understand with English, and then she gives me the “thumbs up” when I speak Japanese correctly to her. And, it works. It is a mildly stressful exercise for me, but hugely beneficial for my Japanese skills. [Just an aside — Yesterday she asked me why it is “bangs” and not just “bang”… Japanese has no plurals. “Pant” vs. “pants” is also difficult. Why do we wear “pants” (plural)???]
The men at this salon who cut my husband’s hair don’t know much English, apparently, and don’t usually communicate with my husband beyond pointing or gesturing. He has learned a few simple phrases to tell them what he wants done… “mata sukoshi mijikaku shitai kudasai” (make it a little shorter please), etc. And… it usually turns out fine. I feel like they are just as tense about cutting our hair (and doing something we don’t like) as we are about having it done. They tend to not cut it short enough, but they do a very good (and meticulous!) job of it.
This all goes into the category of “Things I Never Thought About As Being Difficult Until I Moved to A Foreign Country.” There are so many of those kind of moments here. But, still — we love Japan. And, we are still happy with our decision to come here to live. Living in Japan is definitely getting easier, but I think it will take a long time to be truly comfortable in this culture.