April 9, 2017 11:00 am JST

Sightseers in Japan stop to raise their own kawaii quotients

Salons getting steady stream of tourists seeking cute hairdos, 'lucky nails'

SATOKO IDO and RINTARO HOSOKAWA, Nikkei staff writers

Before: A tourist from Hong Kong gets the lowdown on kawaii haircuts from a stylist in Japan.

TOKYO -- As the recent buying frenzy among foreign tourists in Japan has subsided, visitors seem to have found another inspiration: Japanese techniques of creating a cute look by sprucing up their hair, nails or face.

At noon on March 17, a 40-year-old tourist from Hong Kong visited a hair salon named allys hair at the Shinsaibashi OPA shopping center in Osaka.

She told a hairstylist about the hairstyle she wanted, choosing to get a perm and dye it a light color that matched the spring weather.

A regular customer at the salon, she has visited more than five times. Her last visit was six months ago.

Every time she comes to Japan for sightseeing, she gets a haircut, she said.

By 2 p.m., the whole procedure was done, and her look had changed considerably, with her hair now a pinkish color and falling in loose waves.

The tourist showed off her new look to her friends by posting pictures of herself on Instagram.

Salon trend

In recent years, a growing number of foreign tourists have been going to beauty salons in Japan.

According to Osaka-based Forcise, the number of foreign customers visiting the five salons the company manages in Osaka and Tokyo, including allys hair, in 2016 surged 50% on the year to some 600 people.

As for why the Hong Kong tourist bothers to get her hair done in Japan, she said Hong Kong haircuts take longer and are more expensive.

The woman also said that hairstylists in Japan are professional and are good at achieving a natural, cute look that suits each individual customer.

In a survey, beauty research agency Hot Pepper Beauty Academy asked women in Asia in their 20s to 40s to pick the country with the most fascinating beauty industry. Japan topped the ranking, with 64%, followed by South Korea's 57%.

The Hong Kong tourist agreed that Japan leads Asia in the field of beauty.

Hairstylists in Japan enjoy a good reputation.

A manager of hair salons in Shanghai and elsewhere who inspected the Harajuku branch of the MINX hair salon on March 17 in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward said that Japanese stylists are the best in Asia. The manager said that they excel in creating a natural, soft look.

The key is "kawaii" -- "cute" -- a hallmark of Japanese culture.

The Hong Kong tourist said that Japanese kawaii is a natural beauty, while South Korea's beauty, in her view, feels somewhat artificial.

Japanese women develop the skills to make themselves appear cute and natural, probably because they tend to have a negative body image.

A survey by a German research agency found that Japan ranked at the bottom out of 22 countries in terms of individuals' satisfaction with their own physical appearance. The survey covered 27,000 people in those countries.

Nail salon

Nail salons are another place where kawaii is booming.

At the Nail Quick salon at the Ikebukuro Sunshine City commercial facility in Tokyo's Toshima Ward, two Chinese women in their 20s and 40s opted for this year's lucky nail designs created with advice from Dr. Copa, a Japanese feng sui master.

The number of foreign visitors who come to the salon has been on the rise since about a year ago and at least several of them visit the salon a week.

"Recently, we have days when all our customers are foreigners," said a nail technician at the salon. "Many customers are not only from Asia but also the Middle East and Europe."

The technician said that the Japanese-style dainty designs such as cherry blossoms in spring and goldfish in summer are popular among foreigners, many of whom said they opted for "cute." These designs also use glittery materials similar to the lucky nails.

She said that some of the customers even requested nails sporting kanji Chinese characters. Nail art with sushi designs has also created a huge stir.

Makeup products

Kawaii is becoming a keyword among foreign shoppers at drugstores as well.

Products that sell well are shifting from basic skin-care products such as face masks, face washes and skin lotions, to makeup items -- the tools customers need to attain the "cute" look.

According to Customer Communications, a provider of customer trend data, sales of blush, eyebrow products and lipstick in January this year were up 10-40% over the same period last year.

Foreign visitors are "increasingly buying drugstore products for themselves," said a Customer Communications senior official.

That is a change from the recent past, when the trend was to buy the products in bulk as souvenirs, the official said.

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