Useful Japanese for Getting a Haircut

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Photo by Becca Miller Design

One of the things that Asian people like to do after New Year is change their image. You will often see your co-workers return after their holidays with new haircuts and sporting a different kind of fashion. If you would like to surprise them in turn, it may be time to change your style too and welcome the new business year in with a little bit of finesse.

Luckily for English speakers, most of the words that Japanese people use for hairstyling are taken from English. A haircut is a カット, shampooing is シャンプー, getting your hair colored is a カラー, a treatment is a トリートメント, a perm is a パーマ, and getting your hair blow-dried is a ブロー.

Looking the part

Where the Japanese terms get more interesting is in the cuts’ names. Obviously the fringe/ bangs are the front ( mae) part of the hair ( kami), so the Japanese word for this is appropriately 前髪 maegami. Similarly, a parting divides (分ける wakeru) hair into sections ( me), so is appropriately called a 分け目 wakeme.

Other partings are divided by how much of the hair you want to part. If you divide in the middle it is obviously a センター分け. If you get it parted on the side, usually 70% of the hair is on one side and 30% on the other, therefore the Japanese word is a 七三shichi san分け, literally a ‘7:3 divide’.

Let’s imagine that you wanted to go extreme by shaving off the middle part of your hair and putting up the remainder in a ponytail. Amazingly, Japanese has a word for this exact situation. This haircut is known as a ちょんまげ over here and will get you extra kudos in the office for being awesome enough to attempt this look as it’s the haircut of samurai and sumo wrestlers.

Dyeing for a new look

If you fancy an eye-catching change that doesn’t involve stripping off most of your hair, a less drastic solution is to dye (染める someru) your locks. To get some more color in your hair, choose your desired color from the selection and then say (COLOR)に染めてください.

The Barcode

Of course, I would be lying if I said that I needed a haircut these days as I am heading into my balding forties. Surprisingly for a nation where very few people are bald, there are plenty of words for balding such as はげ from the verb 禿げる hageru (to lose hair).

Although the Japanese may have relatively few bald people compared to most Western nations, thanks to their stressful lifestyle and genetic factors, Japan has the highest balding rate amongst Asian nations according to a TripAdvisor survey. When many Japanese people go bald, they often lose hair in patches leaving only strips of hair that barely cover the forehead. As this makes the person look like they have a hairy barcode on their head, the cruel slang for this look is a バーコード.

If this makes it sound like getting a haircut done in Japan is tricky, it shouldn’t. The Japanese love of fashion and cool means that there are plenty of highly-skilled hairdressers just waiting to shape your locks into any style you’d like. If you are still worried, one of the easiest ways to ensure that you get a good haircut is to simply bring a photo of a model or actor who has the cut that you want and say: この写真 shashinのようにしてください (Please cut it like in this photo).

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