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Tokyo's Harajuku-Aoyama Area Becomes a Beauty Mecca

July 7, 1999

One beauty salon after another line the streets of Tokyo's Harajuku and Aoyama neighborhoods. It was in the late 1970s that they began moving into this part of the city--famed as a fashionable and upscale haunt for young people--and new salons subsequently sprang up as young beauticians branched off from well-known establishments to open their own shops. This trend, together with the drop in rents that followed the bursting of Japan's economic bubble, has transformed the area into a beauty mecca boasting some 600 salons. Amid Japan's beauty craze, several establishments have risen to celebrity status.

Women's magazines now carry features on hairstyling in nearly every issue, and the more popular salons are thronged by reporters from 10 or more magazines each month. These stories cover every little detail, right down to the kind of lifestyles the hair designers lead, and have elevated a number of beauticians into superstars.

A Nationwide "Hair Tour"
The most popular salons are Hair Dimension and Acqua, known for their celebrity-studded customer roster. And the top "super stylist" at the moment is Michio Nozawa of Acqua.

Acqua is probably Japan's best-known beauty salon. It opened a store in Harajuku in 1994 and now also has a shop in Aoyama. In 1997 one of Acqua's co-owners, Takechiyo Ayanokoji, organized a series of hairstyling-and-makeup demonstrations nationwide that was labeled a "Live Hair Tour." Ayanokoji set up the tour, he says, because "I wanted to define the essentials of what it means to be a hair designer and convey that to the public through the media." The tour's final "performance," held at Budokan, a multipurpose arena in Tokyo, drew an audience of about 10,000 and instantly cast Acqua into the limelight. A video of the event sold 20,000 copies.

Acqua is transcending conventional notions of a beauty salon, even publishing photo collections. Despite the youth of Acqua stylists (the average age being 23), they are big earners; one designer has rung up sales of 500,000 yen (over 4,000 dollars at 120 yen to the dollar) in a single day and 7 million yen (more than 58,000 dollars) in one month. The customers come from all over the country--from as far north as Hokkaido and as far south as Okinawa--just to get their hair done at Acqua.

This "super salon's" top stylist and co-owner, Michio Nozawa, not only designs hair but also contributes regularly to magazines and appears frequently on TV and radio. Using ancient art books borrowed from an archeologist, Nozawa studied the plastic arts to formulate his own aesthetic theory. Having researched hair design from a variety of angles -- facial shapes, features, and balance; as well as ways to create illusory effects -- Nozawa has learned to make just about any style look good on anyone. This skill has earned him a large and faithful following.

Darlings of the Media
Television broadcasters, who are quick to catch onto any trend, have quite naturally turned the spotlight on super-idols like Nozawa. Since mid-April, a program has been on the air that is probably the world's first series to showcase hairstylists in competition. The program, "Scissors League," pits hairstylists from two of Tokyo's most popular salons (like Acqua and Hair Dimension) each week in a battle over cutting technique and artistic taste. The contestants have 15 minutes to produce the hairstyle of the week: bob, layer, shag, or what have you.

Suddenly, more and more young people are setting their sights on hair superstardom. The number of people who applied to a beauty school last fall rose by 16% over the previous year's figure. New beauty schools are springing up one after another; within Tokyo alone, seven new schools have applications pending for permission to open. The beauty industry will urgently need new talent to keep up with the current demand for salon services. The industry's ability to nurture talented hairstylists will determine whether the beauty boom fizzles or continues to grow.

The popular Harajuku and Aoyama salons are being deluged with job applications. Hair Dimension is currently attracting 10 times as many applicants as there are jobs, and Acqua 100 times as many. From among the talented few who manage to squeeze through these hallowed gates, some new stars will surely emerge.

Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.