I Got My Hair Cut In Japan and It Was AWESOME

I've been dying to get a hair cut for a while, but have been putting it off because I live in Japan and I was terrified I wouldn't be able to properly explain what I wanted.
Publish date:
February 9, 2015
fashion, hair salon, hair cuts, culture, japan, language barrier

I got a hair cut! Weeeeee!

I've been dying to get a hair cut for a while, but have been putting it off because I live in Japan and I was terrified I wouldn't be able to properly explain what I wanted. Then I'd end up with Dudley Moore hair like I know is possible.

But it was time. My crazy hair was almost down to my waist, and not only was it getting stuck in doors and strangling me in my sleep, but it was starting to transition from "hippie chic" to just "hippie in a van down by the river" (not that there's anything wrong with super long hair, but I can't pull it off).

So I started researching salons online. My goal was to find a mid range priced salon that spoke some English (I didn't want to be so "gaijin" to ONLY look for English-speaking salons), and felt comfortable cutting non-Japanese hair. I found Afrodita Hair Salon in Yokohama.

Before I get too far into gushing about Afrodita, and their bilingual, hair cutting prowess, let me explain something about my crazy hair.

While I identify as Chinese, my hair identifies as "mixed race." I don't have the stick-straight, glossy locks so many people associate with Asian hair. While I have a lot of it, my hair is medium fine with just enough wave to make it unruly. I actually love how my hair does bed-head, but it doesn't quite behave how many imagine Asian hair "should." I have my Persian-English heritage to thank for that.

So, living in a country where most women have a certain type of hair (heavy, thick, course, usually straight), and non-Japanese hair can be a challenge to cut, I knew I needed to choose a salon wisely. Afrodita Hair Salon was it.

When I called them to make the appointment, armed with all the Japanese hair-cutting vocabulary I could muster, they quickly switched to perfect English when they heard my terrible accent. I suspected they might speak English, but I never want to assume anything. Their website says that nearly 30% of their clientele are expats.

I made an appointment for that day, and prepared myself for an experience I had no idea about. It was nerve-wracking, it was exciting. Such is life in Japan.

I found what I thought were some pretty straight forward directions online, and set out that afternoon. It was only 15 minutes from Yokohama Station, the giant nexus of commerce that is a 10 minute subway ride from my home. The directions looks simple -- walk to Tokyu Hands, go right, go left, go right, and you're there. Easy peasy.


I got stupidly lost. I walked to the WRONG Tokyu Hands (these "lifestyle" stores in Yokohama/Tokyo are like Targets in the US) and took the WRONG turn down all the WRONG streets. The salon was so kind, dealing with my multiple phone calls and trying to give me directions in the bustling city. Finally, they just told me to get in a cab.

I arrived at the salon 20 MINUTES LATE. I was so embarrassed. The Japanese highly value punctuality. But while they may have been fuming, they didn't show it. When my cab pulled up, the entire staff (4 stylish women) were holding the door open for me and welcoming me. I apologized profusely in Japanese and English and they just laughed it off.

Yoshiko Morimoto, the owner, sat me down in a chair. In perfect English, she asked me what I wanted. I showed her some pictures of the bluntish, swingy bob I wanted, as she and two assistants finger combed my windblown locks.

I should note that Ms. Morimoto is Japanese born, but spent years working at high end salons in Beverly Hills before returning to Japan. While her approach felt familiar, I appreciated the attention to detail and calm demeanor I've gotten used to here.

When we'd agreed on a course of action, she put my hair into a low, loose ponytail and asked one of her ever-ready assistants to give her a pair of scissors. "We're going to cut off a lot of hair," she said, as all the salon workers gathered around.

One of her assistants asked me if she could film The Great Snip for their Instagram, as well as a before and after. "Does this not happen very often?" I asked.

They laughed and Ms. Morimoto said evenly, "Eh...sometimes."

So they took a 360 of my long hair, cued up the video on an iPhone and raised the scissors. Ms. Morimoto said a few words in Japanese to the camera, basically explaining what she was going to do, and CUT, CUT, CUT, 10 inches of my hair was gone.

Her assistants laughed, and handed me my length of hair. They snapped a few reaction shots of me with my fallen locks (is this what a Kardashian feels like?), and whisked me off to get my hair shampooed. (I'm donating my hair to a Japanese organization, FYI.)

When I finished, Ms. Morimoto was instantly at my side with her cart of supplies. She began cutting my damp hair into the basic length and shape she was working toward (she did all the major cutting on my dry hair).

Ms. Morimoto (I keep using the formal because that is Japan's way) said very little as she cut my hair. She asked me a few questions about where I'd come to Yokohama from, what I was doing there, and for how long, but really all her focus was on my hair.

I have to say, she was SO COOL. Confident California gal meets creative Japanese professional. I want to be like Yoshiko Morimoto when I grow up.

Finally, after drying my hair and artfully snipping pieces out to create subtle face framing pieces (she agreed that my hair shouldn't get too cut into) and movement, she dusted me off and told me I was finished.

"I LOVE IT!" I shouted a little too loudly, and she just quietly smiled, nodded a little and said, "It's very cute on you."

And it's true. I love my hair. It's shorter, has movement and shape, but still feels young and fun -- like me! After I got my hair cut, I realized how long it's been since I really felt PRETTY.

Her assistants took another round of photos of my "after hair" (which you will soon see on their Instagram), and then asked me to put a pin on where I lived in the US on their world map. I chose Hawai'i because it was the last place I lived. They photographed the pinning too.

I paid (about $50 USD), thanked them again, and the staff ushered me out the door. While I felt relaxed and pampered at Afrodita, I also loved the Japanese-style efficiency and professionalism.

And two days later, I still love my hair! Even when it's all messy and wind-ruffled.

I swear I'm not getting paid to write this stuff. If any of you are in the Yokohama area, are a little nervous about your ability to communicate "hair stuff" in Japanese, or just want a really damn good haircut, get thee to Afrodita Hair Salon.

Now if you'll excuse me, my hair and I are going out tonight.