I know a total of five words in Japanese: Good morning, hello, thank you, yes and no. And yet, I decide that getting my hair cut and colored in a country where I cannot communicate is a good idea.
It all started when Natalie and I went for a much, let me repeat, MUCH needed pedicure. After three months on the road, let’s just say our feet were “rough.” When we could no longer stand their dilapidated condition, we ventured out in search of a nail place.
We walked down the street perpendicular to our hostel in Tokyo, careful to cross at the crosswalk only when the indicator turned green. We’ve learned that abiding by rules and conformity is highly valued in this culture.
Besides not seeing a single person jaywalk in the week I’ve been here, I’ve discovered that the Japanese people don’t show their toes, wear shoes inside or use sunglasses. And they don’t talk loudly, demonstrate any type of aggression or eat and drink in public.
But they do like super advanced toilets that are smarter than some computers…
and they love their bakeries and sweets!
I can’t say I’ve abided by all of these societal norms, especially wearing sunglasses…
…But I’ve tried really hard…especially eating the donuts!
And I’ve really enjoyed learning more about this unique culture, like at the Sumo Food Festival we attended.
Whether it’s little ladies singing and dancing at the festival (check out the video below)…
Experimenting with new foods…
Visiting incredible palaces, temples and shrines…
Or simply experiencing the packed trains and streets…
I can honestly say I’ve never been to any place like this before!
And as luck would have it, in our search for a pedicure, Natalie and I stumbled upon an upscale hair and nail salon a few blocks from our hostel.
There we met, Uto and Kana, a lovely Japanese couple who own and manage the place.
They wowed us with their hospitality and impeccable service despite the difficult language barrier. And can I just say that my feet haven’t looked this good in a LONG time!
Feeling much more feminine with our freshly polished toes, Natalie made a bold leap of faith and decided to schedule a haircut for the next day. After three months without a trim, we both needed a cut, but truth be told, I was waiting to see how her hair turned out before I booked an appointment.
Some 24 hours later, Natalie returned to our hostel with a fabulous new do and it was settled, I was going to do the same.
The next night I went in and after Uto shaped up and finished straightening my hair, in broken English he looked at the top of my head and commented, “High here,” he said, pointing to the 2 inch section of slightly lighter hair growing from my roots. “Dark here,” he said, pointing to the hair a few inches below. “And high here again,” he said, pointing to the remainder of my hair.
I nodded my head and then he looked at me puzzled before asking, “Why?”
The long, back story is that I’ve been going to the same hair stylist, Diana, for the last 11 years. And as I’ve gotten older, this unwanted phenomenon called grey hair has happened upon me. It’s not too bad, mostly in a small patch around the crown of my head and a few stragglers here and there, but enough to be noticeable without treatment. So, for the last few years, I’ve had Diana simply “spot treat” these greys with a little bit of color.
When I left Virginia she sent me off with a small amount of professional hair color – enough for two applications that lasted me right up until January. But by the time I reached Columbia in March, I needed a major touch up. Afraid to try a random boxed color, I went to a salon and had some stylists apply color only on my roots to hide the grey.
The problem is that when they selected the color, they chose one that matched the end of my hair, not my roots, hence the lighter “ring” around the top of my head.
Uto pulls out a book with swatches of hair colors. “Here is 5,” he says, pointing to the color that matches my roots.
“Here is….uh….9,” he explains, holding the lighter swatch next to the ends of my hair.
With slow English and lots of hand signals, I try to explain about my last dye experience and I think he gets it.
“My hair is just a lot lighter at the ends because of the sun,” I say.
Uto looks at me blankly.
I point up the sky and make motions that are supposed to mimic sun rays coming down from heaven.
“The sun??” he asks incredulously. “No color?”
“Nope, just the sun.”
His mouth drops open. Apparently Japanese hair doesn’t react to sunlight in the same way, and the fact that mine has lightened four shades naturally because of it amazes him.
“Wow!” he exclaims, marveling closely at the strands.
I smile at his enthusiasm and imagine how he’d react if he saw my tan lines. While there are parts of me that are quite fair, thanks to olive skin, I can pick up color easily and the end of each summer the stark contrast makes it look like I’m wearing a white bikini.
“Can you fix it?” I ask tentatively, pointing to the lighter section around my roots.
He nods and we schedule another appointment the following day.
We decide to go with the level 5, darker color as this is what my stylist in Virginia always used. What I failed to remember is that she only applied it to a few strands here and there, not all of my roots, like Uto does.
After a shampoo, he and Kana tag team my hair with two blowdryers while I finish making a list of the top 10 things they need to do and see on their trip to New York City in December.
Once dry, I discover that the usually lightest hair around my face has really soaked up the color.
“You like?” he asks.
“Yes…” I lie before I add, “it’s…so much darker.”
Japanese people are incredibly polite and I don’t want to hurt his feelings. He smiles broadly, beaming with pride.
They polish my hair with the flat iron and by the time we leave, we’re snapping photos and exchanging hugs.
I love the cut and style, but it’s not till the next morning that I really start to have some regret over the color. I’m not used to seeing such dark hair framing my face and after going back and forth for an hour, I decide to return to see if they can add a few highlights in the front.
Uto and Kana are completely understanding and agree to squeeze me in. “I do very fast!” he assures me.
A short while later I’ve got some strategically placed foil and the guarantee that it’ll just be 10 minutes.
But Uto is busy and it’s not till 25 minutes later that he returns to check my hair.
I hear him gasp softly, refold the foil quickly so I can’t see and and immediately go over to mix something together.
This can’t be good, I think to myself.
He has me sit in the shampooing chair and after a wash I can feel and smell him putting something on the front of my hair…no doubt something to darken whatever color my highlights have turned.
Dear God, please don’t let me come out with streaked hair, I pray silently.
As I sit there waiting for the color to take I remember how in my 20’s I used to get highlights regularly and apply self-tanner to mimic what the sun was supposed to do to my body. But it was never quite right. It either didn’t look natural, left me orange or simply smelling funny.
Now in my 30’s I’ve decided to go “natural” (with the exception of hiding some grey hair). I allow the sun to do what only the sun can do – lighten the dark areas and darken the light ones. I like to think it makes me more beautiful, more balanced and healthier.
And then it dawns on me that the same could be said about the “Son.”
When I spend time with Jesus, I am changed for the better. The darkness in my heart is lightened. I become a more beautiful person on the inside and much more balanced and healthy in every sense.
That doesn’t mean that I’m always aware of what needs the light. Kinda like how my darkest hairs are the ones in the back of my head, underneath the surface, sometimes the darkest places in my heart are the ones that aren’t visible to me or others. But God knows they are there and if I give Him permission, he wants to lighten those too.
As it turns out, Uto is able to tone down the highlights to an acceptable level, but I’ve learned my lesson: quick fixes don’t work and nothing can substitute for natural sunlight.
The same can be said about my soul. There’s no special prayer or overnight solution to spiritual health and nothing has the same affect as “Son-light.” It’s only through consistent, intentional time with Jesus that I’ll become the person He created me to be – one who radiates the light of Christ in every single area of her life.
And that’s what I’m committed to and desire the most. After all, in the end, it doesn’t matter one bit what my hair looks like. It matters what my heart looks like.