I must admit this was a big concern for me in the early days when I was flipping back and forth about whether I should move to Japan or not. After all, Asian hair is pretty much the polar opposite of black hair. Asian hair is often straight; black hair is curly/frizzy. Asian hair can become too greasy; black hair gets too dry. I thought I would have quite a difficult time getting my mane under control in a country that not only doesn’t cater to my hair care needs, but boasts some of the worst summer humidity I’ve ever felt…and you know what humidity can do to a girl’s hair.
So, I did some googling and youtube-ing, had a good, long heart-to-heart with my hairdressers before I left Canada, and after six months living in Tokyo I still haven’t gone bald. Would you like to know my secrets?
Tip #1: Let it grow
This advice was given by my hairdressers. You see, I had been chemically straightening my hair for years with their expert help. However, I feared without them I might just end up burning all my hair off. So now I rely on my straightening iron to get the job done. As the curls in my hair are very tight I use an iron I brought from Canada that can go up to 450 F (232 C). Which leads me to…
Tip #2: Learn Your Hair
Before you move, spend some quality time with your hair. Learn which styles work and don’t work. Learn what products it likes and dislikes. And beware that professional styling will cost more in Japan than what you are accustomed to paying in your home country, so it’s a good idea to learn how to style your hair yourself. Otherwise…
Tip #3: How to Keep it Professionally Styled
If you want to go straight, you can try your luck with a Japanese straight perm, but depending on the coarseness of your hair it may not last very long. A very popular salon chain in Tokyo that caters to black hair and offers traditional relaxers found in North America is Room 806, and two others are 4/You2 and Sakura. Two of these salons are located in Tokyo (Room 806 is in Roppongi and 4/You2 is in Hiroo) and one is located in Kanagawa (Sakura is in Yokusuka). Here there are stylists that can help you maintain braids, dreads and weaves as well.
But like I said, getting your hair styled in Japan will be more expensive than you’re used to. For example, at Room 806 a relaxer will run you 10,500 yen (roughly $130 US at the time this article was written) and a Japanese straight perm an astounding 42,000 yen (approximately $530 US). The expense of maintenance was the main reason I decided to just “let it grow.”
Tip #4: It’s All About the Product
No matter what route you decide to go with your hair care, all black women know keeping our hair moisturized is essential to not looking like you have a tumble weed growing out of your head, and that’s where product is essential. Until recently I was living off products I brought with me from Canada: shampoo for curly hair, deep conditioner, and my handy dandy “frizz buster,” but I started running low. There aren’t too many options for getting the goods in Japan, and what you can buy is expensive.
My experience so far has been at Room 806 in Roppongi. Room 806 is a bit difficult to find, despite the sign in front of the building. It’s exactly as advertised – a room, located in the Imperial Roppongi 202 building. I dealt with Lee, a friendly man with long black dreads and a Ghanaian accent peppered with Japanese colloquialisms. Lee takes regular trips to North America to order product, and for that, you’ll pay the price. But I think for shiny, healthy hair, it’s worth it.
|Room 806 in Roppongi, Tokyo|
You can also have family or friends back home ship you what you need, but again, it’ll cost you. Your best bet is to have the products shipped by sea, way before you need them because it takes a few weeks (or use flat-rate air shipping or something similar if that’s available to you). My plan is to simply stock up like ants before winter the next time I go home, and make regular trips…to see my family, of course.
Whatever your plan, curly or straight, natural or processed, the right products are your secret weapon in keeping your hair healthy in this environment, so make sure you get them however you can.
So there you have it, my tips on how to maintain black hair while living in Japan. What works for you? Any other advice?
Amanda is a Canadian expat living right in the heart of Tokyo, Japan. She works as an English conversation teacher and has been living in Tokyo for six months. She loves learning new things, Tokyo nightlife and chu hi, but not sake. She dislikes mundanity. Her exploits, life lessons and bruises in Tokyo are all recorded on her blog: Whoa…I’m in Japan?. You can also follow her on Twitter: @whoaiminjapan.