Getting a haircut in Japan: A survival guide

By Fran Wrigley (Apr 2, 2014 JAPANTODAY)


Getting a haircut in another country – in a foreign language – can be a daunting experience. We’ve all heard stories about that one unfortunate soul who, just wanting a trim, indicated a few centimeters between thumb and forefinger, only for the hairdresser to think that was how much they wanted to remain on their head and start lopping off hair left, right and center.

Japan being Japan, of course there are a few surprising and funny things they do at salons that are different from back home too. But with some simple words and phrases under your belt, you can visit a Japanese hair salon with confidence.  Join us after the jump for a guide to surviving – and hopefully enjoying – a haircut in Japan.

Where to go

For the ladies, a hairdressing salon or beauty salon is called a 美容院 (biyoin). Not to be confused with byoin, which means hospital. For the guys, there are two words for barbershop: 床屋 (toko-ya) or 散髪屋 (sanpatsu-ya). The person who cuts your hair is a 理容師 (riyoshi) meaning hairdresser or barber.

Getting in

Luckily for us, you can use a lot of English loan words at the hair salon:

cut (as in “a haircut“) is カット(katto)
shampoo is シャンプー (shampu)
blow-dry is ブロー (buro)
treatment is トリートメント (torītomento)
perm is パーマ (pama)

Slightly confusingly, the word for hair straightening treatment is “straight perm” or ストレートパーマ (sutoreto pāma).

Many hairdressers will have a menu outside (yes, they do call it that), where you can see the prices for what’s on offer. If there are no prices listed, you can ask:

…はいくらですか  (… wa ikura desu ka?)  How much is…?
カットはいくらですか  (katto wa ikura desu ka?)  How much is a haircut?

Or just keep it simple with…

カットをお願いします  (katto wo onegaishimasu)  A haircut, please!

Another good option is to show a picture. When you get to the shop, all you have to do is pull the photo out of your wallet and ask confidently: この写真のようにしてください (kono shashin no yo ni shite kudasai) Please make me look more like Brad Pitt (Just kidding, it means “Please cut my hair in the style shown in this photo”).

Or, if you’re feeling brave, you could always leave it entirely up to the stylist by saying おまかせします (omakase shimasu).

Now that we’re in the salon, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the Japanese haircut experience. If you’re lucky, once your hair has been shampooed you might get a neck massage and shoulder. And some places will even clean your ears out for you! This writer can confirm from experience that there are few things more startling than an unexpected ear cleaning when you thought you were only getting a shampoo.

Saying what you want

You may be asked the following questions, so be prepared:

今日はどうしますか  (kyo wa do shimasu ka?)  How would you like your hair today?
長さはどうしますか  (nagasa wa do shimasu ka?)  What about the length?/How long do you want it?

Also, here are some more useful words to know:

髪  (kami)  hair
切る  (kiru)  to cut
短い  (mijikai)  short
長い  (nagai)  long
前髪  (maegami)  fringe/bangs

But we can’t very well just run into the salon and yell single words at the stylist! Well okay, we could do that, communication is the most important thing! But for a little more linguistic stretching, let’s try some sentences:

髪を切ってください  (kami wo kitte kudasai)  Please cut my hair.
5センチぐらい切ってください  (go-senchi gurai kitte kudasai)  Please cut off about 5cm.
前髪を切ってください  (maegami wo kitte kudasai)  Please cut my fringe (bangs).
もっと短くしてください  (motto mijikaku shite kudasai)  Please cut it a bit shorter.
すいてください  (suite kudasai)  Please thin it out.

Bonus words and phrases

Try adding in some of these words for extra linguistic flair.

分け目  (wakeme)  parting
横  (yoko)  side(s)
後ろ  (ushiro)  the back
髪を染める  (kami wo someru)  dye hair
ピンクに染めてください  (pinku ni somete kudasai)  Please dye it pink.

Feeling cheap? There is another option…

At a standard hair salon in Japan you can usually walk in without a reservation, although you may have to wait. But it’s also common to see specialist 1,000 yen “quick-cut” places. These cheap and cheerful barber shops are mostly frequented by men, although they do cater to ladies too. If your wallet is feeling a little light this month and you don’t mind a no-frills cut, these could be a good option. When we say no frills, though, we really mean no frills: no shampooing, no shaving; in-and-out in ten minutes.

From a language-learning perspective, the great thing about getting a haircut is that it’s something you probably do at regular intervals. Each time you go, you get to practice virtually the same language again. You tell the stylist what you want, and they probably ask you similar questions each time. It can be hard to measure your progress learning a language day-to-day, but repeating the same activity every couple of months is a really good way to see how far you’ve come (and what to learn next).

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