Mr. Sato takes the plunge and follows the promise of a super-cheap haircut into the unknown.
The Kabukicho area of Shinjuku would easily qualify for the nickname “the city that never sleeps.” Day and night people are constantly coming and going and the array of neon lights are always flashing. It’s a bustling town and a highly congested place of commerce where any business needs to stand out in order to survive.
And yet right here is a small business flying right in the face of this otherwise sound business logic: San Beauty Salon.
It all started when Mr. Sato was noticing his recently acquired punch perm was wearing out. The curls were all unraveled, leaving his perm packing about as much punch as a wet puppet.
And then, by sheer luck as he was prowling the streets, a sign appeared before Mr. Sato which read, “Cut Until 7:00, 900 yen (US$8) Go Up the Slope.”
“900 yen?!” exclaimed Mr. Sato. He had heard of 1,000-yen haircuts before, but those were truly bare-bones affairs wherein your haircut would be done by a vacuum cleaner.
And a shampoo? Why, you’d have better luck asking them to hold your umbrella while you ran around in the rain.
Given the utter lack of frills in those places, it seems unthinkable that a hairstylist could go as low as 900 yen, especially in a high-rent area like this. And then there was the fact that the sign was directing Mr. Sato into a multi-level parking garage.
The whole thing seemed fishier than an all-you-can-eat session at Kappa Sushi, but 900 yen was 900 yen. There was no way Mr. Sato could pass up this deal in good conscience, so he began to ascend the ramp into the parking area.
After passing by the piles of garbage gathered from the tenants of the connected commercial use building, Mr. Sato neared the top of the slope. His footsteps echoed against the bare concrete walls and mixed with the humming of the countless pipes sewn across the ceiling.
There was nothing at all that would suggest this place was a hair salon, or anything else but a parking garage. But just then Mr. Sato spotted a small doorway with a sign that read, “Men/Women Haircuts, Perms – San Beauty Salon – Reservations OK.”
A light shone through the doorway suggesting that the place was open for business, so Mr. Sato entered. A woman was running the salon by herself and she looked startled at our reporter’s sudden presence there.
Mr. Sato asked for a “sports cut” and the woman quickly got to work. She turned out to be very friendly and the two chatted all through the haircut. The stylist confided in Mr. Sato that “Kabukicho ain’t what it used to be,” and “the economy just hasn’t been the same since the old days.”
He also learned the reason she was surprised was that San Beauty Salon usually only gets regulars who make reservations. In other words, people usually don’t come in off the street. Even though the sign says it’s open until 7:00, she only comes whenever someone has an appointment. The rest of the time she is working at her other salon in Okubo.
In the midst of all this chit-chat Mr. Sato hadn’t even realized he was getting a very professional cut. She was cleaning his sides with some electric clippers and neatening out the top with scissor work. She even trimmed his eyebrows!
Mr. Sato thought he was finished, but then she started to give him a shampoo too! He was sure the fix was in at this point. Clearly, when this was all over, his “900-yen cut” will have swollen to a 3,000-yen cut after all the additional charges were considered. However, even if that was the case, he probably wouldn’t complain because it was a really good haircut.
But when it came time to pay up, the woman said, “That comes to 972 yen please.”
Mr. Sato was floored, and he began to feel guilty – as if he was ripping her off. But she kindly accepted his money and thanked him for his patronage.
Big cities are often full of inexplicable, almost magical establishments that offer 900-yen haircuts or 80-yen pancakes. But to discover them you sometimes have to go off the beaten path and possibly into a parking garage.
San Beauty Salon / サン美容室
Tokyo, Shinjuku Ward, Kabukicho, 2-23-1
Hours: Depends when she has appointments
[ Read in Japanese ]