Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I Could Be Happier

There are some things I have never done in Japan. If you're thinking things like go to an onsen and allow the locals to oogle my pasty naked gaijin body or climb Mount Fuji, you'd be right, but that's not actually the sort of thing I'm talking about. While there are a good many tourist activities I've never bothered to do (and a good many activities that I have done and a good many things I've done that some folks never do), I'm talking about the type of thing I used to do back home all the time but haven't done in 18 years in Japan.

Sometimes the reason I don't do some of these things is that it's too expensive. It can sometimes be because of communication problems. And sometimes it's because there is a qualitative difference in the experience compared to back home such that I decide it's not worthwhile. Generally though, it's a combination of all of these things. A good example of all three of these reasons coming into play would be driving a car. An example of the expense reason would be to buy a new DVD at a brick and mortar establishment. There are a lot of perfectly mundane things I've never done here which I routinely and thoughtlessly did back home which I ceased doing as part of my normal routine.

Another perhaps less expected example would be going to a beauty salon for a hair cut. Lest you think I have hair trailing on the ground after 18 years of unshorn glory, let me assure you that my hair has been cut, but not by the expert hands of a trained and experienced stylist. My husband trims my hair about once every 6-8 months. I make it easy for him by requiring only that he cut across the bottom in a straight line when it's wet and combed neatly. Sometimes this works okay, but sometimes I think it'd be good if a dotted line were included as he accidentally cuts it at an angle. However, since I have wavy hair, it's not the sort of thing which can be detected and the important thing is the split ends are gone.

Initially, I didn't go to beauty salons for my hair cuts because I couldn't communicate what I wanted. Now, though I'm pretty sure I could stop them from giving me a crew cut, I have limited faith in the ability of Japanese cutters to handle my hair properly. Japanese hair is different in texture and thickness than most western hair and tends to lay differently. In fact, this is something which is reflected in the advertising that you see in English language magazine advertisements in Japan. Some salons will specifically state that they know how to handle western hair so you can trust their ability to give you a cut.

All that being said, I've known plenty of foreign folks who were satisfied with the cuts they've gotten and I'm pretty sure I would as well if I were interested in giving it a try. Men in particular appear to get a lavish treatment when they go to certain barbers here. My husband doesn't go to one (I cut his hair), but male friends and acquaintances tell me that they get their ears cleaned and necks shaved as part of the experience.

Apparently, I'm missing more than just a professional cut in my avoidance of beauty salons as part of the service offered is "happy". However, I think I'll be happier keeping my money and having my husband do the job.


lina said...

I didn't know that getting a haircut require a counselling session :p

Shari said...

Trained psychologists who also cut hair professionally are waiting to make us happier with our appearance and our lives!

I'm guessing the "counseling" means they'll look at your hair and tell you what would make you look more attractive.

Thanks for commenting! :-)

Helen said...

This is one area where you and I differ! I have short hair and I like it that way. After a few months here I had to get my hair cut. Luckily, I had asked my predecessor at my school where she went, and she referred me to the shop across the road.

After a bumpy start (language problems) I'm happy to say that I still see the same hairdresser 10 years later. She does speak a little English, and I always bring a picture of what I want, so we get by. Honestly, back home, my hair never looked this good.

I have "difficult" hair too. I don't have curly hair, but it is very fine, silvery and I have 3 cowlicks, but I always get a good cut. We always laugh about my stylist trying to get the front perfect because of one of the cowlicks. I would give up long before she does.

When I moved up north a few years ago, one of the hardest parts was giving up my hairdresser. Luckily I only had to go another place twice as I was told to grow my hair for my wedding.

Shari said...

Helen, when I mentioned folks who I was aware of who were happy with their haircuts, you were one of the people I was thinking of.

My hair is quite long so it's easier to handle from a cutting point of view. If I had short hair, I'd have had to go to a salon at some point, but I'm just as happy not to spend the money on it.

Thanks for commenting!

french panic said...

I am stunned to learn that you have been in Japan for 18 years and have yet to get nekkid at an onsen! I've only spent a total of about 5 weeks in Japan, but I've had plenty of onsen good times (could be because my sister and her husband are addicted).

Of course, it helps that once I take my glasses off, I cannot see the looks of horror cast at my pasty white skin - and I have the added sin of having multiple tattoos, too. At my first onsen experience, my sister and I had a beautiful outdoor pool all to ourselves - as everyone naturally vacated as soon as we sat our gaijin bums down!

mjgolli said...

I can't get a good cut anywhere, except the barberess that I've gone to for the last 20 years. We've become friends over the years...I've had my hair cut by her in her basement, all while watching football with her husband and kids! I fix her computers, too...so there are always plenty of free cuts. She doesn't offer counseling, though! :)

Previously, when I've not been able to get an appointment or she's been out of town, I would go to a quickie-cut joint somewhere in town, and get a butcher job. After the third time of a crappy haircut, I just live with it until I can get in to my usual place.

It's not like my cut is complicated...above the ears, off the neck, brush it back and let it dry.

And the onsen thing...well, if I was in Japan, I'd try it...in a bathing suit. I don't even show my lazy, pasty-white, office worker rear end to myself. Hell, I rarely wear shorts in public. There are things that once seen cannot be unseen!

Jocelyn said...

Go to Howard at Sin Den, worth every yen. I gave up after two years with the same lovely Japanese stylist. The cuts were fine, but never great. She could never hear what I was trying to say, the unspoken, the unexpert way I was trying to describe what I wanted. I sat down in front of Howard (an Aussie), said, "I want a loose French movie star look" and I got exactly what I wanted. Exactly.

And you need to get your ass in an onsen. But I'm a hot water freak.

Shari said...

french panic: There are some onsen that won't let you in with tattoos so I'm surprised you didn't get a bit of guff about it. You probably already know via your sister that tattoos are associated with yakuza.

jocelyn: Thanks for the advice. If I ever get the impulse for a pro cut, I'll certainly follow it!

As for going to onsen, I've got two issues. One is the typical American body consciousness and the other is the fact that I'm not a fan of soaking in hot water anyway. I think I'm prone to blood pressure problems if I soak too long. Early on when I used to sit and soak in our Japanese tub, I'd sometimes nearly black out when standing up and I'd often feel a bit dizzy. It's bad enough practically passing out in your own bathroom. I'd not want to put myself in that position in a semi-public place. Because of this problem, I don't take baths in Japan anymore. Our tub hasn't been used in well over a decade!

mjgolli: I wonder if we share the same sensibility about such things because we grew up in a very similar geographic region or because we were raised in areas that saw a lot more cold weather than hot weather on the whole so growing comfortable with personal exposure (like wearing shorts) is not something we adapted to. It's an interesting thought.

I'm not sure if they'll let you wear swimming wear in some onsen. It's another interesting question which I'm sure someone out in the ether who has blogged extensively about onsen has already answered.

Many thanks to all for taking the time to leave such entertaining and interesting comments! I always appreciate them all.

ターナー said...

I have to concur about the onsen - as soon as I have my cast cut off, I'm going for a three-hour soak. Denying me that would drive me insane; try it, you'll get addicted.

As for barber shops, I do receive better care in Japan than I would back home: a shave, shampoo, cut, and dry for 1800 yen? Nice. I know you're in Tokyo, but give a family-run place a shot.

ターナー said...

Oh, and you can't wear bathing suits in onsen, just special super sentos.

ThePenguin said...

Classic "Lost in Translation" going on here: the English in the 3-point list at the top right of the sign only has a vague correspondence with the Japanese. Above "counseling" it says "親切な対応" (shinsetsu na taiô), which is literally "friendly interaction" (though if I was translating it I'd go for "friendly staff").

Melanie Gray Augustin said...

I love the hairdressers here! Getting my haircut in Australia is now so expensive, much more so than here. When I go to a new hairdresser (new for me that is), they freak out a little at first, but then calm down and do the most amazing job.

My Japanese is limited (compared to what it should be), but I can still manage to get what I want across with gestures and such.

The cuts here are far better than back home and they pay such fine attention, and pamper you with massages! Sometimes I even have two hairdressers working on me at the same time, I come out of the salon feeling so relaxed and all my best haircuts have been done here (all different styles from really long to ultra short)

I have straight hair, so it's not too difficult, but my friend with curly hair finally went for the first time recently and is now converted. She said her experience here was much better than in America.

Emsk said...

I 've been to the hairdressers three times in the year I've been here, but I'm fairly regular at home in London about this. The first time I went with a Japanese friend and it was quite an easy experience for me. So I've started going alone. I went on Monday actually and came out with just the kind of cut I wanted. I guess I'm pretty lucky!

As for onsens, I have tattoos. I find that once you're in they don't say a lot, especially given that I'm a gaijin female. But if you ask first then they'll say no.

Absolutely Tokyo! said...

I adore Japanese hair salons! They always made me feel like I was royalty as they lined up at the door to bow their hellos and goodbyes. As for haircuts, even though I can't speak any Japanese at all, we always managed to communicate well enough that my cuts were exactly what I wanted. The neck and shoulder massages. . .hmm. . .what a delight!

And I'll put in a vote for Sin Den, although I hated their "lie down" style shampoo beds (pictures on their web site). I went there a couple of times, but didn't meet the Aussie. A gal named Masako did my hair--and her English was fantastic! Their prices are definitely on the high end, but I think they cater to foreign hair and seem to know what they're doing. I had both coloring and perming done, so think I can speak with some authority about that.

I actually miss going to Japanese hair salons!

Now, as for onsens, I spared Tokyo the shock of my pasty bum. Besides, I also don't like boiling myself in hot, sulphuric-smelling water. Kind of a shame, though, because it's just so Japanese! I also never got to stay at a Ryokan, which I regret. Again, not speaking Japanese limited my fully experiencing Japan.

Helen said...

Oh, I just wanted to add about onsens...some ryokans have private "family bath rooms" that you can use. They're really nice. They are public, in that any guest of the hotel can use them, but you reserve the time that you want it for, and it's private for that time. That means that you and your husband can go together, and take as long as you like in the water (up to the time limit if any!)

That was one of my first experiences of an onsen, and it was great. Much nicer than being with a bunch of strangers.

The ryokan that I visited that had that feature was in Ginsan-onsen in the middle of Yamagata-ken. It's the ryokan that is run by an American woman named Jeanie-san and her family. She's quite famous and sometimes is on commercials.