June 20th, 2012By Category: Culture

I’m going to let you all in on a little secret. . . I’m not a real blonde.

Gasp! Shock! The horror! I get all kinds of reactions after telling Japanese people this. They all just assume that my hair is natural, with it’s lightened colour and it’s subtle highlights. Perhaps they want it to be natural, re-affirming everything they have ever know about the west.

Being blonde in Japan is potentially more frightening than just being a foreigner. You do stand out more, even amongst Japanese people who have lightened their hair. As my Japanese co-workers tell me, my hair makes me “meccha gaijin” (super foreign) so much so that there is little possibility that I can ever walk around Osaka inconspicuously.

But that is all part and parcel of being foreign in this country. No matter how long I stay here, it’s something that I can never get used to. I have never been more self conscious than I have living in this country.The strangest stares I get, however, are not the ones from passers-by on the street, nor from the older men and women in my neighbourhood. No, in fact the worst offenders, believe it or not, are hairdressers.

I can’t even walk past a hair salon’s window without being pointed at. Each time, I wonder if they do this for every foreigner. Are they pointing because they like my hair, or because they think it’s ridiculous? So many questions, not enough answers, so much so that I’ve started avoiding certain shop windows. While the staring can sometimes be a real pain, having dyed hair in Japan boasts another problem – eventually you’re going to need to get it redone. Thus, you are going to need to visit one of said Japanese hair salons.

My first hairdresser here was a crazy young man whose salon was conveniently located around the corner from my apartment.

Mistake number one: never go to a hairdresser simply because of proximity to residence.

The man was beyond nice but he didn’t speak any English, so I had to rely on my awful Japanese skills just to make small talk. It also didn’t help that I was his only ever foreign client (I used to live on the outskirts of the Osaka prefecture). He was so overly excited to have me as a client that every time I walked past the window, he would wave like a lunatic, sometimes even coming out to talk to me. Eventually I started walking around the other way just to avoid him, even though it was the longer way around.

As for the actual hairdressing, he basically did nothing more than bleach my hair. Tons of bleach once every ten weeks. My hair was starting to look so platinum in colour that  I could have moved into the playboy mansion. The experience of going to a Japanese hair salon is one of those things that every body will do at least once here. It is a little different to the salons that I frequented back home in Sydney. I can describe it only as quality customer service mixed with a little Japanese quirkiness. For instance, the crazy man used to wash my hair, dry it all, colour it, wash it out, then dry it again. There were so many steps involved it seemed almost tedious. Lucky for me, I could just pretend I was asleep during the shampoo part.

Speaking of the shampoo part, the first time my head leaned back into the basin my hairdresser laid a small square of fabric (not unlike the fabric used for masks) over my face, obscuring my eyes and mouth. I’m sure it’s meant to be a hygienic thing but it totally freaked me out, especially because it didn’t make breathing easy.

Then there’s the grand finale, where they make you stand up, brush you off, then walk around you like a model booking agent, fixing your hair so it’s ‘just right’ and adjusting any flaws that they see. It’s not a comfortable experience and usually, I’ll secretly fix it myself once I get around the corner anyway.

Apart from these few differences, the salon experience here feels very much like home. It is expensive (for a cut, colour and blow-dry, I can pay anywhere between ¥10,000 and ¥15000) but it’s something that I do just for me, something that I really enjoy…

Something that I have to do to keep the awful, dirty blonde/brown natural colour away.

Note: I have since moved cities and no longer see the crazy man. Nowadays, I’m getting my hair done at KSNY in Nakatsu, Osaka – where everyone speaks English and the colourist knows exactly how to treat blonde hair.

Author of this article

Emma Perry

Emma is a kindergarten teacher and freelance writer living in Osaka, Japan. Originally from Sydney, Australia, she enjoys travelling (mostly to warm places), meeting awesome people, watching Rugby and riding roller coasters. You can read more of her work at

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  • Lindsay Trumper says:

    Hello! I currently live in Matsusaka in Mie prefecture and I am having a nightmare getting my hair dyed blonde. It has literally been rainbow coloured and is currently ginger (by accident) Hairdressers here have no idea what to do with my hair… especially as it is naturally curly and i mostly leave the salon a total frizz bomb. How expensive is the salon in Osaka?? Thank youuu xx

  • Petrie says:

    I don’t know if you’ll see this, but what products do you use on your bleached hair? There aren’t a whole lot of options in my area :/

  • Hollie Baker says:

    This is sad 🙁 I am an almond colored blonde haired girl and recently went to China. I was having the same problems with people there. Random people would come up to me and stare at me. Going through my hotel every morning and every night was like walking through a zoo. I even had a restaurant chef come out to me while eating and told one of the translators I was with that he liked my head/hair. I had young guys stare at me while coming out of the bathroom. I didn’t enjoy it but at the same time I reveled in the fact that I was different from them. Next time I go I would hopefully know Mandarin Chinese so I can hear their sneers and giggles and understand what they’re saying. I would never change the color of my hair just because I’m visiting a different country. Be happy you have such a different hair color and explain to them how much you love it!