Japanese Efficiency – At The Salon!!

The incredible Aiko-san, massaging my right hand while I clumsily take a bad picture with my left. She is more beautiful in person.

The incredible Aiko-san, massaging my right hand while I clumsily take a bad picture with my left. She is more beautiful in person.

In my limited salon experience, when you get your hair cut, you get your hair cut.  When you get a massage,  you get a massage.  At my mom’s salon in Florida,  hair coloring is separate from cutting, even! (But we wouldn’t know about that – we’re natural blondes, right Mom?)

This separation of services is not the case in Japan, I have come to find out.  Today as I (ahem) had my hair  cut and colored, my favorite stylist, Takano-san (at May’s Garden Spa in Roppongi Hills – go there – it’s amazing) told me they were having a special on hand and forearm massages and if I wanted to do it, the esthetician  would come right over.  The price was right and I was curious, so why not?  I am hooked.  It was unbelievable.

While I was waiting with the color on, Aiko-san massaged my right hand and arm, starting with a hot towel, going through the massage with cream, and finishing with a “pack-u” – or what I would call a “mask” for my hand. Right as she got the mask on, however, it was time for me to get a shampoo to rinse out the color.  As we all know, hair coloring waits for no man – or woman – or hand massage. But that didn’t faze Aiko-san.  She just rolled her little cart over to the sink where I was getting rinsed, and she started on my left hand.

Yes, that’s right. I got that fabulous head massage and shampoo combination about which I constantly rave, AND the hand and forearm massage  at the SAME TIME.

At one point the shampoo man was massaging my temples and Aiko-san was massaging my left palm.  Bliss.  Purse bliss.

Just as the hot towel went on my forehead and then under the back of my neck as usual, Aiko-san finished applying the mask to my left hand.  So I had to get up (shakily) and walk back to the haircut chair with my hands raised. As soon as I was seated and Takano-san was ready to cut my hair, Aiko-san was right there removing the hand mask and then applying moisturizer before finishing it off.

I understand this was a special treat and not something I can have regularly.  I am very privileged to do these things, lest you think I take it for granted.  But I do think it’s simply brilliant to have salon services put together so nicely.  It saves time for the customer and I’m sure it makes the salon work more efficiently.  What a day.  I’m just going to appreciate it for what it is: Japanese work flow at its best.

The Mani-Pedi Experience

Yesterday I got a mani/pedi (that’s a manicure and pedicure for those of you who don’t speak “girl-talk”).  In and of itself, that’s nothing remarkable, but given the fact that I am in the United States right now and not in Japan, it’s something on which I can comment.  This is just one of the myriad of things that is different between the U.S. and Japan.

Generally I don’t get mani/pedi’s in Tokyo.  There is one reason and one reason only: the cost is prohibitive.  In the past three years, I have gotten perhaps eight, total.  They have only been for special occasions or right before beach trips when I cannot stand my feet.  My saving grace has been Aya, a manicurist who caters to expats and makes house-calls.   In general, Aya charges ¥10,000 for the complete, yet basic manicure and pedicure, which equals about $114 given the exchange rate today.  She also charges about $11 for transportation costs.  This is approximately comparable to any salon cost, and you’re in the comfort of your own home.

My mani-pedi at the small salon in Laurel, Maryland, including callous removal, cost $50 including the tip. (Don’t forget – as I’ve mentioned before, there’s no tipping in Japan.  None.  None at all.)

The time consumption is different, too, though.  I was out of the salon in MD in just about an hour.  That included picking the polish and signing in and getting into the big massage/pedicure chair.  The entire process takes at least 90 minutes in Tokyo, without the time for Aya to get set up in my house.  (As an aside, Aya has been providing this in-home service for ten years at least.  She has it all down to a science, even her compact suitcase with which she travels through the city is neatly packed with her carefully folded and stored essentials.  The rest of what she needs, she borrows from her clients.)  But this is not just Aya – I have been to two different salons for mani-pedi’s.  In Japan, things take longer.  People in Japan are methodical and interested in getting things exactly right and perfect.  The hand massage is an art form, as is the foot massage.  When the manicurist massages, it’s a process that cannot be hurried.  Rapt attention is paid.  It’s a different experience.  I always feel like I’m the only person who has mattered all day, and I’m sure every customer feels that way.

On the quality of the mani-pedi, well, I’m loathe to say.  If I discuss it honestly, people will call me snobby and tell me that I’m never going to be able to move back to the U.S.  I do not get gel-nails or acrylics or silk wraps or any of the extras that can make nails hard and strong.  I just have plain ‘ol nails.  Let’s just put it this way: my polish, which is regular OPI polish, just like in any American salon, lasts up to a week in perfect condition in Japan.  I never get hangnails and I my cuticles shine.  This doesn’t happen in every salon in the U.S.  I hope it happens in yours and I would love to be proven wrong, but I’ve never had a mani/pedi in the U.S. that can rival the ones in Japan for quality and effectiveness.

If I can bear the cost – which I cannot most of the time, then the mani-pedi in Japan is the way to go.  However, that cost thing is a big barrier. Look for me to be writing more about that issue in relation to various things I’m doing while I’m in the U.S. this summer.

Japan and the U.S. are two completely different cultures and those differences are to be celebrated.  I am delighted to be in my native culture for the next two months and I’m sure that when the two months are up, I will be delighted to go home to my adopted culture as well.  Vive la difference.