Today’s beauty post is a bit different than others on the blog. I want to share a bit about my life in Japan as a black woman, and how I deal with a delicate topic: Natural hair.
My reasons for transitioning to natural hair are extremely simple, and I can use two Japanese words to describe the process: mottainai (もったいない, a watse of money) and mendokusai (めんどくさい, troublesome). To put it another way, my natural hair journey in Japan is based on two factors: cost and convenience.
My First Years in Japan
In what feels like lifetimes ago, I once worked in Shibuya’s iconic Shibuya 109 shopping mall. I followed the fashion subset known as gyaru, a style defined by deeply tanned skin, loud makeup that emphasized the nose and eyes, and long blonde hair.
I often wore wigs and hair pieces to protect my hair and to keep up with the latest hair styles and trends. But, underneath it all, my hair was always relaxed. After the transition from gyaru style to more “normal” fashion, I continued to relax my hair or do protective hairstyles like braids or sew-ins.
To begin, my hairstylist is amazing, but expensive. I did at home-relaxers from time to time, using kits that I bought on my yearly trips back home to the US. but my results were no match to hers. On top of that, I was damaging my hair.
So, I sucked it up and paid 20,000-30,000 every two months to keep my hair looking good. Sew-ins were the most expensive menu items, where I’d have to pay 7,500 yen per bundle of human hair, plus the cost of having her do my sew-in.
You can easily see how that all adds up. Mottainai indeed!
So, a few years ago, I decided to go natural in the summer months, mainly because of the humidity in Tokyo. At the end of the summer, I saw my untouched roots and my natural curl pattern (3C/4A).
Again, I felt a sense of mottainai because my curl pattern was very cute, but I kept chemically straightening it. I just wasn’t ready for the “big chop,” a process of cutting of all relaxed hair, leaving only the new growth.
Not only was keeping my hair straight a very costly endeavor, it took up a lot of my time. I could easily spend 4-5 hours on a day off in the hair salon.
Between appointments, washing my hair was a literal one day affair: wash, then deep condition, blow dry, flat iron. Keeping my edges in line and having to straighten my roots between appointments meant early mornings and lots of burnt fingers and ears. Date nights? Fine, but “sleepovers?” Forget it!
When traveling I needed to bring so many items: blow dryer with diffuser, blow dryer with brush attachment, flat iron, and hair curler, not to mention all the hair products. On top of that, I had have to make sure that I would have time to get my hair after returning to Japan
I slowly realized that my life was revolving around my hair schedule. If I wanted to be free, it was either wigs or going natural.
Embracing Myself and My Hair in Japan
Ironically, it’s only after years living in Japan that I felt that I could truly embrace myself.
After years of feeling like I didn’t belong, living in Japan as a literal “outsider” (gaikokujin, 外国人, ”person from outside of Japan) has given me confidence I never knew I had.
Long hair was my security blanket against comments about my nose. Bu, here in Japan, being told I have a “tall nose” (鼻が高い | hana ga takai) is a compliment. I now have nothing to hide!
READ: 20 Facts About Me
On top of that, my little monster has gorgeous curls, and I want her to be proud of them! I want her to have confidence that will help her navigate life in a country where she looks obviously different.
While I don’t want her her feel superior because she is ha-fu (ハーフ | half Japanse), I certianly don’t want her to have an inferior complex because her skin color and hair texture is different than that of her classmates.
What kind of mother would I be if I told her, “Your curls are so beautiful!” yet I’m walking around with pin-straight hair? I have to set the example.
Of course, from time to time, I will straighten (not relax) my hair, and I’m sure there will be times when she wants to have straight hair.
Overall, I can’t speak for all black women here in Japan. I can only share my experiences. I haven’t encountered negative comments about my hair in public. There was one incident with some kids when we moved into our new building, and I quickly had to shut them down.
My workplace (a kindergarten) doesn’t’ think my natural curly hair is unprofessional. I’ve even met a few clients with my natural hair.
My natural hair journey is Japan is more than about my hair: it’s about discovering who I am and being a model for my daughter.
I also just want to give a shout out to Chrissy Teigen for letting little Luna and her curls shine! I love that there’s a high profile kiddo out there with the same background as my monster!