Finding an English-speaking hairdresser in Tokyo who’s not only familiar with Western hair but affordably priced too can be more challenging than saying Azabu Juban 20 times in a row—but that’s where Ai Nomura comes in (plus she’ll give you a special Tokyo Cheapo discount too! details at the end).
With two years of training in London and a year in Australia, Ai has all the practice and fluency needed to make sure your new hairstyle doesn’t get lost in translation. We went to meet Ai and have a chat about all the things that matter when it comes to hair—from the latest Japanese trends to Justin Bieber and learning the hard way in London ….
From Hokkaido to London
Born in Hokkaido, Ai was inspired by her next-door neighbor: a hairdresser who would often do the family’s cuts. Once, after being given a brand-new style, she remembers feeling “Like a whole new person, like it was magic,” and decided then and there that this was her future career. An intense choice to be made at the age of six, but Ai stuck with her dream and succeeds in bringing that same magical feeling to her own customers every day.
After moving to Tokyo, Ai graduated from high school and proceeded to training college. In Japan, a full license is required for all practicing hairdressers—with written exams, practical tests and training for two years followed by work at a salon afterwards. Needless to say, the training is tough, and allows the heads of Japan to rest safely in the knowledge that whoever cuts their hair has passed the tough requirements of the national standard.
Of her classmates, Ai was the adventurer—having been told by a friend’s mother that hairdressing was a skill to travel the world with, she decided this was her chance. The only one to travel abroad, she left her fellow graduates in Tokyo and began to narrow down her list of destinations. Keen to learn English and tempted by the ease of the working holiday visa, the UK won hands down (sorry-not-sorry, America) and Ai left for new adventures.
Although there was plenty of work available in Japanese salons, she was keen to learn about Western hair, as her training so far had only ever taught skills for Japanese hair. She applied and applied, eventually being given a spot in a small salon—and thus the learning curve began. “Foils!! SO many Foils!” was Ai’s exclamation when asked what she had learned the fastest, and it’s true, we Brits do love our highlights.
Ai’s hair skills soon gathered a loyal following. She was quickly comfortable with the nuances of Western hair, but found that with the wonderful diversity of London, there were many different textures and styles to learn.
Back to Tokyo, via Australia
After two years living the London high-life, it was time for Ai to move on, but she wasn’t ready to return home just yet. Keen to learn more, she moved to Australia for a year and began working in a barber’s. A new learning curve ahead, it was quite different from the foils of London. “Short back and sides—everyone, that was what we did all day everyday—sometimes up to 20 people a day!” Perfecting her men’s styling, Ai explained, was a great opportunity, as she learned how to achieve a great look whatever the texture.
There were some far-out requests though: “Many Japanese people would come in requesting a David Beckham or Justin Bieber style, which is just impossible; we had to explain products were the only way.” The number of customers arriving clutching photos of Japanese celebrities as inspiration was low, but manga styles were a favorite of the Australian-Japanese community, and equally unrealistic. “It’s not a real hairstyle!! Ai sighed. “It is impossible.”
Australia’s residents brought their own character-building experiences, which would definitely not be seen in Japan. Ai details a bargaining discussion with a crying mid-foiled customer who was extremely high and desperate to go to 7-11 as one that she is sure would never happen here. One of the major differences, Ai explained, between the job in Japan and in Western countries, was the close relationship customers and stylists have. Abroad, she would be greeted with a hug, get to know all about the families and adventures of her customers, but not so much in Japan.
Armed with new skills and a new-found appreciation for the more sober, if more distanced customers, Ai is back and has been surprised by the new trends here in Tokyo. “Greige—a mix of grey and beige—is so popular now, we have people requesting it all the time, all different ages—that definitely wasn’t as popular in Australia as it is here.” Nicer than it sounds, the greige popularity highlights the changing attitudes to colored hair in Japan. “More people have dyed their hair now definitely, but there is still a stigma when it comes to big companies and getting jobs.” Times may be changing, but very slowly.
Forging ahead as an English-speaking hairdresser in Tokyo
Since the textures are so different, Ai explained, she soon grew to prefer Western hair and the varieties it offered, with the thinner hair being easier to manage and style. “Japanese hair is thick and more difficult to manage; it needs a lot of thinning out to get texture.” The sudden appearance of the thinning scissors being every Westerner’s panic-point when in a Japanese salon, this understanding will come as a relief. Foils, layers and styling is all a walk in the park these days, and although Ai has been back in Japan for almost two years, she is enjoying having foreign customers at her new Omotesando salon.
Having cut the hair of customers ranging from 0 to 100 years old, with everything from up-dos for weddings to bleaching and of course highlighting, Ai can tackle any hair challenge, and comes with the TokyoCheapo stamp of approval. We have bargained long and hard to get our fellow cheapos a discount on their first appointment, so if you’re in need of a trim or a full-blown re-style—look no further for an English-speaking hairdresser in Tokyo!
The New Salon
Returning to the salon where she started her career, Ai is now located in Omote-sando, at the brand new Tokyo branch of Baroque. Since all staff speak English and are great with Western hair (having trained abroad) if Ai is booked up you’ll be safe in the hands of the team.
As well as cuts and coloring, the salon owner has developed a perm for Western hair, so if you’re looking for some long-lasting waves or a straighter style, this is a great option.
Prices and booking
So, all of this is great to know, but what you actually need are the prices, right? They are already really reasonable (have you looked at other hair salons in Tokyo?), and then, there’s also the reader discount …
Cut (including shampoo and blowdry): ¥6,480
Wash and blow-dry: ¥3,240
Full color: from ¥6,480 to ¥10,800
Full Highlight: from ¥8,640 to ¥10,800
Perm (including cut, shampoo and blowdry): ¥12,960
If you book a session with Ai Nomura using our special cheapo form, you get a discount—so go on, get stylish.
A famous park, a former black market and a whole heap of museums—get to know Ueno: