When I was a little girl, my mum went grey before all the other mums. It probably didn’t help that she was 37 when she had me. New friends invariably asked if she was my grandmother, but she was self-confident enough that she didn’t care and never tried to hide her true hair colour. However, I decided that if I were to follow her into premature greying, I would dye my hair. Thirty years passed, which included several stints of pain, and I have indeed gone prematurely grey—even earlier than my mum did! So, when I returned to Canada I decided to keep my promise to eight-year-old-me, take the plunge, and start dying my hair. On returning to Japan, I found the process quite different, so I thought some of you might be interested to hear about it.

When I walk into the shop for my appointment, I rarely have to wait. The hairdresser guides me to my seat, puts my glasses in a case, and enfolds me in a regular smock and towel. She puts little bags around my ears. These are specially made for this purpose, with elastics around the openings to hold them in place. Next, cream is applied around the hairline, and I hand my customer card to the hairdresser. This card contains the recipe for my dye job and is stamped every time I go in. If I collect 10 stamps, I get 10% off the next session.

The hairdresser mixes the dye. If the shop isn’t busy, at this point two hairdressers will apply the dye at once. I like it when this happens. It makes me feel like a superstar!

Socializing in Japan is very different than in Canada. Peter, who is more introverted and socially-analytical than I am, has a theory. In Canada, the culture caters mostly to extroverts. If someone is acting in an introverted way at a party, for example, other people might approach them to ask what is wrong. However, in Japan the culture caters more to introverts. It's not required to always be socially interacting with others at functions.

I’ve learned that this sort of social dynamic carries over into the world of hairdressing as well. Hairdressers tend to be silent unless you chat with them first. They will not generally initiate conversation, and silence is viewed as a form of privacy.

After the dye is applied, the hairdresser wraps my head with saran wrap. While I wait, she brings over a menu with about 10 different hot and cold drinks to choose from. A few minutes later she brings over my drink along with a small cake.

The dye sits on my head for 20 minutes before the hairdresser brings me over to the rinse station. There, she gives me a blanket for my body (do customers usually get cold?), and places a disposable, soft, translucent paper sheet on my face. My theory is that this is to help relaxation, reduce the bright glare of the overhead lights, and avoid that socially-awkward phase of looking at the hairdresser’s chest and armpits.

She rinses and soaps my hair, and gives me a scalp massage. When I return to the hairdressing station, she also offers a neck and shoulder massage. Then it's time to blow dry my hair. If it’s still not busy in the shop, often two hairdressers will work on this too. Yay! Another superstar experience!

At the end, the hairdresser says お疲れ様でした (“oh-tsu-car-eh-sah-mah-deh-she-tah). Loosely translated, this means “you must be tired because you've done a good job”. Usually, you say this to someone after they have worked very hard. It's a recognition of the effort, and an expression of gratitude for it. The first time I heard this coming from a hairdresser, I was confused. Was she talking to me? All I’d done was let her massage and serve me! However, apparently in Japanese culture this is not an uncommon expression for the service industry to use when addressing valued customers as well. Since then, I have also heard this expression used after my rehab sessions at the hospital. I usually laugh a little bit and say it back to them in return! They seem to appreciate it.

After everything is over, I pay ¥3780 (equivalent to about $45CAD). There is no tip required, and that price includes tax.

The best part of all this: when I go home, I am allowed to wash my hair the next morning. No more waiting 48 hours, and having to experience yucky, greasy hair!

I've only gotten my hair dyed at a couple of different hair salons in North America, but I thought it might be interesting to provide you with a little checklist of the comparisons between those in Japan and those in North America. Enjoy!

(if this chart doesn't look good on your device, try turning your device to a horizontal position)

  Canada             Japan

Case for glasses                 sometimes        X

Smock & towel                     X                      X

Ear bags                                                       X

Cream around hairline        sometimes        X

Point card                           sometimes        X

Bring hair recipe with you   on file               always

Applying the dye                1 person           1-2 people

Conversational default       chatty               silent

Cover with saran wrap      X                       X

Drinks                               water                 choose from 10

Cake                                                           X

Dye set time                    ~1 hour              ~20 minutes

Rinse station treatment                             blanket, face cover

Scalp massage                X                       X

Neck & shoulder massage                        X

Blowdry                            X                       X

Cost (root touch up)         $70-110 CAD    $45 CAD

Next allowed to wash      in 48 hours        next morning