Friday, May 15, 2009

Bad Hair Decade

Granted I've been in Japan much longer than a decade, but I figure that the occasional reconstruction cuts I've had on my State-side trips to correct the damage over the years brings me to about 10 years of atrocious locks.

My first few visits felt luxurious and I enjoyed the feeling of being pampered. This was before the Spa treatment boom swept the States. It is standard practice in Japan to put a cotton cloth over your face to protect your make up while they wash your hair. That is so soothing because not only does it just feel good, it puts you in a relaxed state that does more than relieve the anxiety that your foundation might run. They massage your temples, dry out your ears (as odd feeling as it sound, but again, a welcome sensations since it's a "new" experience), and escort you to the chair.

This is where I went from Kathryn to Audrey in an instant. Audrey Hepburn lives on in Japan as a vision of good hair and dynamite clothes. Posters of her decorate hair salons, high end boutiques, English language schools and video stores. I wasn't getting her hairstyle, but I was getting the attention that I imagine she had in "hair and make-up" in her acting days.

The stylist would introduce herself, and 4 to 5 assistants were attending to the stylists with varying scissors on demand. Others just stood stadium seating style around me to watch. Each one had a turn at feeling my hair. I imagine that they are trained on Asian hair, which is, to my untrained cosmetic eye, is thick and straight. I have extremely fine, naturally curly hair.

It should have been a warning bell to me that my washed hair was treated like getting turns from Jack Hanna to pet the cobra, but it just made me think that they were attentive and thus, experienced with "foreign hair." The clipping began, which feels the same anywhere really, and I didn't necessarily watch since I was paying more attention to watching the reaction of my audience in the mirrors. I didn't chat either, and that wasn't due to the fact that, well, I couldn't, as much as it was the stylist gave the room a final putt at a PGA tournament silent, serious feel.

My apron is changed since there are some trimmings on it, and my hair is rewashed since they have soiled it with the show and tell. The second round of temple massage made the trips back and forth to the chair worth it.

"Perma? Perma?" I'm asked. "No. It's natural." (Too complicate to explain in Japanese but it also has a natural, more like inevitable, part on the right side and a calic flows it all over to the left.) I get some sighs in response that seem to question that fact, and they proceed to part my hair down the middle and blow my hair dry straight. I do not look like me, let alone nowhere close to Audrey. They end the do with two hair clips on either side of my perfect center part. I look like one of the poor bad joke kids from Revenge of the Nerds or something. They thank me for "my tiring effort," which is a set phrase in Japanese but it really did apply to what began a pattern of 1970 junior high school looks for over ten years.

It's raining, so they walk me out to my bike with an umbrella. The head stylist has an umbrella over my hair, and her assistants are carrying an umbrella to protect hers. A classy touch. Less classy, I mounted my bike, push up my umbrella, and zoom back home. Thanks to what I always curse humidity does to naturally curly hair, today it worked for me. By the time I got home, my hair was no longer straight, but nature forced it back to a first time welcome, frizzy natural, American state.