Are we supposed to believe that just because a cosmetic company aggressively markets mascara to men, guys actually want that stuff? And if they do, does that really mean that masculinity is on the rocks? You never know if you don’t ask, so we sat down with two salon owners to chat candidly about media hype and the world of male grooming.
At the height of the hysteria over "soshoku danshi," the so-called “herbivore male,” Ken Kawabata opened Ken’s Nail (www.kensnail.com) — a salon specifically for men. That was last year, when the media was fixated on skinny, supposedly undersexed guys with feminine habits. Habits like getting manicures, right?
Cue that old truism from science class: correlation does not equal causation. In fact, Ken’s customers are almost entirely alpha-male sorts. The salon’s regular clientele are predominantly company execs, doctors, entertainers and high-end service industry types, with a roughly even split between Japanese and expats.
Kawabata himself, in well-polished shoes and wire glasses that sit on the edge of his nose, is no slacker. The licensed nail-care technician used to work in the media, as a location coordinator for commercials. The idea to open Ken’s Nail came while watching the preparation for shoots, which often included nail care for the male stars. Once tuned in to the difference that a little trimming and buffing could make, he realized that there wasn’t anywhere that a guy could go for a manicure or pedicure without looking woefully out of place.
“Nail care just isn’t in most guys’ consciousness in Japan,” he says.
This is something that Kawabata would obviously like to change, noting that he cringes when he sees spreads in reputable magazines featuring models with ragged nails. “It’s not so much about fashion as it is about taking care of yourself and being healthy,” he says.
So who has nice nails? “Nobuhiro Takeda,” he answers, pulling out a salon trade magazine showing the former football star turned sportscaster with gleaming half-moons for fingertips.
Kaz Taira, the dude of Dude hair salon (www.dude.jp), has seen a lot of trends come and go in the 20 years that he’s been cutting hair in Tokyo. And anti-trends. Located on a Harajuku back street, Dude tends to attract customers looking for something beyond the mainstream. With the enduring popularity of the “Shibuya-boy” look—what Taira calls “Rod Stewart on his bad days”—Dude is getting a lot of requests for close crops or long, wavy “Jesus Christ hair” that can also be pulled back in a ponytail.
His customers do, however, continue to fall for David Beckham. Roughly 20% of Dude’s foreigner-heavy clientele arrive at the salon armed with photos demonstrating how they want their hair styled. And no single role model has appeared—or continues to appear—more frequently over the last decade than the famously image-savvy soccer player.
“Now he [Beckham] has a mullet, which I’m reluctant to do,” says Taira, who sports shoulder-length dreadlocks himself. “A slight mullet is okay, but I don’t like an aggressive mullet.”
The ethos of Dude, he says, is essentially “laid back and slightly grungy.” Though Taira’s personal tastes run towards the asymmetrical and avant-garde, he insists that he doesn’t push his aesthetic on customers. Still, about half of them give him creative license with their heads.
Taira once dreamed of becoming a hat designer, but opted for cutting school instead because the skills would allow him to work anywhere. He gets a kick out of enabling customers to achieve their ideal looks, and is convinced that a hair cut is a kind of high. “When you are really happy with your haircut, your body creates endorphins,” he says.
But what does this professed vegetarian have to say about the whole “herbivore male” thing?
“I think much of the male chauvinistic culture is created by a kind of sports team-like spirit, with ideas of 'sempai' [seniors] and 'kohai' [juniors] and a very gung-ho mentality,” he says. “But there are people who don’t have that experience and those ideas. Maybe because they like to play video games instead.”
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).© Japan Today