The natural hair color for Japanese people is generally black, of course. Long, black hair was a sign of beauty for women in the Heian period (794-1192), when Japan developed its own cultural preferences. This aesthetic ideal remained strong until a few years ago, when a hair-coloring craze started taking hold among women and the young crowd.
Using a dye to make grey hair look black is certainly not new. But dyeing hair some other shade was generally frowned upon, especially since schools and companies had rules against it for many years. Today, however, it's common to dye one's hair brown, and even "blondes" are not unusual in Japan. Startling colors like green, purple and pink are growing in popularity, instead of raising eyebrows as they once did.
The country's largest manufacturer of hair coloring products, Hoyu Hair Coloring, discovered in one survey that 68% of women in Japan had dyed their hair during 2001. Just five years before, in 1996, it seems that the ratio was only about 30%. The survey also found that even menmore than 20% of themcolored their hair during 2001. This means that almost half of all Japanese people used hair coloring during the year. And the percentage is expected to keep growing.
The main reason for this craze? We can point to media stars and athletes, especially soccer players. In a world where talent is so important, these performers play up their own individuality and personal appearance, to increase their impact.
Naito Kumiko is a hair-coloring consultant and conducts research for an association of professional beauticians. She says the craze took off in 1994. "We saw signs of it when the 1990s began, so the beauty industry decided to promote it more. Beauticians began suggesting new hair colors for their customers, and the industry launched a massive advertising campaign using different types of media."
Manufacturers got into the act, too, coming out with new colors and products that do minimal damage to the hair. People who had been wary of hair dyes, or not happy with the results, were soon coloring their hair and feeling good about it.
Gone are the days when dyeing one's hair was frowned upon, or at least viewed with surprise. Naito says, "The 1990s dramatically changed lifestyles and revolutionized the Japanese sense of beauty. In Japan, the 1990s were called the decade of the individual. Coloring one's hair was a way to run with the times."
Changing black hair into something more colorful opens up new possibilities in what to wear. One result has been a big change in youth fashion.