Hiroko and I met on a rainy day in Kagurazaka, a charming neighbourhood in Tokyo filled with quaint, cosy restaurants. My first impression of her – was how attractive she was in person. She had on a casual, slouchy gray T, boyfriend jeans, little Mary-Jane socks and heels. This was a woman that definitely had style. Her hair fell past her shoulders, smooth, silky wisps of it framing her face. She was elegant, graceful, with a quiet confidence.
We settled into a hidden café called Shimada Café in on of the little back alleys, one of her favorites.
“In beauty, it’s very important to communicate because consultation is the most important bit. If you cannot say what you want, then you cannot be satisfied at the end of it.”
Hiroko has a rather unique background. Born in Japan, she grew up in France from the age of 11-24, which might be an explanation of how effortlessly chic she is. A mechanical engineer by vocation, she soon discovered she didn’t enjoy it. She decided to follow the footsteps of her grandmother, who had a business in beauty. Plunging headfirst into the world of beauty, she studied hairdressing in London and Japan, and obtained not only a license in hairdressing, but in makeup artistry and skincare. She worked in a hair salon before applying for a job as a development marketer in L’Oreal, a job that she loved, as it combined her technical expertise in hairdressing with an obsession for creating the right products for hair. However, as the spirit of entrepreneurship runs in her family, the call to start her own business was strong.
“I had this idea. I learnt that many Asian women come and visit Tokyo, and want to try out beauty services here but they don’t know where to go. Even the Japanese themselves sometimes don’t know where to go, as there are over 240k beauty salons in Japan! Sometimes you see them next to each other, or one upstairs and one downstairs, and you just don’t know where to go. And even if tourists manage to find a salon, they don’t speak the language. In beauty, it’s very important to communicate because consultation is the most important bit. If you cannot say what you want, then you cannot be satisfied at the end of it. I thought this was the perfect job for me, because I know the beauty conditions inside and outside Japan, and I know consumers and the services they need, and I really wanted them to experience the best thing. They’re only here for a few days, and if they try something and they’re disappointed, then it’s really a shame, it’s a bad thing for the image of Japan! So I thought, I would be a beauty concierge, recommending the best places to go and the best services to try with translation support!”
If you’ve been to Japan, or even if you haven’t been, you might have heard before how incredibly groomed Japanese women are. The first time I travelled to Japan, I felt incredibly disheveled, looking at all these perfectly put together Japanese women. I compared my straw-like hair to their shiny, flowing tresses and my patchily made up face to their immaculately done faces. I felt like I was in an urgent need of a makeover!
“Yes, Japanese women are really well-groomed from head to toe. Hair, makeup, their outfit, nails, everything! Makeup is an engrained part of Japanese culture. It’s more like etiquette, to look proper.”
Hiroko is obviously very passionate about beauty, and speaks about why she wants to bring the expertise of the Japanese to the world.
“Sometimes, people don’t notice hairdressers because they think, oh, this is just a hairdresser and not a superstar, but I think they deserve some attention because of the techniques they have, like haircutting and perming.”
“My big aim, which is my slogan for my blog, is ‘Japanese beauty for the world’. I want to spread this Japanese beauty culture abroad, all the techniques, products, routines and services. I worked as a hairdresser, and the hairdressing industry is really tough. Really long days of working 12 hours, after that which they train, and they only have one day off per week. You can only do that if you really like your job, and I have a lot of respect for these people, because they are completely devoted to their work and want to do everything to make their clients happy. And at the end of the day, they get a low salary, but they are still trying so hard to be the best in the industry and I want to help these people get into the spotlight. Sometimes, people don’t notice hairdressers because they think, oh, this is just a hairdresser and not a superstar, but I think they deserve some attention because of the techniques they have, like haircutting and perming.”
If there is only one beauty tip Hiroko could give to the world, what would it be?
“Taking care of your skin! It’s very simple, but wash your face in the morning and evening. Some people do not do this, they apply makeup on skin that is not clean, and they go to sleep by just wiping it off. In Japan, nobody would ever do that! Here, we say that if you sleep with your makeup on, it’s like sleeping with a rag on your face, meaning you get 10 years older in one night!”
While I know Japanese women are always impeccably groomed, I’m constantly still amazed at how nobody on the streets has bad hair. Scratch that – they always have nicely curled hair and bangs that fall just in the right place. How do they have the discipline to do their hair every single day? Often, I go to work looking like I tied up a mop on my head because I just don’t have the willpower to fight with my hair.
“In he same way they care for makeup or skincare, Japanese women are very devoted to doing things in the proper way, and treating everything the right way. Everyone applies a treatment, and when they blow dry their hair, they apply oils as they were told in the salon, because hairdressers tell them that need to apply something to protect their hair from the heat. They also go to the salon very regular, some people every two months, some people every three months. Sometimes, you can even color your hair and your hair looks better after the coloring because of all the ingredients that are inside the formula and that actually treat your hair. Japanese people just really care. They care very much about how they appear. And in the beginning, it was done for etiquette, but it then evolved into becoming a hobby for them. They have fun, trying new products and looking good. They like it.”
A service that Hiroko wants to bring to the world is the head spa.
“It’s very Japanese! There are head massages everywhere around the world, but a head spa is a really good service because it’s a deep scalp cleansing service. Even if you wash your hair every day, you cannot properly wash your hair because you’re not doing it like a hairdresser. Some dirt will get clogged in your pores, and if it stays there, your hair cannot grow properly, and then your hair will lose shine, become thinner, eventually fall and you will lose your hair. So it’s really important to have a healthy scalp. I really love it, and I do it quite often. If you don’t like massages you won’t like it, because a big part of it is of a massage. It’s a nice break for tourists especially, because they’re running from one spot to another, shopping, and then they can stop and try a deep scalp massage, the Japanese head spa. They’ll massage your neck and shoulders and in the end your scalp is clean, your hair is beautiful and it’s just really wonderful.”
What are the key beauty trends she sees coming from Japan? One look I’ve seen in particular is where Japanese girls apply a lot of pink or red blusher directly under their eyes.
“The Japanese get their inspiration from everywhere.”
“Japanese makeup is changing quite a lot, and it’s been very creative. What you’re mentioning is called the hangover look, which was started by a makeup artist called Shinobu Igari. She was inspired by the freckles of a Western child, and she saw that putting some colors under the eyes looked very pretty. So she started putting colors just under the eyes as replacement to traditional blush. It’s funny to call it the hangover look, because it looks like you’ had a long night out. Another trend is to do a red underline of the eye, which is an extension of putting colors in the places you’re not supposed to. Next, is reddish brows. It’s supposed to make your skin look clearer, because it creates some contrast and makes you look more feminine and edgy. The Japanese get their inspiration from everywhere. Take nails, for example. Nail art is not only French nails or putting one color. For Olympics, they are inspired by different countries. In summer, they use shells and starfish to look like it’s inspired by the sea. During fall, you wear autumn leaves and winter is about Christmas, so nail art is completely beyond just painting your nails. It’s art. They’re artists. I’d like them to be recognized more as artists, instead of just people who paint nails.”
Starting your own business is no easy feat. Hiroko shares candidly the difficulties she’s faced, but how she it’s also an incredible learning experience.
“You only have one life, and you have to take a step back and see the big picture. I’m not going to die from doing this!”
“It’s really challenging. First I thought, should I start my own business? Should I not? I was scared, I couldn’t sleep, and there were a lot of ‘what ifs’. But then I thought, you only have one life, and you have to take a step back and see the big picture. I’m not going to die from doing this! If you only live once and you want to try things, then just do it. I’ve given myself 2 years. If it doesn’t take off, it doesn’t matter. I would be a little embarrassed, but I can still work. I can always go back and get a job. At least I would have tried, otherwise I would have regretted it all my life. So it’s a big challenge I gave myself, which is a lot of pressure, but with everything that I’m doing now, it’s for me. At the same time, I feel very grateful because I’m learning so much, by starting everything from scratch. This whole process is very hard mentally, but I’m still grateful because I’ve tried it. And when I try something and it doesn’t work, I think about it, try to understand why it doesn’t work, then I change it. It’s really a lot of trial and error and I’m learning so much through this process, and evolving so much. It’s a lifetime experience.
I’ve also realized a lot of things. You wrote about seeing a homeless person on your blog. It’s true that we take things for granted. For example, you have your salary at the end of the month, and it’s just normal, but now that I don’t have a salary at the end of the month, my relationship with money has changed. I think we don’t realize how lucky we are to work and get money for it. It seems obvious, but now because I’m not earning a normal salary, I’m still spending money every day. Even if I stay home all day, I pay for electricity and toilet paper! I feel so lucky now when I work and I get paid for what I do, so I’m very grateful for all the small things now. I’ve become very humble.”
Hiroko talks about the importance of perseverance.
“Every day is challenging. I feel like if something’s not working, it’s because I haven’t done enough. So I keep trying and trying, but somewhere I believe it’s really going to work, because there’s no reason why it wouldn’t. You just have to keep going. In Japanese, there is a good expression. “Keizoku wa chikara nari”. Keizoku is the fact to keep going, to keep repeating, to keep trying to do the same thing. Chikara is strength. Continuing is its own kind of strength. And at the end, you are going to make it, but you have to keep going. It’s very Japanese and stoic. You may not see any results, but you just have to keep going and not give up. It’s only been 5-6 months since I started this business, but I have never once thought, “Oh, I cannot do it!” I always think, it’s a matter of time, and this is a challenge that Life or God?? has given me. He’s asking me, “Are you hanging in there? Still there?” And yes! I’m still here!!”
I’m really rooting for Hiroko, because I’ve personally used her service myself and I really loved it. And no, this is not a sponsored post at all! I love getting my nails done, but it’s really tough to do it here unless I follow my Japanese girlfriends because of the language barrier. The Japanese are really detailed and ask many questions in order to give you the best service, so sign language will only take you so far.
How it worked was I sent Hiroko an email, asking for the price of a gel manicure and some reference pictures of what type of nail designs I wanted. She wrote back very promptly, and we arranged a time (the next day!) where she and the nail artist would come over to my house. And indeed, the next day, right on time, they showed up at my house and I could actually get my nails done in the comfort of my own home! I have to say, I’ve done my nails quite a lot of times in Japan, and I can tell the quality of gel is very good. So if you’re a tourist, or a non-Japanese speaking resident of Japan, I strongly encourage you to try out her service!
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