About a month ago, I had my first visit to the hair salon in Tokyo with the intention of straightening my hair. The normal price was quoted at close to Yen10,000, and did not include shampoo, cut, treatment and other misc charges. I had initially asked for natural straight as I did not want to look like I clamped my hair with an iron and have it looking all flat and lifeless.
It came out pretty well, I must say. My hairstylist, Ken Sato taught me how to take care of my hair so that it would always look かっこいい(kakkoii)*. It was straight alright, but it had some volume and body to it as well. Plus, he was the creative director. Having a haircut with him would usually cost about Yen7,000 but I got some discount because my colleague used to work with him before.
So anyways, I went back feeling a little poorer but happy that I got myself a new hair. Since it cost me so much, it had to look good, and last quite some time too. But unfortunately, because the treatment wasn't as strong as I expected, my natural curls started to show at the roots. So my colleague recommended that I ask the hairstylist to have a look at it. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that they would "repair" it at no cost!
Talking about Japanese service, they're really top-notch anywhere. Compare what happened at my 2nd visit, even though it was free and this re-do itself would have cost at least another Yen10,000. I'll try to translate this as close to its English equivalent as much as possible:
Ken : I'm so sorry about this. We'll try to fix this for you today.
Me : Okay! (smiles, but delirious inside)
Ken runs his fingers through my hair, assessing the next step.
Ken : Let's get your hair washed first. Step this way please.
Ken swivels my chair and shows the way to the washing area.
Washing Grrl (WG) : Please have a seat here. I'll be washing your hair today.
WG lowers the chair and puts a face cloth over my face, to ensure that my face is "protected", then proceeds to wash my hair.
WG : Is the water temperature fine with you?
Me : It's fine.
WG scrubs gently, massages a little.
WG : Now I will put on the conditioner for you.
Me : OK!
After hair is washed and done, WG squeezes the water off my hair.
WG : I will dry your hair.
WG takes off the face cloth and carefully dries my hair with a clean towel, tucking it in properly before straightening the chair back.
WG : Thank you for being patient. This way please, back to your chair.
And I'm ushered back to the main salon area where Ken comes back to attend to me. And the remaining hours was between him and a few other hairstylist who took turns to do the whole treatment again, minus the very expensive haircut of course. This time I even got a little massage at the end, think they noticed I was getting a stiff back after sitting there for a few hours. But throughout it all, they were so polite and kept saying things like "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting", "Please wait a little more for the treatment" & "Please follow me".
In Malaysia, the above would have just been :
Hairstylist : What? Your hair curly already ar? You want to do again or not?
Me : Erm, ya, is that possible?
Hairstylist : Sure, of course can. Must pay a bit la.
Me : Huh? Er... (thinks again about going through the whole process AND having to pay for it).
And even if they did offer to re-do the whole thing, or for a normal visit to the hair salon, I would probably get something like this :
Hairstylist : Come, wash hair.
Hairstylist quickly walks off to the washing area and waits for client. Then proceeds to shampoo the hair and taking the opportunity to sink in her nails into client's scalp. Saying nothing much, proceeds to put conditioner and finishes the whole process while drops of water and some foam falls off client's hair to the face. Client has to wipe the residue off herself.
Hairstylist : Ok, finish!
Hairstylist then just walks back to the main salon area and waits for client. Then proceeds to do whatever the client requested.
Of course, some of the more upscale salons or those you've been regularly going to will treat you better, talk to you and make light conversation with you while they do their thing. But I must test this out myself when I go back to Malaysia and see if there are those rare salons that treat you like the Japanese ones do.
So even though I pay quite a lot for my hair, I'm getting excellent service. The Japanese customers are a pampered lot. They know what quality is and are willing to pay for it. But I pity those who work in the service industry. Bending over the back to satisfy a customer must be stressful!
* kakkoii - attractive, good-looking, stylish