Caucasian hair meets Asian hairdressers

Warning: this is a post about hair, but boys don’t stop reading just yet!

My absolute pet-hate is having dry and split ends (boys who are lost already: imagine that Pantene advert with the conditioner that wraps its magic formula around each splitting hair). Every few months when start to that my hair is dry, I have a compulsive urge to get a hair cut! The only problem is that I don’t know how to cut my own hair, and going to a foreign hair salon is no doubt going to result in a surprising result! Yet a few time whilst I’ve been abroad my hatred of split ends always outweighs my rationality and I still search out a salon and surprise a poor hairdresser with my request. Here’s what’s happened


The first time I had a haircut abroad was in a small town in China called Pingyao. I’d been travelling for three months and my hair was feeling worse for wear. So when I saw an inviting-looking salon, I walked in. The salon seemed empty but as soon as I walked in, a whole school of trainee hairdressers appeared from behind curtains and from upstairs rooms to see the foreigner! None of them spoke enough English to understand that I ‘only wanted a trim’, but I pointed at the Hair page in my Chinese phrase book and they seemed to understand. I was led to a chair…

I’m not sure how they decided who was going to cut my hair, but it fell on one young-looking man, who had a gravity-defying hair. I also remember he had a cold, as after a shampoo, I distinctly remember him sniffing loudly as he cut my hair. The other eight or so trainee-hairdressers were standing round me and watching his every move. I didn’t know if all this pressure on him was a good thing or not, but I found the situation with all the tension and excitement in the room quite funny!

Fifteen minutes later he stood back and said something which I thought was “Is it ok?” I nodded happily in agreement, happy that my locks had been reshaped in a satisfactory way and I no longer had dry ends. But then he picked up the scissors again and started cutting my hair so more! “What’s going on?” I thought, and I looked shocked as people around me were smiling at me. I looked at the phrase book again, he was actually saying “Shall I cut some more off?” I walked out with curls around my ears, and immediately had to buy a clip to hide my less-than-satisfactory new hairstyle. I remember my travelling-friend enjoying the moment when I walked in with my hair tied up, “It didn’t go well then?”, he laughed.

My pinned back hair in China after I'd had it cut.

My pinned back hair in China after I’d had it cut.


Now that I live in Japan, I have no choice but to have my hair cut here. My host mum, Mayumi, offered to take me to the salon she’s been visiting for twenty years, and I agreed to go. You see, I am not over-protective about my hair, as even the worst haircuts grow out within a month or so. I always think: 

What's the worst that can happen?

What’s the worst that can happen?

So we went along to the salon and I was seated facing a mirror. A hairdresser put a large cushion on my lap and a fluffy blanket over it. “What’s this for?” I whispered to Mayumi, “To make you feel relaxed” she replied, and we laughed together at the randomness of it!

The first time I had my hair cut at Kiree (meaning beautiful), the owner who Mayumi calls Kiree-san gave me exactly what I asked for and just trimmed my ends. Firstly, and by far the best part of the whole experience, is the shampoo. The chair automatically reclines so there is no neck ache involved, then they lay a flannel over your face and spend 10 minutes caring for every inch of your hair. It could be utterly blissful, but as the cut was still to come I couldn’t completely relax. 

Secondly, my hair was blow-dried by two young assistants, making me feel like a poodle having a perm. Whilst the girls straightened it poker-straight, they acclaimed how thin my hair is! Yes, this is the crux of the problem of having your hair cut in Asia. Caucasian hair is typically much thinner, weaker and slower-growing hair than Asian hair. Therefore cutting Western hair is completely different from cutting Asian hair. Asian hair often is thinned by razors and happy-go-lucky chopping at the ends, where Western hair needs a more delicate approach. 

After my first hair cut in Japan. It stayed straight for all of three hours!

After my first hair cut in Japan. It stayed straight for all of three hours!

The second time however, I ambitiously requested a re-style: two layers and graduation around the front. Kiree-san hadn’t heard of ‘layers’, but understood I wanted it shorter around the sides. As Kiree-san was cutting my hair, she became engrossed in conversation about her favourite hobby, watching Western TV shows and movies. I assured her that Harry Potter, Doctor Who and Kate Winslet are indeed from England and yes, Colin Firth is handsome in an older-man type of way. It is always at the moment where the hairdresser is chatting away amiable, when I get worried about what she is doing to my hair. As she was in deep in thought trying to remember the name of a celebrity, she went a bit scissor-happy, like a six-year-old girl cutting their dolls hair! But I couldn’t ask her to stop, in case it made my hair look more uneven than when she started! So I just sat there waiting for her to remember the celebrity’s name and to stop snipping at my hair!

She never did recall who she was thinking of, but thankfully she did put the scissors down. Then, she put a large dollop of apple-smelling gel into her hands and scrunched it in to my hair, smothering my freshly washed hair into a dripping-grease state that took three washes to get out! Yet I paid the 3200 yen and thanked her for the haircut. It’s a bit shorter than I expected, but I can deal with it.

On reflection, I may just have to live with having a few split ends here and there. Western hair is just too different from what Eastern hairdressers are used to cutting. I’ll wait until I’m back in England for my next cut!