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  • Shona McCarthy

Dream Location: Beauty parlor SAWADA

Updated: Mar 16

For a long time I dreamed of having my hair done in traditional Japanese style by a trained professional. In fact, during my last trip to Kyoto, I asked multiple locals about where I could go to get my hair done in this style, a style broadly known as "nihongami". Though I know for certain that people capable of performing nihongami must exist in Kyoto. This can be known with certainty because Maiko, or Geisha apprentices need their hair regularly restyled to maintain the shape. However, I was recently made aware of an option in Sendai.

(Image borrowed from Beauty parlor SAWADA, 2021.) Many people will instantly recognise nihongami; the rounded. tidy mounds perfectly framing the face. The ornaments that may adorn a bun at the back. While I like to take a slightly more contemporary or retro approach towards my kitsuke, or kimono wearing, I would sometimes like to try a more antique or historical look. Beauty parlor SAWADA The stylist behind Beauty parlor SAWADA is a woman named Seiko Sawada, who was formally educated in traditional Japanese hairstyling in Gion, Kyoto. I managed to find two videos of her work on Youtube. The process is impressive to see, and the results so impossibly perfect that it almost doesn't seem real.

This first video is especially helpful since it shows you what the studio looks like from the street, what you can expect to find when you enter, and what the experience looks like. The woman in the video seems to have difficult, curly hair. Yet, Seiko Sawada is able to turn it into a beautiful, traditional hairstyle very quickly through the use of a half wig, though she is also able to style your own hair from scratch! The video also reveals some of the other services Seiko Sawada can perform. She is capable of dressing people in kimono, bridal clothes and even providing photographic experiences. If you adjust the settings, you can turn on subtitles auto translated so you can understand what is happening.

In this video, a more intricate view of how Seiko Sawada styles hair from scratch can be seen. The care and detail of her work is remarkable, as well as the accessories she uses to decorate the hair.


Booking


Sendai's tourism industry has created an online listing where you can easily book a time and pre-pay to have your hair done. You can see a basic price range here, too.

If you would like more information on what hairstyles are available at the studio, you can see the menu Seiko Sawada's official website. Prices naturally vary for what style you would like to try. Men's options are also available. Seiko Sawada's work is one of those niche industries which could fade away with time if there is no one to maintain it. So, I am glad to see that online bookings are available, and that English and Chinese speaking customers can also be helped.

*Preparations*

It is unclear to me how long Seiko Sawada's hairstyles can be maintained. I'm also unsure of how you are meant to return the hair ornaments to her. So I'm unsure of whether or not the ideas I'm about to share are actually relevant. The hair styles Maiko Geisha wear are complex and difficult to complete, so they will usually seek to preserve the style for as many days as they can. But the complex coils and coifs can't bear the weight of the human head to be slept in without becoming mussed. To that end, I can make some recommendations for people wanting to go for this hair experience and maintain it. When you shower, take a plastic bag and place it over your hair. DO NOT ALLOW THE BAG TO HANG OVER YOUR FACE. YOU MAY SUFFOCATE. Use a headband or some sticky tape to tape the bag over your hair, so that it can't hang down over your face. Shower, and then carefully remove the bag when you exit the shower.


In order to avoid mishaps related to dressing, choose your clothing and underwear carefully. Avoid clothing and underwear that needs to be pulled over your head. Instead, pack plenty of clothing and underwear that button, zip, clasp or tie shut, so you can simply put them over your arms, leaving your hair untroubled. Bring a wide tooth comb with you on the trip. Traditional hairstyles are meant to be formed and maintained with a set of traditional combs. But a wide tooth comb may do well for touch-ups on loose hairs if you are careful. If you can, purchase a takamakura at an antique store, or in an online store and bring it with you. Failing this, you may be able to pack a small lunch box with tissues for strength, then use hair ties to strap a folded hand towel to the top and use this as a takamakura. By sleeping with your head on top of one of these items, you will be able to protect your hair from being crushed by the weight of your head, and to protect it from tangles and dust from the environment. The idea is that your neck will be held up by the takamakura, while your hair will be untouched. This is a notoriously difficult process to adapt to. I have tried to think of some cheat way to make it easier. But if there were such a thing, I imagine geisha would have thought of it by now. Final Tip Since it is possible for Seiko Sawada to use your natural hair, you may wish to colour your hair in an unusual colour, so that your nihongami will be especially unique. I really do hope I get to go myself one day. In the footage, Seiko looks like a beautifully sincere person in the work she does, so having my hair styled by her would be an absolute delight.

(Image borrowed from Beauty parlor SAWADA, 2021.)

While Seiko Sawada does offer kimono rental as part of her studio services, you may wish to own your own kimono to take with you as you travel. If you like, you could purchase kimono, or various contemporised Japanese style items in my store:

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