The occasional trip to the barber is an essential part of most lives. Getting trimmed down and maintaining a put-together image does not only make a good impression to the people around us — be it at work or just the people you hang out with regularly — but it also makes yourself feel good.
The Japanese people are quite obsessed with their visual presentation, especially in terms of grooming. Walk down any street in Japan and you’ll come across not one or two but at least five different barbershops and salons. More often than not they’re priced at a premium cost because the Japanese would never compromise on quality and service. With such a concentrated market, it can be quite confusing as to which one to set your mind on for your regular haircut fit.
When you find the right barber that does your ideal haircut perfectly, you’d tend to stick to the same one for a while, just because you know they can deliver what you want and also out of convenience of having to explain again and again the way you want your haircut to be. But when you move or travel to a different country like Japan, there are countless things to consider before walking into a random barbershop to get your haircut fix. Not only will the language barrier be a huge challenge, but you’ll never know if the barber has the skills you’re looking for. With this ultimate guide, you’ll be decided on your choice of a barber in Japan in no time!
The Barbershop And Salon Market in Japan
It’s no secret that Japan has quite a market for barbershops and salons. It’s not uncommon to have Japanese friends that are working as a hairstylist or barber — there are countless barbershops and salons in the country that it’s quite likely for the locals to be working in one.
In the previous years, the barber market had to face a slight decline because of the smaller numbers of professional barbers, chains providing less expensive services as well as the customer’s switch to salons. While the barber market decreases, the salon market increases. Many are looking for a slightly more luxurious hair treatment on top of their standard haircut — which a barbershop can’t provide but a salon can.
In recent years, however, the barber industry had brushed up on what they were lacking. While the younger generation is more prone to go to a salon, there is still a group of people looking for lower-priced haircuts and specialized services like haircut-only. The barber market has since then maintained a consistent profit as businesses as a whole.
Throughout it all, the salon market has had quite a handful of success after success, with its profit more than doubled of the barber market for a constant few years. It is no surprise though, as the salons are getting both male and female customers while barbershops have to solely rely on male customers looking for shorter, dapper haircuts.
Difference Between A Barbershop and Salon in Japan
The line that used to be so clear between a barbershop and a salon has been blurred in recent years, and more so than ever in Japan. It was quite clear before that a barber specializes in shorter, traditional haircuts like a flattop, buzzcut, fade, and military-style while stylists at a salon are more experienced and knowledgeable on longer hairstyles, treatment, and color.
The market in Japan has since been evolving, and the barbers are more skilled with styling longer hairs while the stylists are more adept at using clippers for the classic haircuts for men. Despite the difference not being as clear as before and both barbers and stylists could pretty much do everything under the sun, it is a given that a barbershop in Japan specializes in classic, traditional cuts and salons are for the longer, modern hairstyles.
What To Consider When Choosing A Barber
Choosing the right barber is just as important as choosing the right hairstyle that best suits you. Every barber excels at one specific point more than the other, and that is the same in Japan. Some of the key points to take into account when choosing a barber includes your price range, where the barbershop is located, how well-known they are, and how convenient you want the barbershop to be (in terms of communication, for example.
• Cost: Budget or Splurge
Barbershops can be really affordable and really expensive in Japan. It can ball down to your preference — are you looking for a basic cut and trim or are you looking to have add-on services? Normally, a classic cut can range from ¥1,000 to ¥3,000. Some barbershops do charge quite high for a standard cut for their base price compared to others, starting off at ¥5,000, partly because of the quality of service or the products and tools they use.
When choosing a barbershop, some might want to prioritize convenience over anything else. This can come in the form of time and ease in communicating. If the barbershop has no advance appointment system set up, you might need to come well in advance to secure a slot for the day. Even though the barber would give an estimated time for your slot, it might exceed as the Japanese are very particular with providing the best attention and service to every customer.
Another convenience to consider is whether or not the barbershop provides English-speaking service. Most of the time, they do not. Japan’s first language is Japanese, and while they learn English in school, it’s best not to expect everyone to be fluent in it. Some people would prefer to have the ease of communicating with the barber on their wants for their visit and would rather pick a barbershop with an English-speaking barber. There are others who have no Japanese skills and put in the extra effort of translating their wants and needs into Japanese, but this can be a challenge and a heap of extra time spent. Hence why some would rather go to an English-friendly barbershop for convenience in terms of both time and communication.
Some barbershops have quite a reputation — the people on the streets talk about it all the time and bookings for the barbershop have to be made well in advance just to book your preferred slot. Most of the time, these barbershops have extreme support of the word of mouth mostly because of their excellent quality and service, or specific popular and famous barbers. If you’re sticking it safe and would want assurance of the best cut, a reputable barbershop or barber is probably what you should consider. Do note that it’s highly likely that these barbershops and barbers charge above the average cost — who could blame them, they deserve every penny they get from the fine cuts they produce!
Depending on where you live in Japan for the expats or even travelers in Japan, the location might be of more importance than anything else. The reputable barbershops might be way out of one’s way or even in a different prefecture. A barbershop that is easy to get to due to its location being in the center of the city may be considered more often than the others, especially if you’re looking to visit the same one on a regular basis — some wouldn’t want to travel a significant amount of time just to get a haircut every few weeks or months.
What To Do Before Going To The Barber
Maybe in other countries, not much preparation is needed before going to the barbershop. In Japan, it might be a good idea to prepare certain things beforehand just so you won’t be wasting your trip down and then having to make another trip — or worse, get a horrible haircut! Take note of these before heading out to get your ideal haircut:
• Prepare an image
If your Japanese skills are a little below rusty or you don’t even know a single word, then you might want to consider preparing an image of your desired haircut before going to the barber. Having a few pictures from different sides and angles might be extremely helpful in communicating exactly what type of haircut you’re looking for. You know what they say — a picture speaks a thousand words!
• Practice describing your ideal haircut
If you want to take that extra step, try practicing how to describe your ideal haircut in Japanese. Either translate it online or have someone translate it for you for that extra security of getting your perfect haircut. Just having keywords and even add a few hand gestures and actions can help.
• Make an appointment
Even though most, if not some, barbershops accept walk-ins, it’s more recommended to make an appointment on the barbershop’s desired means of communication — it can be through the telephone, website, social media or even visiting the barbershop in person. This can save you so much time waiting for your slot if there’s a significant number of customers that day and gives you a sense of relief that you’re absolutely going to get your haircut rather than coming down another day — there might be situations where the barbershop might request that you visit a different day as they’re fully booked without reservation.
Recommended Barbers in Japan
With all that talk on the barbershop market in Japan and what to consider and do before going to one, there are definitely barbers and barbershops that have been highly recommended by locals and foreigners alike. These barbershops can range from affordable to expensive, common to exclusive. Depending on what you are looking for specifically, there’s definitely one that suits your preference from this list.
• QB House
This barbershop is one of the most famous ones in all of Japan. QB House has outlets spread out all across the country, and you definitely won’t have a hard time finding one in the central city areas. Not only are they located conveniently with the ones in the city centers potentially having English-speaking barbers, but QB House is also extremely known for its ¥1,000 haircut done under ten minutes. Unfortunately, there isn’t an advance booking system set up. Customers are expected to get a ticketing queuing number on the day itself. Affordable, efficient, and convenient in many ways, QB House is a go-to for quite a number of people in Japan — local or not.
FaSS is short for “Fast Salon for Slow Life”, but while they are known as a salon, they can also double as a barbershop. While it’s slightly more expensive than QB House, it’s for good purpose — FaSS not only provides classic haircuts like any other barbershops but also an add-on styling service. An average cut is about ¥2,000. Even though there isn’t any advanced booking system for this barbershop-salon, it is possible to check online on how busy a specific outlet can get — and they have multiple outlets all around the country.
Known to be Tokyo’s #1 English-friendly hair salon, Assort also has quite a number of customers that request for services you’ll only get at a classic barbershop. Because of that, Assort has started to offer classic haircuts only available at barbershops at their hair salon, training their stylists to learn the techniques of a barber. Most of their customers are foreigners, regardless of whether they are expats or tourists, and Assort’s barbers and stylists have had experience internationally. Their standard haircut can start from ¥5,000 — for a higher price you can expect a luxury treatment and service, for sure.
• Wolfman Barber Shop
On the list of reputable barbershops is Wolfman Barber Shop. If you’re looking for a classic 1930s barbershop experience complete with the decoration and ambiance to boot in the heart of Tokyo with the full English-friendly service, this is the one-stop for you! Located in Jingumae, one of the most tourist-populated neighborhoods in the city, Wolfman Barber Shop often gets foreign customers, both expats and tourists looking for a fresh cut at a quality barbershop. Get an exclusive consultation on what cut suits your face shape and physical appearance only at this extravagant barbershop.
• Mr. Brothers Cut Club
Be a part of the cool club at Mr. Brothers Cut Club. Every barber at this classic barbershop is fully equipped with the skills and knowledge of a professional barber anywhere. Some of them were even trained overseas with experiences working in cities like New York — so you will definitely be able to get an English-speaking barber. Having two locations, one at Harajuku and another at Naka-Meguro, you won’t have any trouble commuting to them since they’re right smack in the center of town. From traditional cuts to hot towel shaves, expect the classic, quality treatment at Mr. Brothers Cut Club!
While it wouldn’t be as effortless to find a barbershop in Japan as it is in some other countries, it definitely isn’t impossible to locate the right one just for you. Once you identify what you prioritize for your ideal haircut and make the necessary preparations beforehand, you’ll be set up with a regular barber at your ideal barbershop in Japan in absolutely no time!