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The Asahi Shimbun
National Report
By SHIN KASAHARA/ Staff Writer
October 24, 2022 at 07:00 JST
Photo/Illutration Liu Yuting practices hairdressing at the Hollywood University of Beauty & Fashion, a vocational school in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, on Aug. 10. (Shin Kasahara)
Liu Yuting will soon embark on the career path shes dreamed about for seven years: a hairdresser in Japan.
“I believe the art of Japanese hairstyling can make customers cute and smiley,” said the 28-year-old, who will start working at a beauty salon in the capital as early as November.
A native of China’s Jiangsu province, Liu would not have been able to work in Japan had Tokyo not become the first municipality in the nation to be designated as a “national strategic special zone” for non-Japanese hairdressers.
In Japan, foreign nationals have long faced the paradox of being eligible to obtain a license for beauticians, dieticians and other vocations, but not being able to find employment with it because they cannot acquire residence status that allows them to work in relevant jobs.
Starting in October, however, they are allowed to work as a hairdresser in Tokyo, a testing ground for the new deregulatory measure, for a maximum of five years if they meet certain requirements, such as having Japanese proficiency.
Liu graduated this spring from the Hollywood University of Beauty & Fashion, a vocational school in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, and obtained a beautician’s license.
A great lover of Japanese fashion, Liu went to a beauty salon in Tokyo’s trendsetting Minami-Aoyama district during her first trip to Japan in 2015.
She used gestures to ask for a hairdo with straight bangs. The new hairstyle made her feel more confident in herself.
“I was surprised by the way they did my hair in a natural style that looked great on me,” she said in clearly pronounced Japanese.
She decided to learn Japanese hairstyling techniques to make other people happy.
Having given up a well-paying job at a railway company, Liu returned to Tokyo three years later, attended a Japanese language school and went on to the vocational school.
A beautician’s license can be obtained by attending a training institution designated by a prefectural government and passing a national examination. Eligibility requirements contain no provision on nationality.
Despite the breakthrough in Tokyo’s hairstyling industry, doors remain closed for other vocations, such as nutritionists, across the country.
A 24-year-old South Korean left Japan three years ago after she attended Hattori Nutrition College, a vocational school in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, for two years and obtained a dietician’s license.
“Why am I not allowed to work here after studying as a student sponsored by the Japanese government?” she asked herself at the time.
The woman is now studying Japanese at a university of foreign studies in South Korea to draw on her language skills.
“I have been told that nutritionists are in short supply at hospitals and retirement homes in Japan,” she said. “Is it not a problem for Japan that non-Japanese who have acquired expert knowledge are not allowed to work in the country?”
Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, 20 to 30 students from China, South Korea and Taiwan studied at Hattori Nutrition College every year.
Graduating from the school entitles them to a dietician’s license but unable to work in Japan, they returned to their home countries.
“It’s such a waste because they acquire advanced knowledge and skills,” said a representative of the school.
The official expressed hope that the lifting of the work ban for non-Japanese hairdressers in Tokyo will be followed by a similar deregulation for nutritionists.
The same goes for alternative healing professionals, such as acupuncturists, moxibustion practitioners and bonesetters officially known as “judo therapists.”
Several international students are enrolled at the Japan Judo Therapy, Acupuncture & Moxibustion Therapy College, a vocational school in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, every year.
“We want foreign students who have obtained licenses to work, but there is nothing we can do about it because it is a system established by the government,” said a representative of the school.
Kiyoto Tanno, a professor of labor sociology with Tokyo Metropolitan University, approves of the government’s decision to designate Tokyo as a special zone for non-Japanese hairdressers.
“It is a reasonable system to allow non-Japanese with expert skills to work only in Tokyo for starters,” said Tanno, who is well-versed in the issue of non-Japanese workers. “While accepting foreigners with caution, the government can expand the system if the special zone proves successful in the capital.”
He said a backlash will be inevitable if foreigners take the jobs of Japanese.
About 550,000 non-Japanese live in Tokyo, up 40 percent from 10 years earlier. By country of origin, Chinese account for the largest slice at 39 percent, followed by South Koreans (15 percent), Vietnamese (7 percent) and Filipinos (6 percent).
The hairstyling industry is hoping the measure could prompt growth.
Kazuhisa Shindo, head of personnel and general affairs at Taya Co., which operates the Taya beauty salon chain based in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, said that having non-Japanese hairdressers on the payroll will be helpful both in meeting demand from inbound visitors and in building footholds for setting up operations overseas.
Japan’s hairstyling prowess has been drawing much attention worldwide, he said.
“Non-Japanese hairdressers could work for us in their home countries when we venture abroad,” Shindo said. “We could work with them to practice Japan’s art of hairstyling across the globe.”
Three major types of residence statuses are available for non-Japanese workers: personnel in “specialized and technical fields,” such as doctors and researchers; workers in severely short-staffed industries, such as food and beverage manufacturing, farming and nursing care; and technical intern trainees.
Unless foreign nationals fall into one of these categories, they are not entitled to residence status even if they obtain a vocational license.
Hairdressers, nutritionists and other vocations “have not been deemed as falling into the category of the ‘specialized and technical fields,’” an Immigration Services Agency official said.
Tanno said residence status categories for non-Japanese workers have covered highly specialized jobs; “professions with cultural backgrounds that Japanese cannot fulfill,” such as foreign cuisine chefs; and jobs in understaffed industries, such as nursing care.
“The primary premise of the government policy has been that jobs should not be taken from Japanese,” he said.
He added that the government had apparently expected that foreigners who face no limitations on employment, such as permanent residents and spouses of Japanese nationals, may want to obtain a license and work as hairdressers, nutritionists and other professionals.
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