The Salon and Barber Culture in Japan

Introduction

We might not realise it but the occasional trip to the salon or barber is quite an essential part of our lives. Who doesn’t like a good trim or treatment — not only does it make a good impression with the maintained put-together image but you also feel refreshed and renewed for yourself.

What you’ll notice on the streets of Japan is the overly obsessive culture of maintaining visual presentation; there’s not one or two but at least five different barber shops and salons in one street alone! These barber shops and salons can come around at extremely premium costs due to the Japanese’s high quality and service. 

I don’t know about you, but I usually go to the same salon over and over again once I find the right one. I mean, I know they can deliver what I request of them and it saves me the hassle of repeating it over and over again, am I right? However, when you move or travel to a whole new country like Japan where their market is quite concentrated already, it can be tough making a choice. Everything from communication to the hairstylist’s niche skill set has to be taken into consideration. 

Not to fret, that’s what this guide is for! With this, you’ll be well on your way to deciding the best choice of barber or hair salon for your regular haircut fix in no time!

The Salon Market in Japan

The size of the salon market in Japan is no joke — it’s more than huge! When I first came to Japan and made local friends, I soon realised that there were quite a number of them that are working as a hairstylist or barber. It’s because there are tons of barbershops and salons in the country that there’s a high chance of the locals to be working in one. 

Throughout the whole time, the salon market is continuously growing in terms of profit, numbers, and size. They’ve been lucky enough to attain a handful of successes after successes. Because of the growing demand and popularity, these hair salons have been more and more creative in their store concept — even I was quite drawn into some of them!

Salons in Japan are not only for women; the men go to salons for their occasional fix. Services provided by salons aren’t limited to just women’s hair but also men’s hair. The hairstylists are trained to attend to men’s hair, but not the same as the way the barbers do it. The salons are more towards colouring, treatment and styling. Some of the Japanese men are really stylish with their hairstyles, so you know they pick the salon over the barbers then.

The Barbershop Market in Japan

The barbershops, unlike the salons, have to solely rely on male customers. What’s more, it’s the smaller group of customers that are looking for shorter, dapper haircuts. Due to the growing business of the salon market by including the male hair styling where customers switched from the barbershop to the salon, the barber market faced a slight decline in the previous years. There are also a smaller number of professional barbers around in Japan as well as chain salons opening up and providing cheaper services. 

However, in recent years, the barber industry brushed up what they were lacking on and has since maintained a consistent profit as a market. Some added a bit of the Japanese styling touch to their services so that it’ll draw in more customers. Others trained their barbers more thoroughly so they are fully equipped with the professional skills of a barber. 

Barbershop and Salon: The Actual Difference

There used to be a clear line between barbershop and salon but in recent years, especially in Japan, it has been blurred quite a bit. Barbers specialise in shorter, traditional haircuts like the buzzcut, flattop, fade and military-style cuts while the hairstylists are more for the longer hairstyles, treatment and colour — this clear distinction between them used to be crystal clear.

However, with the barbershop and salon market growing and evolving rapidly, barbers are now skilled at styling longer hairstyles and the hairstylists are more adept at using clippers for the classic men haircuts. Now both barbers and hairstylists can pretty much do everything under the sun, but people are aware that if they want a classic cut, the barber’s the way to go; if they want a stylish one, a salon is their best bet.

How To Pick A Barbershop Or Salon?

And the question remains: how does one pick the perfect barbershop or salon for themselves? Choosing the right barber is just as important as choosing the right hairstyle that best suits you. Every barber and hairstylist specialise something more than the other, and it’s on you to pick the one that can deliver what you want. Take note of these key points when choosing your barber or hairstylist: your personal price range, where the shop is located, how well-known they are and convenience in terms of communication.

Personal Budget

In Japan, the cost of barbershops and salons can go anywhere from dirt-cheap to holy-cow expensive! Have a good think of what your personal budget is and what exactly you are looking for because various services have various costs. For example, a classic cut can be anywhere from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000. Don’t be surprised to see some barbershops charging quite high for a standard cut starting off at ¥5,000; they might be using tools and products that are of higher quality than the rest.

Location

Regardless of whether you’re in Japan for travel or you’re settling down here, the location of the barbershop or salon is quite important. You’re going to frequently visit the shop, so why choose one that’s on the other side of the country? In fact, some people choose their barbershops and salons based on their location and whichever that’s easiest to get to — it can be around their home or in the center of the city where it’s more convenient to pop by. Barbershop or salon chains are quite popular due to its various locations (even though some end up going to the same one over and over again because of a specific barber or hairstylist).

Reputation

When looking into the barbershop or salon scene, you’ll probably come across the same names over and over again. That’s because some of them have quite a reputation — everyone’s talking about it and they have quite a decent size of regular customers. You might even need to book well in advance to get your preferred slot! 

The extreme support of word of mouth is due to the excellent quality and service as well as very specific and popular barbers or hairstylists. If you want to play it safe and in need of reassurance, going to a reputable barbershop or salon is probably a direction you should consider taking. However, these barbershops and salons tend to be on the higher end of the price spectrum, so weigh your options out properly before making any rash decisions!

Convenience

Convenience can be anything from time to ease of communication. Some of us would prefer to have an easy flow for a haircut — go in, get it, get out. After all, it is a leisurely activity one has to pamper themselves.

Sometimes, some barbershops or salons might not have an appointment system set up, so you are required to come down earlier in the day to get a ticket for your time slot. The timings on these tickets aren’t even that accurate — it can usually exceed depending on how long they are going to take for the previous customers.

Another point for convenience is the ease of communication. Not all barbershops and salons can provide English-speaking services. In fact, most of them don’t! Japan’s first language is Japanese, and while they learn English in school, it’s best not to expect everyone to be fluent in it. Some of us would prefer to have a barber or hairstylist that they can communicate easily without the extra effort and time spent on translating their wants and needs.

How To Prepare For A Visit To The Barbershop Or Salon?

After choosing your barbershop or salon, here comes the most important part: preparing for your visit. In other countries, you might not need preparation at all. While it’s not really a requirement to prepare in Japan, it’s a good idea to, especially if it’s your first time to the place! You don’t want to be wasting your time or your trip down — or worse, getting a horrible haircut! Here are some tips to get you started before going out to get your haircut!

Prepare an image

If your Japanese skills are a little below rusty or you don’t even know a single word, then you might want to consider preparing an image of your desired haircut before going to the barbershop or salon. Try getting pictures from different sides and angles; it gives more clarity to the exact hairstyle you want. You know what they say — a picture speaks a thousand words!

Practice describing your ideal haircut

When in Japan, speak Japanese! Start off by practicing how to describe your ideal haircut in the language. You can translate it online or have someone translate it for you for that extra security of getting your perfect haircut. Hand gestures are perfect extra touches for that, too!

Here are some great keywords that are extremely useful for your visit:

Cut — katto (カット

Shampoo — shanpu (シャンプー)

Blow — buro (ブロー)

Treatment — turitomento (トリートメント)

Perm — paama (パーマ)

Hair — kami ()

Fringe — maegami (前髪)

Short — mijikai (短い)

Long — nagai (長い)

Side — yoko ()

Back — ushiro (後ろ)

Parting — wakeme (分け目)

To cut — kiru (切る)

To dye hair — kami wo someru (染める)

Make an appointment

Most barbershops and salons accept walk-ins, but don’t risk it. Try making an appointment beforehand through the barber shop’s desired means of communication. Some of them prefer a phone call for making an appointment, others have a service on their website for reservation. Making an appointment in advance can save you so much time and hassle, giving you a sense of relief that you’ll most definitely get your haircut that day. Some barbershops and salons can get quite a significant number of customers in a day — if you don’t have a reservation, they might request that you visit a different day as they’re fully booked without reservation. 

Conclusion

It takes a bit of extra research and time when it comes to finding the perfect barbershop or salon in Japan, but it’s definitely something you shouldn’t just wing it if you’re extremely particular with your hair care. But once you find the right barber or hairstylist that can deliver all that you ask of them, you’ll be set up with a regular barber or hairstylist at your ideal barbershop or salon in Japan in absolutely no time!

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