We’ve found that it’s often the little, day-to-day things that challenge us as expats in a foreign land. One of those things is … the haircut.
At home in the US, there are lots of options for haircuts. Cheap, in-and-out-in-10-minutes places, or ultra cool (and mega expensive) designer hair salons. Quite similar here in Tokyo, but there’s another variable — language.
Having lived previously in a country where I spoke the native language, I never gave getting haircut a second thought. Just go into a hair place, tell them what you want them to do, and let the cutting begin. It’s a little different when you don’t speak the language very well.
The first time I got a haircut in Tokyo, I just picked a local place, made an appointment (which was challenging in itself, when you don’t speak the language well), and went in. Turned out the person who did the cut spoke no English, and at the time I spoke virtually no Japanese. It was an interesting session. And, he did the entire haircut with a straight razor. I survived, but there were some tense moments.
My wife and I then started to look for other local places. We found a nice little shop near our apartment, and one of the staff spoke a little English. That worked ok — they were very nice, we practiced our Japanese, the lady who spoke some English practiced her language skills, and it was fine.
Later, we found a Japanese stylist who had lived in Australia and London, and speaks very good English. We started going to her, and the communication aspects were much easier.
But alas, we found that there are differences between Japanese hair (and haircuts) and Western counterparts. Not as big a difference for me, but for my wife, the Japanese style of haircut just didn’t work so well. They tend to cut a lot of layers, and my wife found that often her hair grew out in strange and very uneven ways that made it hard to deal with. Not a good situation.
The real deal-breaker came when our Japanese-who-speaks-English stylist moved to a different salon. The new place was going to mean a substantial increase in the cost of a haircut, which by Western standards, was already high. I would have to now pay around 6500 Japanese yen for a hair cut — about $60. And it would be more for my wife. Although that isn’t excessive by Tokyo standards, for me, it’s a lot of money for a haircut. So, it was back to the search for an acceptable salon.
Today, I went back to the local Japanese shop that we’ve visited before. This time, I brushed up on my Japanese and was determined to speak at least a little to explain what I wanted. And, the lady who speaks some English was still there. Between my marginal Japanese and her limited English, we were able to explain to another stylist what I wanted. It was actually a pleasant visit, and I think I got a very good haircut (plus a shampoo, and a nice neck and shoulder massage) for 4100 yen.
I think the local shop is a place I’ll continue going to. It’s nice to feel like, at least a little, I’m now able to fit in to the local culture (and, get a good haircut).