Getting a haircut in Japan: A survival guide

By Fran Wrigley

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).

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Are Japanese beauty salons the best in the world? We weigh in -- Even Non-Alcoholic Drinks Should be Limited to 20 Years Old and Up According to Survey -- School Children All Over China Get a Lesson in Ethics and Economics with “Summer Homework Substitute Services”

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First haircut I got in Japan I practised a long time on what I needed to say. Obviously got something wrong as I didn't need shampoo for a good while after that.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Tried that 15 min haircut for 1000 yen. Although the staff was very kind, she was clearly a unexperienced trainee or something using me as her guinea pig lol

Now I stick to a beauty salon I found nearby last year. Not only because I loved the results and the super kind treatment (the massage, the "magic" shampoo that scents for days) but mostly because she's one of those rare japaneses that treat me like a HUMAN being, instead of a "gaijin". Talked for almost an hour about the most trivial things, politics, fashion, and not a single dejavu silly question like "how do you do this in your country? "how long you've been in Japan?" "where are you from?". I definitely recommend her for anyone living in Osaka. :)

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

I get paid pennies. Its okay. I get 4 months off paid vacation every year. Needless to say I cut my own hair.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The house of thinning scissors is ubiquitous, if you have fine hair you'll have to insist that they not be used the first time you go . Otherwise you get a cut with layers that droop, or a halo of wisps on the top of your head reminiscent of Big Bird...

1 ( +3 / -2 )

mostly because she's one of those rare japaneses that treat me like a HUMAN being, instead of a "gaijin"

The vast majority of Japanese people are like that if you talk to them in Japanese.

I enjoy the little conversations at the barber shop. I usually go to a cheaper 1000 yen shop, but it's not a chain. Good ol barbershop chat. I do like the service at the more expensive places as a shampoo and scalp massage is always welcome, but they don't always want to give me the simple cut I like.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

'use', not 'house', sorry about that.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

When I first went to the barber here I asked for it to be "mijikaku", which he found rather amusing. I still go to the same guy; he's about 80 now but does a good job, although he's getting a little bit shaky with the cut-throat razor.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Getting a haircut in another country – in a foreign language – can be a daunting experience.

I've gotten haircuts in plenty countries without issue, using only sign language.

However, I cut my own hair in Japan, because for some reason, it's ten times more expensive here to get a haircut than anywhere else.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Another essential expression for guys is "kariage". (ka-ri-a-ge)

This means a short back and sides shaved with the electronic clippers.

They always seem to ask me if I want kariage when I go to my local place.

At first I thought they were offering me some fried chicken.

Kariage is rather short so I always say "kariage shinaide kudasai" or "kariage nashi de"

4 ( +5 / -1 )

It used to be shave and a haircut two bits. Now it's costing me over one hundred bits.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I go to a no frills barber at the nearby sento so after I get a crewcut I just go bathe and I am good as new. The place I go shaves off the left over on the sides and back with a blade shaver for 1,000 yen so it's a great deal.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I used to pay the 1,000 for years, it was OK, but as my hair got thinner, I purchased a Whal and I just do my own hair and saved a ton of money as I used to get a haircut every 2 weeks, so that can add up very quickly. One thing I do miss back in the states when the barbers would give me THE best shave, that warm lather on your face and that every so sharp, straight razor, you just can't beat it, hands down.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

bass: There are some places that do the whole straight razor warm towel deal.... My place does it for a little steep. Feels great though.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I've been going to the same full-service barber for ten years and it's the most relaxing two hours of my month. Worth every yen. I tried that large chain of 1000 yen/10 minute haircut places a few times, and they did okay, but once they started posting "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who can't speak Japanese" I stopped going (the sign was in English, Chinese, and ... Japanese).

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Haha I remember when I first got here, a hair cut was one of the LAST things I got around too, well actually I didn't haha, the Prez at the company I worked at one day politely hauled me off with him to a local barber shop LOL! Nothing electric all in the wrists scissors, etc, was a great experience!

Now I go to local barber, lots of warm towels, decent cut, SUPER relaxing, nice shave, massage & then I stagger out as I am so mellow afterwards, if you can afford it find a good barber, much more than a hair cut!

I took my nephew when he came over & it was one of the highlights on his trip here, told me to tell the barber if he did his thing back in Cda he would be rich!!!

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Hate having my hair cut anywhere. Just don't like anyone touching my head for some reason. I put it off and put it off till I look like a yeti.

I'd rather have a tooth filled or be probed by aliens....

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

i like the old geezer who clippers my hair. also the 1000 yen jobs are ok if you go for clippers. Old geezer alsways tries to massage my head - has to be beaten off.....

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Just bring a picture of the haircut you like. A picture is worth a thousand words.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I agree with a picture. I remember the first time I got a haircut in Japan, I brought a picture of me with shorter hair, and I also took a picture of my current hair, I drew lines on the picture to show how short I wanted.

No problems at all. The first barber shop I went to in Japan is still the only barber I go to. Nowadays, I just say "onaji desu" and they know exactly what to do.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My wife cuts my hair now, but I can't get her to wear the white lacy lingerie uniform I bought for her.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Funny, she wears it for me....

0 ( +4 / -4 )

These days I usually go for the QB/1000yen deal, found a good one close by staff knows me and we chat. When I first got here I used my j-wife as an interpreter. Never seen a sign stating that they will refuse service to non-japanese speakers.

Hairdressing salons got their own insurance for accidents but that drives the cost if a cur/shave over 3000yen. All the cheap places are not insured.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I have gotten a series of hideous haircuts her. It took 4 years to find someone good. I'm not bothered by the ¥5,000 price since I used to pay $100 in LA. I love my guy now. All the foreigners go to him.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Chuckles, do you mean Kaz, who's now in Shimokitazawa?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The first time I tried to use my Japanese at a barber shop, I nearly had my eyebrows shaved.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Yea the guy I go to asked me if I wanted my eyebrows shaved the first couple of times I visited, cracked me up. He doesn't ask anymore.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Just went to QB House yesterday. The guys at the one in Saginomiya station are very good. With the new sales tax hike, it's now 1080 yen, but still well worth it...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I love my trips to the hairdressers in Japan. The woman who cuts my hair gives me a cut, shave, shoulder massage ( she has pretty strong thumbs ) and always gives me some green tea, biscuits or rice crackers to take home. A bit steep at ¥3,500 but it's a nice bit of pampering.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Went to QB House for years. They are quick and some of the barbers are fun to talk with. Now my woman does it for free.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Before I left the states I had my wife take pictures of my head after a haircut. I printed them out and carry them with me every time I need a haircut. It was very expensive at first, but finally found one close to home and it is only 1500 yen. The last time I didn't need to show the pictures. So, another item on my list I was able to conquer. I like the shop and the people who work there are very nice even though I am their only Gaijin.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

"QB House"

10 minute haircut? No shampoo/rinse or massage? I'd rather save money somewhere else.

I want the hair stylist to spend at least 20 minutes cutting my hair, rinse it in the sink after the cut ( no vacuum cleaners, please ) get my ear hair with the clippers, and a neck, shoulder and upper back massage! I pay about 2,500 yen, it's definitely worth it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

My first haircut in Okinawa barber shop was alright. It is good that the barber (Japanese) used English language. Thanks for the info anyway.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hey, Fran Wrigley! You have written a nice article! I want to ask what it is to be called layers in Japanese?? Here are some best layered hairstyles:

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For women, brush the hair to the front from the back. Tie tight all the hair at the forehead with a rubber band. Make one cut were the hair is the shortest. What's it, just one cut. Remove the band and brush your hair. Works for men too who have long hair. I taught this method to my wife. Now she only goes to a hairdresser twice a year.

Years ago I taught my wife how to cut my hair which she does. I haven't been to a hairdresser for more than 10 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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