What the heck are they saying? (#1) Getting a shampoo in Japan

One of the great pleasures of living in Japan is the high level of service you can expect just about everywhere you go. The beauty salon is no exception. The price for a hair cut usually includes a luxurious shampoo before your cut, another afterwards to rinse out the little bits of hair, a head-and-neck massage, and a blow-dry and style. Great attention is devoted to the shampoo step; the stylists-to be in the photo at left are learning the finer points. My stylist puts a soft dry cloth over my eyes to shade me from the ceiling lights and a hot wet cloth under my neck (yum). She also switches on a lumbar massage feature on the shampoo chair and takes great care to keep water from splashing in my ears.

The problem for foreigners is that your stylist will ask you a series of solicitous questions to make sure you are well and truly comfortable. Unless your Japanese is near-native, you’ll have trouble understanding the questions at first, particularly when the sound of running water makes it hard to hear. What’s more, the questions are often posed as a negative. For example, your stylist is likely to ask, “Don’t you have any tender spots?”, to which the correct answer, assuming your scalp feels just fine, is “Yes” (I don’t have any tender spots on my scalp.) English speakers, however, want to answer that question with a “No” (I don’t have any tender spots on my scalp). Make this mistake and your shampoo will come to a screeching halt as the stylist runs to call you an ambulance. Until I figured out what my stylist was actually saying, I learned to respond to all questions with “OK.” That seemed to satisfy her that I was enjoying the experience and kept things moving.

Here are the questions you’re most likely to hear. They are remarkably standardized from salon to salon, so learning these lines should more or less solve your shampoo problems:

お湯加減はいかがですか? O-yu kagen wa ikaga desu ka?
Is the warm-water temperature ok?

力加減はいかがですか?Chikara kagen wa ikaga desu ka?
Is the pressure (of my fingers) ok?

首はくるしくないですか?Kubi wa kurushikunai desu ka?
Isn’t your neck uncomfortable?

*This is a negative question, so the correct way to respond, if you’re comfortable, is “Hai” (kurushikunai desu). But “OK” works.
Sylists, a better way to say this in English is “Is your neck comfortable?” If your client is comfortable, they’ll answer “Yes.”

痛いところはありませんか? Itai tokoro wa arimasen ka?
Isn’t there some place that hurts?

*Again, a negative question, so the correct way to respond, if your scalp is normal, is “Hai” (arimasen). But “OK” works.
Stylists, try “Is there some place on your scalp that hurts?” If your client has a tender spot, they’ll answer something like “Yes, can you avoid this spot? I bumped my head there last week and it still hurts.”

洗いたりないところはありませんか?Araitarinai tokoro wa arimasen ka?
Isn’t there some place I didn’t wash enough?

*Once again, a negative question, so the correct way to respond, if you feel you’ve been well washed, is “Hai” (arimasen). But “OK” works.
Stylists, it’s better to say “Is there some place I didn’t wash enough?” If your client thinks you missed a spot, they’ll say something like, “Can you do over here again?” But honestly, do you have to ask? You did a good job.

流したりないところはありませんか?Nagashitarinai tokoro wa arimasen ka?
Isn’t there some place I didn’t rinse enough?

*Yet another negative question, so if you’re feeling well rinsed, answer “Hai” (arimasen).
Stylists, try “Is there some place I didn’t rinse enough?” If your client thinks you’re doing fine, they’ll answer “No (everything’s fine.)” But most of us would rather relax that be bombarded with yet another solicitous yet superfluous question in Japanese.

Let me know if you get additional questions during your shampoos. I’ll add it to the list.

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