African hairstyling has a deep spiritual and cultural significance, and Emmy Najima has made it her mission to push creative diversity in Black hairstyles in Japan.
The modern beauty as well as the beauty industry from the West has reached the shores of Japan decades ago with the appearance of ‘modern girl’ and ‘mannequin girl’, which represents the Western standard of beauty. Today the most popular cosmetic surgery is the operation to transform Asian “monolids” into Western-style ‘double-lids’, also known as double-eyelid surgery.
Black Culture in Japan
On another hand, Japanese intensity towards Black culture has become a trend, especially for African American Hip-Hop culture. This American media-learned notion of a Black-ness is very popular among young Japanese people, who are looking for ways to fully immerse themselves into the imagery of Black culture. As a consequence, a new subculture called B-Style (Black lifestyle) was created, dedicating looks and appearance for the sake of looking like their idealized favorite American rapper. This would involve darkening their skin and wearing various Black braiding hairstyles such as cornrows.
Black hairstyles are not new in Japan, cultural appropriation cases having appeared several times in the country. A good example is the case of the giant Japanese fashion house Comme des Garçons who was criticized for styling their models with cornrow wigs on the runway.
Addition-B: embracing Black hairstyles
Through her workshops, Emmy Najima shares what she learned in New York with Japanese mothers whose kids have Afro-textured hair, but also helps adults in their hair journey. With over 20 years of experience in African braiding, Emmy uses her skills to advocate for self-love and solidarity within the Afro-textured hair community in Japan, simultaneously demolishing the Eurocentric ideology of beauty.
Stepping into her Afro hair salon I was greeted with a familiar smell, a mixture of Xpression—a type of synthetic hair—mixed with hair grease. I took in the interior and I quickly noticed the various Black hair products on the shelves, products you wouldn’t usually find in Japan drugstores. Sitting across the shelves are dark-skinned Barbies, each having a different hairstyle, representing the diversity of Black hair.
Emmy’s clients vary from Black to Asian, and everyone is eager for African braiding hairstyles. Her client for that day was a beautiful Japanese girl with Black heritage. She told me she wanted to have an African hairstyle for her coming of age ceremony, blending her Japanese and Black culture into a multicultural celebration.
A Conversation with Emmy Najima
You’ve been skillfully practicing your African braiding craft for over 20 years now, and you even created a fusion of both Black and Japanese hairstyles. How did you first become interested in African hairstyles?
I have always been interested in Black culture, from its history to music, from ever since I can remember. Everything about it deeply intrigued me.
When I started my journey as an African braiding stylist, I was already trained in cosmetology and through my pre-existing passion for the Black community, it was only natural for me to pursue African hairstyles.
A lot of products on the market claim to be created for “curly hair”, often this isn’t suitable for ethnic curly hair. What should people with Afro hair consider when purchasing hair care products and could you recommend some good Japanese alternatives?
Unfortunately, I can’t think of any Japanese alternatives that might work for curly hair. But, in this day and age, the internet makes it possible for us to try out a variety of hair products from around the world. It might be a little bit costly, but learning the care routine that best suits you is a journey, my tip is to enjoy the process.
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