Hair in Japan

In our school, the staff likes to put up photos of all of the English teachers along with personal profiles. At the start of my tenure here, I very much enjoyed looking at what my fellow teachers had to say about their likes, dislikes and hobbies. Interesting, too, was actually meeting the teachers through the course of the days – after seeing their pictures on the wall, meeting them in person was something like meeting a celebrity.

“You’re Mel,” I could say upon meeting the day’s co-teacher. “You’re from Melbourne and your favorite food is spag bol.”

“Fair dinkum,” Mel could say. “And you’re Liv – you really, really hate bicycles.”

I quickly noticed that when I met the male teachers whose pictures I’d already seen that many of them had let their hair grow quite long during the course of their stay – neat and clean the previous January, scruffy by the end of the year. At the time, I chalked it up to the typical loosening up employees tend to do. Four months later and in the throes of hair distress, I now suspect the real reason behind the trend – complete lack of trust in Japanese hair dressers.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am sure that Japanese hair dressers are extremely skilled and masters in their own right. When I describe a lack of trust in Japanese hairdressers, I refer specifically to the problems created by the language barrier. Merely a pain in the neck in day to day life – “All I want is to ask if they have any brown bread!” – the language barrier becomes a minefield in the hairdressing realm. Most people have very specific demands when it comes to having their hair dressed – imagine trying to communicate those needs when you have to rack your brains to remember how to ask for another cup of tea?

Here in Sakiio, there is a man. I first heard his name whispered between various other female teachers: Kenji. Kenji, they said, spoke fantastic English and did one hell of a great job. He wasn’t even that fair away, they said – just over in Kokoromura. One day, Velma appeared on the scene with lovely brand new high lights. Another day, Maggie arrived at school with a chic short haircut, over which she was ecstatic. Maggie gave me Kenji’s card. I tucked it away in my purse.

After weeks of hemming and hawing, I decided to go visit Kenji in Kokoromura. Summer approached and I was extremely sick of my frayed, boring, waist-length layered hair. After years of the same style I envisioned something perhaps a little different. As an extra precaution, I brought a picture, chuckling at myself for my anal retentiveness as I cut it out.

Kenji’s salon was unpretentious yet clean. He and his shampoo artist said they would be happy to help me out, if I would just wait while they finished off their last customer. I sat at a table, browsing through American celeb trash mags before Kenji’s shampoo artist gave me an extremely thorough wash and finished the experience off with a “massage” when she whacked at my back with firm slaps for five minutes afterwards.

Kenji is a gentle man and indeed skilled in English. His colloquialisms were spot on – “I think a long, sweeping fringe would be great!” – and he kept up with me even when I felt relaxed enough to speak at a more normal speed. Thus, I kept only a halfway watchful eye as he pulled up strands to snip off the ends. So I offer you a question, my friends. In such a situation, with such a man with such a grasp of English, why did I show him this picture:

and come away looking like this?

I mean … why?!?

Apart from the shock of having had so much cut off without my knowledge or consent, I must give Kenji credit for giving me the hair I wanted – when I was 15. 12 years later, I am mortified to sport what we in 1995 lovingly dubbed “The Monica.” For some reason, Kenji gave me “cute” hair. Bouncy hair. Local newscaster hair. The most popular style in my highschool yearbook hair. Hair that I will be wearing in a ponytail until August. Jesus, if he’d told me he was going to hack off so much I would have had him save it to donate …


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