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Sunday, July 16, 2006



Hair today, gone tomorrow

Staff writer

"Does that hurt?" asks the doctor. "Err, not really," say I. "Right, turn it up to 40," she tells the technician. Then it does kind of start to hurt. It feels as though somebody is firing a tiny laser beam into my cheek. Indeed, that is exactly what is happening.

News photo
JT's own metrosexual man keeps a stiff lower lip and turns a blind eye to the beautifying laser being wielded by the fabulously fine-tuned Dr. Akiko Tanaka at the Kanagawa Clinic's Tachikawa City branch in western Tokyo. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS

I am here, being zapped, as part of a WEEK 3 investigation into men's beauty treatments -- they're extremely popular these days, or at least that's what the Japanese media says.

Apparently, the market for skin treatments, manicures, eyebrow plucking, electrolysis and other procedures for guys is now worth about 4.6 trillion yen per year in Japan, and new "aesthetic salons" seem to be springing up like rogue nose hairs wherever you look.

Dutifully going through the series of tiny agonies that comprise laser hair-removal has been on the cards for some hapless victim or another from the JT's Features department for some time now.

The initial idea was for an intrepid reporter to experience this as part of a planned series to be called "Lifelab," in which a couch potato would do a triathlon, somebody with two left feet would try the tango, and so on ad hilarious infinitum.

That series never came to fruition. However, I must confess in my metrosexually inclined way that cosmetic treatments are not such alien notions to me and, though I'm far too butch to admit to having had any done, a couple of stray facial hairs on my right cheek have long been a bane of my life.

Razor them off, and there in the mirror I'd seem to positively radiate. Blink, and they'd be back, staring me in the face like some monstrous appendages from a horror movie. Well, almost . . . ish.

So, when the PR rep of Kanagawa Clinic, a chain of more than 40 aesthetic-surgery clinics for men and women, asked if there was anything in particular I'd like to try out, those rogue hairs immediately sprang to mind.

But then, one rainy weekday afternoon as I trekked out to Kanagawa Clinic's Tachikawa City branch 30 minutes on the Chuo Line west of Shinjuku, I became increasingly unsure of what to expect.

Upon arrival, though, the clinic seemed just like a regular doctor's surgery. Things only began to take a tad weirdish turn when a suspiciously beautiful female doctor, Akiko Tanaka, emerged to greet me. After dutifully quizzing her about what proportion of clients were male (40 percent), and how many people the chain treated every day (8,000), I asked her what treatments she herself had had done. "Oh, everything," she replied with a demure smile. "It's much easier to explain things to patients if you have experienced them yourself."

News photo
Consummately customized Dr. Tanaka gets serious with those rogue whiskers.

It turns out that the most popular procedures among men are skin treatments such as mole removal (which will leave at least a 20,000 yen hole in your wallet) and laser hair removal (a snip at 150,000 yen for 10 sessions), followed by eyelid-folding surgery (envision 250,000 yen for "perfect dramatic eyes") and injections to enlarge the nose (a not-to-be-sniffed-at 30,000 yen to 250,000 yen).

Why do Japanese men want to look more Western?

"Of course, you've got a lovely big nose and double eyelids, so how could you understand?!" came the vacuously flattering reply. But apparently men do often come to the delightfully redesigned Dr. Tanaka with pictures of foreign models, saying, "I don't care how much it costs -- make me look like this guy!"

The industry perpetrates the cult of Western male attractiveness by employing foreign megastars to promote their services: Richard Gere is looking dandylike in ads for men's market leader Dandy House, which has 60 clinics, and David Beckham is looking cute for TBC, which has 34 clinics for men.

At least Japan's largest "men's esute" chain, La Parler, chose homegrown heartthrob Hiroshi Tamaki for their pricey TV advertising campaign.

But what's with this Japanese obsession to Westernize their appearance?

Probably something to do with the postwar "catch-up" mentality, or maybe even those 260 years during which Japan was closed to the outside world. Truly the stuff of a psychobabbler's wildest dreams.

For me, though, it came as a rude awakening to be told after five minutes' attention to my follicles by the exquisitely enhanced Dr. Tanaka that my inaugural men's aesthetic experience had terminated. Inaugral because, it turns out, the process is not permanent. Though I am told my pesky whiskers will drop out in a couple of days, it seems they will eventually grow back. Mind you, if I were to go for the standard, 150,000 yen course of 10 zappings, the effects would apparently be irreversible. Hmm, now there's something to pull my hair out wondering whether or not to do.

As I sheepishly rub my still-stubbly cheeks, the consummately customized Dr. Tanaka and the company's PR rep gently remind me that they have a lot of foreign customers for their LASIK laser vision correction. Dr. Tanaka has of course undergone this modification, too -- and recommends it highly. "I woke up the next day and everything was clear -- it was amazing!" she elegantly effused.

While the miracle laser eyesight cure might be appealing, I doubt that many foreigners will be vain and rich enough to subject themselves to invasive cosmetic surgery anytime soon. Certainly not the eyelid thing, anyway.

Me, I think I might even learn to cohabit with my hirsute extras, too.

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