Chica Nobata: Hairdressing in Japan
Chica is currently working at the Blatto hair salon in Amsterdam. Blatto in Japanese can be loosely translated to something like “stop by”. And, this is exactly the kind of energy you receive as it welcomes you to enter. It’s spacious, creative, and always open to stop by for a conversation, hair advice, and of course to get your hair done.
Originally from Tokyo, Chica worked there in an international hair salon for a few years. An old colleague opened a hair salon in Amsterdam and asked her if she wanted to come work for him. It had always been a dream of hers to live in another country so she was ecstatic when the opportunity came her way. When there for the first time, Chica and I got into an interesting conversation about her culture and what the type of study it takes to become a hairdresser in Japan. Eager to learn more about Japanese culture we met again and got into a longer conversation about this, and other things.
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
At one point, I realized I love to make people pretty, and was actually already doing it from a young age. I love to do hair, make-up, and am interested in beauty in general. I never really do it for myself, but you hear that often from people working in the beauty industry (laughs). I also had a desire to be living abroad and to learn a foreign language. First I thought of learning English, but I figured I could learn it in another way than studying, since with my profession there’s a possibility to work abroad.
THE FIRST TIME I CAME BY WE TALKED ABOUT JAPANESE CULTURE AND YOUR EDUCATION. THE STUDY SEEMED VERY COMPLEX TO ME. WHAT ARE THE COURSES TO BECOME A HAIRDRESSER IN JAPAN LIKE?
The study in Japan is really elaborate and good, at least in Tokyo, where I finished my studies and worked in different salons. What you learn also depends on the salon you follow your education with. The first two years is dense with information about hair structure and how it grows, and we also learn about makeup and skincare. I think in Japan we view beauty as holistic, like we do with health. We get some theory on posture as well. This is important because as hairdressers we stand the whole day so we must be conscious of it. The first two years are mainly theoretical, but very in depth, followed by working four years in a salon. It’s kind of like an internship, but with exams. During the first year of salon work you’re only allowed to wash the client’s hair, which is so important because that’s the first connection with the client. It’s the moment where the client put their trust in your hands. By touching specific pressure points you can make the client more comfortable and further relaxed, and by washing your client’s hair you also get familiar with their hair structure. After this stage we learn about cutting, perming, winding, coloring and so on. Perming and winding are very hard as it can easily cause damage. For coloring, it’s important to look at the client's eye color and skin tone. Just an example of the importance of seeing overall beauty and hairdressing as something not separate. Along with many techniques, client etiquette is something we must also learn by observing every stylist’s interactions in the salon.
IT’S VERY INTERESTING THAT YOU MENTIONED HOW IN JAPAN IT’S IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT SOMEONE’S WHOLE APPEARANCE WHEN DOING HAIR. DO YOU THINK THAT JAPANESE AND DUTCH CULTURES HAVE A DIFFERENT VIEW ON BEAUTY?
I don’t know so much about Dutch culture yet, but Japanese culture is very much focused on beauty. Girls in Tokyo really strive for perfection when it comes to beauty. Hair, nails, make-up, eyelashes, everything needs to get done. I think the focus on appearance is huge. What I’ve observed so far is that Dutch women prefer to have a natural look, which I myself prefer as well. This is if we speak on physical beauty. I think beauty is actually a much broader term though, as it can go into design, food, flowers, interiors, etc. It's a huge part of Japanese culture. In Japan we tend to do things with a lot of care, traditional food culture is especially elaborate. In a traditional setting food would be served on many small plates, and every plate would have its own composition with food. As an example, when I was a child, at my grandparent’s, I used to get 20 different plates with small compositions of food, such as fish, fruit, or vegetables. But this isn’t really the case in a fast paced city like Tokyo, at least not on a daily basis. I really didn’t have the time to eat in Tokyo, so I used to eat a rice ball as lunch often. That’s a big difference.
WHAT DO YOU FEEL IS MOST IMPORTANT WHEN CUTTING SOMEONE'S HAIR? DO YOU LIKE TO DEVELOP A PERSONAL BOND?
It’s very important to understand what kind of hairstyle would fit the client. Of course the reason for doing someone's hair is different with every client, but if someone just wants a daily style, then it’s important to understand his or her lifestyle. Do they like to put a lot of effort in every morning, or is it someone who just wants to get out of bed, comb his hair and get out? For example when coloring or perming, the hair needs to have more care, and not everyone can be bothered. The person’s appearance is equally important, to see what goes well with the client’s face, body type, and clothing style. I usually ask a lot of questions, partly to further understand the things I’ve mentioned, and also because I actually do want to develop a personal bond. During my time in Tokyo, working in an international hair salon, I had the opportunity to develop friendships with some of my clients, which I truly honor and respect.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU, BOTH TO DO HAIR AND IN LIFE?
When I'm doing someone's hair I mostly get inspired by the client his/herself. I also love to observe people, talk to people, to watch people in the streets. I’m inspired by pretty much everything, like a cup of coffee or a beautiful designed plate. I just really like to surround myself with beauty and beautiful things. I like to get inspired by flowers and connect them to hair. At a young age I would go visit the countryside to learn more about living in nature. I still love to go in nature and really connect with it.
BEING FROM TOKYO, DO YOU MISS THE CITY SINCE YOU ARE HERE IN AMSTERDAM? WHAT DO YOU MISS THE MOST?
Actually I don’t really miss Tokyo a lot. In Amsterdam there is pretty much everything we have there. Except of course the food, family, and friends. Yes, I do miss them a lot, but luckily we live in an age where we can connect easily through internet. I still try to cook Japanese meals here, but I get inspired by different cultures, so I like to cook new meals as well. Here in Amsterdam, I enjoy eating bread with peanut butter and coffee for breakfast, while often in Tokyo I didn’t even have time to eat. I worked 16 hours a day, I would eat when I came home around 1 or 2 am. In the last salon I worked there wasn’t a lunch break, and in another other we had a 15 minute break, so a rice ball or some other snack would do it for me.
WHAT WERE THE FIRST THINGS YOU NOTICED WHEN ARRIVING IN EUROPE ABOUT CULTURAL DIFFERENCES?
I feel like in Amsterdam people are more caring about others and there is a very relaxed vibe which I really enjoy. Several times a day here, I’ve noticed that if something happens to someone, like they fall, people would inform others if the person is hurt. In Tokyo people would just keep walking passed. People in Tokyo are so focused on getting where they need to go. There’s a lot of work pressure, you must be on time. It’s still really hierarchical. On the train for example, no one would excuse themselves if you were pushed, and I actually see that a lot in Amsterdam. It's such a contradiction in Japan how we are so busy with our own lives, and don’t pay attention to others on the train, but at the same time at work we are hyper focused on others - doing the very best for the salon, group, the client, and the salon’s reputation. And, working in an international hair salon in Tokyo is even stricter than a Japanese one.
When I started work in Amsterdam I tried managing the salon a different group-form way, and I think it’s worked out. In this salon we function as a group without hierarchy, much more relaxed. Of course we still take a lot of care in doing our best for the client and the salon. I also feel like people tend to be more open here, there’s always room for a small talk in a store setting. In Tokyo it’s a very formal and polite culture between the client and a cashier.
WHAT WOULD YOU ADVICE TO SOMEONE GOING TO TOKYO FOR THE FIRST TIME?
Tokyo is really big and fast-paced. We have some old architecture that’s interesting, but I would advice to try to find a local guide who can take you to a very traditional restaurant, or some place like that.
WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO IN YOUR FREE TIME?
I mostly like to talk with friends, go for coffee, and shop, but I also enjoy doing photography, and looking at pictures to get inspired. I also love to travel and learn !more about other cultures.
WHAT IS YOUR LIFE PHILOSOPHY?
Actually I let life come to me as it may. Partly I have to, because I’m really bad at taking control (laughs). But, I also like to get surprised with where life takes me. I love to have unexpected meetings. I'm really open to exploring new things.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEAS OR THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE, FOR YOURSELF, AND FOR THE WORLD?
For my personal future I would love to settle down somewhere, keep working with hair, and maybe something else for myself on the side. I would like to learn another language. I don’t dream about owning a business, but I’d love to develop myself in a different direction. To be honest I don’t really have a great focus on society, but I would hope that the trend of getting to know other cultures and appreciating them will continue. I really hope that in Japan some things like work-life balance will improve. I also feel like in Western countries there is more freedom and possibility to develop yourself and really get to know yourself. I hope this idea will come to Japan as well. Japan is still very traditional regarding getting married before a certain age and things like that. I don’t feel like that is necessarily bad, but a little more freedom and time would be great.
To try a Japanese haircut yourself, visit Blatto Amsterdam