Search This Blog

Tuesday, June 16

Ah. Mah Hair Again.

You have no idea how difficult it is to be a gaijin in Japan when it comes to having blond hair. I knew when I moved here that it would be a challenge and it has surely lived up to my expectations.

I talked about this almost three years ago… the difficulty of finding a hairdresser who can do blond highlights and low lights. Sure, there is the Navy base nearby of which they have a hair salon explicitly for foreigners working here, and yes I have tried them. Sadly, on the four occasions throughout the past three years that I have broken down and gone there, only when there was no other choice, they had botched my hair anywhere from mildly to absolutely terribly. Hot spots, bad haircuts, bimbo blonds looks, you name it… they’ve likely done it to my hair. So please excuse me if I have lost faith in that route.

For about a year and a half in the middle of it all, I get spoiled. A hairdresser from San Diego moved here with her husband. She was phenomenal! Exactly the quality I am used to from back in the metro DC area. She did the perfect light highlights in summer and darker ones in fall. And then she got pregnant and moved home. After she became not only my favorite hairdresser, but also a good friend, so it was a double edged sword to my heart when she left earlier this year. She left behind two recommendations, neither of which I was ever able to get on the phone or to return my messages. With nowhere else left to turn, I returned to the base hair dressers and let a girl not long out of high school and just out of beauty school do her thing. She wasn’t half bad. She got the color right and although it could have been blended in better, I was willing to return to her. And then she left there. After only a few months of being there. They told me she went to the new salon off base and provided me the number of which I called, but after a strange conversation, I still don’t know if she really works there or not, but they did have someone… a Japanese woman.

Now, years ago, one of the stylists at the base salon was Japanese and she did my hair. I can’t even talk about it, but it left me a bit scarred. So to hear that my only option was again a Japanese woman, it set me to quaking a bit. I know I shouldn’t blanket all Japanese hair stylists into one lump, but I do have good reason for this. Often when Japanese people say they can do highlights and low lights, they totally can… on Japanese women. Blond women’s hair takes color very differently than a Japanese woman. Besides that, the hair color that is used on dark Japanese locks is not going to work on blond hair. You need coloring products that lift way more than the 25ish percentile that the Japanese use. So to find a salon that carries the right product AND the right hairdresser, I was just very skeptical. But when you are left without a choice and a wedding only a short time away back in the states, you get desperate.

It had been three months since my last hair appointment. With the speed that my hair grows, I looked hideous. I got to the salon early and the stylist was quick to pull out a book of colors so we could discuss options. Now here is where I usually rely on their expertise to interpret what I am looking for, but to still make it look appropriate on my head. My Japanese hairstylist’s English skills were wonderful, but I think that the culture and language gap is always still there is small part. Often things are taken very literally, when I am hoping they will take what I want and make it work for my hair and skin tone. I’m used to this treatment, but then, my hairdresser was American.

She mixed up the colors I chose and then proceeded to spend two full hours putting foils into my hair. I know I have a lot of hair. It’s very thin, but there is an exorbitant amount of it. This new hairdresser said that ten of my hairs would equal one Japanese hair. But she meticulously and deftly put those foils in. The process was a bit different, as she didn’t skip a line like I was used to, but I figured all hairdressers must have those little quirks. Once they were all in, I sat. And sat. And sat. And sat. And just when I thought she had totally forgotten me and was consequently frying my hair, she came back and started the rinse and wash process. And this is where I fell in love with her.

After carefully laying a little thin towel across my face while she flattened the chair into a bed, she rinsed and washed my hair and scalp for what had to be at least twenty minutes. She rubbed her fingers over every inch of my head, pushed on certain pressure points as she went and then repeated the process again and again. At the beginning, she had asked if this was my first time in a Japanese salon. I said yes, but had no idea why this was important until this moment. Good Lord in Heaven, it was wonderful! Just writing about it now makes me woozy again with feeling. When she was done with this part, she gently lifted my head, working the pressure points again and eased a hot towel under my neck. Then another over my forehead. More pressure points and she slowly removed it all and eased me back into a seated position. When it was time to move back to the chair for the haircut, I wasn’t sure I could actually stand up.

The haircut ended up perfect. I talked her through what I was looking for step by step, just to make sure no where on my head would get too snipped. Lastly, she blew dry my hair with a flat brush into it was silky smooth.

The end product… perfectly golden blond, silky strands fell past my shoulders. I must say I did immediately love it, but there was something about it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on in the yellow lighting of the salon. I had also been there for over four hours and was sure that KH would be wondering what happened to me, so I didn’t take much more time to think about it. It was only when I got home, got through the baby’s nighttime routine and headed back down to my own bathroom for a closer inspection that it struck me… oh, I was blond alright. And yes, it was pretty. But no, it is not natural looking. My friend here assures me that it is pretty even though it definitely isn’t a natural shade, and I do believe she is telling the truth, but I do think that next time we made need to make some slight adjustments in color choice… like say no more warm tones from here on out. They just don’t match my face or naturally dark blond roots. But for now, it is looking pretty sharp. I pray it stays that way before my friend’s wedding. I would hate for her to have to oust me at the last moment.

But if you are ever in Japan, get your washed, cut and styled by a Japanese person! You’ll pay a pretty yen penny, but you will walk away feeling lighter than you have in years!

Oh, and yes, I will go back to this, my new favorite, hairdresser.


Joanna said...

Oh I just love this story! I have recently moved to Japan with my Japanese boyfriend and will be undertaking a salon highlight-hunt in the VERY near future :)

Great blog!
Cheers, Jo

Kimono Karen said...

Thanks so much, Jo! Well, if you are in the Yokosuka area, I can give you my hairdressers name. I just saw her for the second time this past weekend and it was another wonderful experience. Good luck with your experiences here!!

Anonymous said...

I moved to the Yokosuka area last October, and have been to a Japanese salon near the base twice since then. I totally agree with you about the quality of the shampoo process. It takes about 20 minutes but you feel so pampered. A nice head and neck massage, a warm towel on your face and a gentle touch all make you feel so relaxed.

I am a little disappointed about my color though. I am prematurely grey so my colorist back home always did blond highlights against a darker blond/ash brown. It looked very natural and would last a long time between colors, at least 6 weeks. The stylist here, however, felt my hair was "too light" and did lowlights and a darker color than what I was used to. Now my hair is too dark and the roots show very quickly! It hasn't even been 4 weeks and my roots are showing quite obviously. I'd like to find a stylist who isn't against working with blond highlights! Can you give me the name of your colorist?

Kimono Karen said...

Well, since I have written this, I have yet again stopped going to the last hairdresser. She's still good... don't get me wrong. But there were some issues. Possibly they were my fault as I didn't get my point across well enough. Perhaps you just need to be VERY explicit about what you are looking for. I have had other friends go to this hairdresser with positive experiences, so I will tell you to try Sakura, which is right outside of the Yokosuka base gate. They have one hairdresser, Kay. Their number is 046-826-2218. My suggestion would be to take a picture of yourself with the hair color you liked previously and tell her to replicate. You can also look at her book of hair color samples to help get the right shades. It is expensive. My other suggestion to to take a trip to the New Sanno for their beauty salon. I was actually there today. I did not have her color my hair, but Midori gave me a great cut. Since this blog post, I have actually reverted to doing my own hair color at home. *GASP* It ain't perfect, but it's at least mostly what I am looking for. My best to you! And welcome to Japan! Except for the hair thing, it all gets simpler. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thanks! I really appreciate your knowledge and advice. I will either go back to the hairstylist I mentioned (at Riki salon) or try the stylist at Sakura.
If that fails I'll probably color my own hair, and like you, *GASP* at the thought! LOL! At least I would save a bundle of money!! :)