EAST VILLAGE — With precision cutting and the sweet touch of shiatsu massage, Japanese-style hair salons are carving out a loyal customer base in the East Village.
About a dozen hair salons with a Japanese influence dot the neighborhood’s streets, creating a replica of the young, hip salons of the Harajuku suburb in Tokyo, which is widely known for its innovative street styles.
The often-tiny salons are not only popular with Japanese ex-pats, but westerners who enjoy the attention to detail, specific cutting techniques and shiatsu massage that are standard practice for Japanese hairstylists.
"They understand texture in a different way," said Ali Lacavaro, 34, who has gone to the Japanese-style Redge Annex hair salon on East 10th Street and Avenue A for five years. "It hangs in a more flattering way."
On a recent afternoon, Lacavaro's thick, stick-straight hair fell into the trusted hands of Nori Hashimoto, a Japanese-born-and-trained hairstylist. Lacavaro had been frustrated by years of haircuts elsewhere that had left her hair looking boxy and flat. Now she only goes to Redge Annex, where a haircut costs upwards of $45.
"My hair is almost like Japanese hair, I think," she said.
For Ai Kim, a Korean-born, Japanese-trained stylist who works at Redge Annex, years of practice on thick, straight hair has made her an expert at giving great cuts to heavy locks.
"We are used to making texture, making more movement — to make from more hair to less hair," she said. "Western hairdressers might not know how to make good texture because they have never had to."
Kim estimates that 50 percent of her clients are Japanese, the rest being mostly Caucasian, with only a few Hispanic and African-American customers.
Unlike fine hair that comes with plenty of movement, a bad haircut is more obvious on thick, straight hair, according to Yoshihide Yonezawa, the director of Yo-C Salon on East Fifth Street. He said each mistake is noticeable, adding that in Japan the female clients scrutinize each slice of the scissors and demand attention to detail, more so than the customers he now deals with in America.
To bring movement into the equation for straight hair, Yonezawa, a stylist of 20 years, begins with a "chop cut" on wet hair, where the end of the hair is cut into a faint jagged line.
"For Asian hair we need this," said Yonezawa, who charges $75 for a standard haircut for a man or a woman.
The second step, after the hair is washed and dried, involves thinning out only the hair ends in what Yonezawa called a "slide cut."
Customers may also want to be prepared to spend a little more time in the chair at a Japanese-style hairstylist, where the process can take close to an hour.
"I cut little bit by little bit," said Hashimoto, at Redge Annex. He took a small clump of Lacavaro’s locks and cut, then singled out another tiny section and cut again. The method, he said, helped give her hair movement and shape that was gradual and natural.
When Keigo Soeda, owner of K2 Salon on East 10th Street, moved from Japan to America, he was forced to speed up his scissors.
"I took so long," he said. Soeda estimated that what would take another stylist 15 minutes to cut, would take 45 minutes for a Japanese hairstylist.
But one upside of the time investment is that Japanese-trained stylists are taught shiatsu massage while they learn their trade.
"It is just a part of it," said Hashimoto, who doesn't advertise the massage as an add-on or gimmick, but rather considers it a seamless extension of his service. He took about 15 or 20 minutes to massage Lacavaro.
"The hair salons in Japan, it is a comfortable place. It is not only for haircutting," said Yonezawa.
At Yo-C it may take Yonezawa weeks or even months to train his staff in shiatsu massage, which clients receive on their neck and shoulders during a shampoo.
For Evan Kalman, a 26-year-old East Village resident who has returned multiple times to the salon, the simplicity of Redge Annex is one of its main draws. The scaled-back salon is void of excess hair products and thumping dance music.
"I like the setup and the equipment. It is a little more simple — everything has a use and a purpose," he said.
"And my hair always looks good."