Monday, April 18, 2005

Need some pampering?

For a long time I put off going to a hair salon because I didn't speak Japanese and worried about how I would communicate what I wanted. Then I had a student who was a hair colorist for a salon right next door, so she said she would help me explain what I wanted to a hair "artist."

From the minute I walked into the salon I was treated like royalty! There to greet me at the door were six or seven technicians, stylists, appointment staff, and a shampoo girl (sorry, I don't know what else to call her).

I sat down in the waiting area until both the (English student) colorist and the artist appeared. From there I proceeded to explain what kind of cut I desired, and the colorist interpreted to the artist. This went on for about 20 minutes and then I was led to a locker and dressing room area where I slipped on a gown and stashed my purse.

The shampoo girl took me to the shampoo area and began her magic. I don't know exactly what all was involved because I soon went into an altered state of bliss and comfort. While American shampoo bowls are cold and rigid, this bowl was soft and warm and comfortable. For the next twenty minutes or so I was treated to the best shampoo of my life!

Now, I've gone to upscale salons before, and have paid lots of money to have my makeup ruined by sloppy shampooing. I've also had my head banged against the sink, and variously scalded or iced with water that wasn't delivered at the right temperature. Most of these shampoos have lasted, maybe a minute or two, tops.

Not in Japan. Here a customer is treated to the ultimate luxury. I had a shampoo that was pure pampering, and included water delivered at a perfect temperature and several head massages with each lathering. Then my head was gently towel blotted and my hair combed out in the gentlest manner. There was no wet hair flipped onto my face or comb ripping my ears off.

As I paid for my haircut (around $50), again a bevy of salon workers lined up to bow and thank me for my business. In almost all shops, restaurants and salons, employees accompany the customer to the door (carrying any packages for them), and thank them for their business.

All this stands in stark contrast to what I'm used to in the U.S. I'm feeling very pampered in Tokyo!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A view inside a Japanese man's head

Something's been troubling me about young, married Japanese men. Several times now I've had students who have told me "their wives were expecting" babies at any time. In the United States we've become used to the notion that both parents were expecting the arrival of their child. It's actually not such a big deal that culturally the Japanese still refer to only their wives expecting a baby.

What really has me scratching my head is how often I hear that the father-to-be isn't that involved with the birth of his child(ren). Usually I hear something like this:

Me: So, it must be getting really close to the time for your baby's birth?
Student: Yes, my wife's gone to stay with her parents. (Note: this is often a few hours away)
Me: You mean she's going to go through labor and have the baby without you?
Student: Yes, but I'll go see her on the weekend (presumably after she's had the baby).
Me: You won't be there for your baby's birth?
Student: (With a puzzled look on his face) No, her mother will go to the hospital with her.
Me: Wow! So you'll miss out on your baby's birth?
Student: (Another puzzled look) No, I'll see the baby probably over the weekend.
Me: Yeah, but you won't actually be there when it's born.
Student: No.
Me: Is that because your company won't let you take time off to be with your wife when she's giving birth?
Student: (Yet another puzzled look with a very long "ehhhhhhhhhhh?")
Me: You know, time to be with your wife during the birth and a few days after to help take care of her and the baby?
Student: Well, I could probably take time off from work, but I don't really need to do that because her mother will take care of her and the baby.

Apparently Japan has never heard of the Family Leave Act which allows both new parents to spend time together adjusting to their new life with their baby.

Last night I had another student, a mature business man in his late 40s or early 50s who wanted what's called "free conversation," where we can talk about anything instead of having a regular lesson. We talked about all sorts of topics. Then I happened to bring up the topic of "what is the most exciting thing that every happened to you?" He told me about a time when he was a teenager and got into a fight where his nose was broken.

I told him I was really thinking of something wonderful that had happened, "You know," I said, "like when your children were born." Again, I saw that same strange look come across his face. He was puzzled. I asked him if he was present when his children were born (they're 14 and 5), and he told me the most amazing thing.

"In Japan, to see a woman screaming 'gaaaaaaaaaahhhh' and giving birth, with all that blood and nakedness, destroys a marriage," he said.

"What do you mean by that?" I asked.

"It ruins it for a man," he said.

Still not understanding, I pressed him for more information.

"You never think of your wife as the beautiful woman that you married once you see her that way."

Apparently to validate his story, and to address the stricken expression that must have been on my face, he said, "It's true! There's been a survey that says almost all men who see such a thing later divorce their wives."

The bell rang and class was over.