Sagamihara Barber Shop Offers Expert Cuts to African Clientele

Society Lifestyle Guide to Japan

A small barber shop in Kanagawa is a hit with customers of African descent, whose hair type can pose an unusual challenge to Japanese haircutters familiar mainly with straight Asian locks. Business is booming thanks to the shop’s efforts to adapt to the customers’ hair type.

Attracting African Clientele from Near and Far

Kamizaurusu is a small chain of barber shops with just a handful of branches in Kanagawa Prefecture. One of them, the Sōbudai-mae branch in the city of Sagamihara, has seen its business double recently, thanks to its haircutters’ expertise with kinky African hair.

The shop’s staff are experienced with the characteristics of their clients’ hair type. In a market where most barbers are used only to straight Asian hair, this makes the humble storefront a welcome sight to Africans, African Americans, and others with the tight curls and kinks of Afro-textured hair.

The seats tend to remain occupied while a steady stream of customers arrive to await their turn.
The seats tend to remain occupied while a steady stream of customers arrive to await their turn.

This small barber shop has attracted a large African clientele. While our crew was there, we met one customer from Mali, in West Africa, who has lived in Japan for 10 years, and a French citizen whose parents hail from Nigeria.

The French customer enjoys the skilled attention the staff give to his facial hair as well.
The French customer enjoys the skilled attention the staff give to his facial hair as well.

The Kamizaurusu chain, which has three locations on the US Army base at Zama in addition to its two outlets in Sagamihara, has long served African Americans in the area due to their military service. According to the staff, though, the African clientele has doubled recently, with customers from countries such as Ghana and Tanzania.

Matsuda Kyōko, president of Kamizaurusu, says that customers visit the store from Yokosuka, also in Kanagawa, the location of a US Navy base. But they also travel from neighboring prefectures like Tokyo, Saitama, Yamanashi, and Chiba. “If we had more specialized staff, we could probably attract even more customers.”

 Matsuda Kyōko, president of the Kamizaurusu chain.
Matsuda Kyōko, president of the Kamizaurusu chain.

Specially Chosen Tools

“In Africa, any barber could handle this, but this isn’t Africa!” enthuses one customer from Mali. “African hair texture is totally different from Japanese. You can’t use the same techniques to cut African hair.”

Alonte Washington, a customer in his twenties from Chicago, is also happy with the Kamizaurusu service. “They’re good at doing my hair just how I want it. I’d give them 10 out of 10.”

Washington is pleased with the haircutting experience at this Sagamihara shop.
Washington is pleased with the haircutting experience at this Sagamihara shop.

Kamizaurusu barber shop has gained enormous popularity among customers of African descent. Some say they have been turned away at other shops due to their distinctive hair texture, characterized by hard coils and complex growth patterns that are hard to cut with regular scissors. Getting a haircut far from home is a serious matter. But the cutters at this barber shop have developed the skills they need to give their customers the cuts they want.

We took a closer look at how they do their work when Jema, who moved to Japan four months ago, came to the shop for his fourth time.

Jema came to Japan from Nigeria earlier this year.
Jema came to Japan from Nigeria earlier this year.

To begin, the barber uses a comb to brush out and untangle the hair—an essential step for cutting hair with such tight coils.

“His hair might appear to be a crew cut now,” says the barber, “but in fact his hair is three or four centimeters long. If I don’t comb it out properly, I’ll miss parts when we’re cutting.”

The barber begins the job: “Let’s take off about a centimeter first.” The next step is a switch to an electric hair clipper.

The haircutter uses a full array of clippers, with blades of different lengths.
The haircutter uses a full array of clippers, with blades of different lengths.

The shop is fully equipped with imported hair clippers made by American companies like Andis and Wahl. These tools are actually a vital part of the shop’s success: They come with a range of blades going all the way down to 0.1 millimeters, and the barbers skillfully use them to tailor the hair length.

“Because his hairs grow in various directions,” the specialist explains, “I need to change direction with the razor in order to cut it. The length I cut off varies according to the direction, so I adjust this while combing the hair out.” It’s like changing brushes when you paint, he explains. For Jema’s cut, the barber changes electric razors and blades seven times in all.

Next, the barber uses a straight razor to create a sharp edge to the hair along Jema’s forehead. In all, the cut takes around an hour to complete, producing a much smarter look. “The lines are great!” says the satisfied customer.

After the Same Style as a Hero

The skills and attentive service have won Kamizaurusu a following among foreign residents. But recently, the shop has seen a new trend. Justin, a teenager with an African-American father and Japanese mother, came to the shop hoping to get the same look as his hero—Hachimura Rui, the Gonzaga University basketball star who is heading to the Washington Wizards next season as the NBA’s first-ever first-round draft pick from Japan.

“I want the sides shaved for a neat look,” says the young customer. “Hachimura is big news now, but I’ve been a fan for a while, and wanted to get a hairstyle like his. I couldn’t find anyone who could do it properly, though, so I’ve been hoping to come across a place like this.”

Kamizaurusu’s popularity with customers of African descent is now attracting younger customers who want the latest styles. And its repeat customers are spreading the word as well: Some of the people we talked to have told dozens of coworkers or social media contacts about the service provided here. The shop’s dedication to cutting the kind of hair that many Japanese barbers cannot is paying off.

(Originally broadcast in Japanese on FNN’s Tokudane! on June 6, 2019. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)

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