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Tamer Chapatsu Hair Colors Take Hold

February 3, 1999

Dyeing or bleaching one's hair was once a form of rebellion among a limited number of young people. But since the mid-1990s chapatsu (literally, brown hair) has gradually come into the mainstream, becoming a socially accepted hair style. The word recently even found itself into the latest edition of one of Japan's most authoritative dictionaries, Kojien. Just as it appeared that chapatsu was here to stay, however, the craze began to fade, giving way to a greater diversity of colors and techniques. What have been main factors behind these shifting trends?

A Personal Statement
Chapatsu is one of the approximately 10,000 new entries that were added to the newest edition of Kojien, published in November 1998. It defines the term as hair dyed or bleached noticeably brown. The publisher, Iwanami Shoten, explains that chapatsu made the list of new entries because the word had established itself as part of the daily Japanese vocabulary.

Chapatsu is generally achieved either by bleaching or by dyeing; sometimes both processes are used to allow the dye to penetrate deeply into each strand. The chapatsu fire was lit in the early 1990s among high school girls, after which it spread to women in their twenties--who found that it augmented their clothes and makeup or matched their suntans--and even to young men.

Recently, however, people have begun to seek hair-coloring options that are a little more sophisticated than the attention-calling chapatsu. Beauticians who regularly color customers' hair generally agree that chapatsu is no longer the only thing people ask for. Now, it is a matter of "to each their own" regarding hair color. While brown continues to be popular, hair-dye customers now often ask for a textured look with several different shades of the color. The chapatsu craze has not died out altogether; it has simply mellowed.

Post-Chapatsu Fashion
Why is it that the most ostentatious form of chapatsu, which was what actually sparked the craze, now passe? One follower of fashion explains: "Chapatsu originated among high school girls as a form of rebellion against an education system that smothered them in rules and regulations." School uniforms, for example, did not allow them any room for self-expression, so students decided to color their hair to assert their individuality.

Chapatsu subsequently evolved from a limited practice among high school girls into a respectable hair style for people of all ages and either sex. Chapatsu was accepted by society, and with this, the trend watcher explains, "it lost its effectiveness as a tool for rebellion."

Another explanation holds that today's high school students are simply more conservative than their elders. One sociologist sees a recurring pattern where a particularly progressive generation of youths is followed by one that--at least on the surface--espouses conformist values and is in turn succeeded by a more adventurous group. As the generation that resisted established norms moves into adulthood and a conservative lot becomes the new trendsetters, it is only natural for outward manifestations of that resistance--garish chapatsu, for example--to leave the fashion arena with them.

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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.

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