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Sunday, May 18, 2008

WEEK 3

Handsome is not enough: beauticians make the man

Embarassed by memories of a hairy situation, our reporter tries out the cosmetic services of one of Tokyo's classy aesthetic salons


Staff writer

Perhaps no words send shivers down a company employee's back more than when your boss gravely tells you that he'd "like to have a chat with you." So, when mine at the English-language conversation school that I was teaching at said this to me a few years ago, my heart sank to the ground.

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In professional hands: Intrepid Japan Times reporter Raju Thakrar suffers through a facial course in which his face is massaged with a multitude of creams and lotions at one of Tokyo's ubiquitous aesthetic salons. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS

"Well, Raju, the thing is . . .," he muttered. "Do you remember that young woman who requested a transfer the other day from your class?"

I had a vague recollection of her.

"I don't know how to put this, but she changed classes because she couldn't, umm, stand the sight of your nasal hairs."

My what? I would have never guessed that such a thing could offend somebody enough to make them change their class.

"If you don't have a pair of scissors to trim nasal hairs (as if anyone does!) then I suggest that you get a hold of some and start trimming," he concluded. "We have to keep our students happy, so I can't have a repeat of this kind of incident."

This was the inauspicious start of my "metrosexual martrydom." Aside from nasal hairs, I have since dabbled in various designs of facial stubble, and even once shaved a part of my body that I'm too embarrassed about to publicize.

Being more hirsute than the average person — even the people who like me call me "a walking carpet" — the road has not been a smooth one, so I have sought professional help. Still, I considered myself much too masculine to know anything about namby-pamby men's este (aesthetic salons), having only a vague idea that they made men look pretty. So I decided to trust that good old rough- but-pretty icon of masculinity, soccer player David Beckham, who put his celebrity power behind Men's TBC in commercials for which the men's salon is famous.

It was no wonder TBC's Senang salon in Tokyo's Daikanyama, where I was booked to have my treatment, is the salon favored by celebs and the haute riche. It looked like the most luxurious of French villas (despite the prices starting at a reasonable ¥1,000 for hair-removal courses and ¥3,500 for facial courses).

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The victim, before
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The beauty, after

My young tour guide for the day had unusually smooth hands for a guy.

"Yeah, I had the hair removed a while back," he admitted proudly. Makes sense for the PR guy to be a walking advertisement.

After a few minutes' counseling about which part of my forest of hair to remove — all of it, I thought — I changed into a fresh-smelling bathrobe and entered the hair-removal room. Dressed in a white uniform that contrasted sharply with the dim lighting, the branch manager (who I will call "Ms. H" as I was asked not to give her name) asked me to lie face down on the bed that occupied most of the room.

Not wasting any time, Ms. H gently pulled down the top of my garment from around the neckline, and rubbed a liquid that smelled like disinfectant on the base of the back of my neck. I was soon glad to be lying face down to avoid seeing how the hair would be removed.

"You may feel a small prick," said Ms. H in a sweet but high-pitched voice.

"Prick" is not how I would describe what I felt next. I'm not sure if it was an electric shock, but it felt as if my skin were being injected in short, sharp bursts with something that tingled in a mildly painful way. With meticulous precision that involved removing one hair strand at a time, it took Ms. H just over five minutes to remove about 30 of mine — typically, depending on the body part, she can remove an average of between 50 and 70 in that same period of time.

Men's TBC, established in 1999, uses a state-of-the-art machine that removes hairs from their roots, resulting in permanent hair removal. I was not privy to the details of the machine, as it is a trade secret; in fact, my cameraman was told not to take photos of this box of magic. When Ms. H had finished, I was pleasantly pleased to find that the patch that had been worked on was very smooth. At this rate, the back of my neck would be cleaned up in no time.

As for nasal-hair removal, I was out of luck — this is one service that Men's TBC does not provide. This is probably to do with the fact that nobody is crazy — or brave — enough to allow their nostrils to be zapped. Much safer to pluck out or trim them yourself.

Young Japanese women are famous for the enormous sums of money they spend on trips abroad where they just shop, fill their bellies with tasty food, and, last but definitely not least, get a beauty treatment to top all beauty treatments. In recent years, hordes of them have gone to Korea to receive Kankoku este (Korean-style aesthetic treatment).

Men are not lagging far behind in the amount of money they fork out to making themselves look good. Studies by Yano Research Institute, one of the largest marketing research firms in Japan, shows that the men's este market has grown from ¥28.9 billion in fiscal 2003 to an estimated ¥35.4 billion in fiscal 2007.

At Men's TBC, men can have hair removed from various body parts, including the arms, armpits, chest, legs, and face. Many of their customers are aged between 25 and 35 who want to have stubble removed to give their faces a cleaner, more refreshed look.

For those of you who have no desire to remove any of your hair, Men's TBC also does facials that, once experienced, will make you realize why women spend a small fortune on this most self-indulgent of pleasures.

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Feeling dandy: A beautician points to the area where a jungle of hair was removed relatively painlessly and with clinical accuracy by a machine whose inner workings are top secret.

The room for facials was brightly lit and about three times the size of the hair-removal room. On one side, there was a large reclining chair that tilted back when sat in.

Pampered and plied with so many different manner of creams and lotions in combination with a soothing facial massage, I almost drifted away into sweet slumber. So pleasantly dazed did I become that I only really found out what transpired during my 40-minute "Try Facial" course after I later spoke to my cameraman.

First, the beautician spread a cleansing cream that removed oil from the surface of the skin. Then she used small puff-like sponges to remove the cream, and massaged in a face-wash foam that relaxed and softened my skin — preventing it from becoming stiff, thereby helping prevent the formation of wrinkles — as well as cleaning the skin. Next, an ion steam directed at my face was used to give a sauna-like effect, whereby my skin was warmed up to supposedly improve blood circulation.

Just as I was about to go into a deep sleep, I had a rude awakening when a minivacuum pump was placed on my skin to suck up the dirt deep inside the pores. Oil was then massaged in to moisturize the skin and firm up the pores, making the skin look healthier. The last step in this lavish treatment involved placing soft moisturizing sheets across my face to give it just a little more moisture.

My "after" face was the likes of what you see on TV. Shiny. Refreshed. Perhaps even a bit younger looking. But, those nasal nasties were still protruding proudly, almost saying to me, "You're never going to be beautiful!"



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