Go lighter, go shorter: an autoethnographic experience in Japanese hair trends

I am incredibly vain about my hair. I always have been, and I can’t foresee a future where I am not. But my hair is often not my hair. I colour it to hide the mousy brown colour it naturally is. I smooth out the natural waves and gentle curls in my hair until it is dead straight. I hate it.

“I love your hair,” my friend Yukana says, her fingers lightly stroking through the long locks.  She points to my un-dyed roots. “When I go back to Japan I want this colour.”

I am bewildered. Why?

We spend hours talking about hair and fashion. She links me to websites where she and her friends buy hair accessories online, and tells me what Instagram pages to follow. Everyone knows that’s where you go to find out what’s cool.

I ask my wider group of friends who they follow.

“Oh yes, Instagram!!” they concur, sending through models and salons they look up to.

“This girl is so pretty, I love her hair.”

“This one. Definitely”

I browse Rakuten first, heading straight to ‘hair accessories’ to see what it has to offer. Pins and combs for wearing with kimonos and yukatas. Ornate clips decorated in flowers, butterflies, or gems. Red everywhere. Accessories I wish I could buy but would be way too extra to ever wear in Australia.

I wonder how much they are anyway.


They’re all so …reasonably priced. Expensive, even. I just assumed everything would be cheap. I’m shocked to see products from Asia that are out of my price range. There are designer hair accessories from Chanel and Hermes. There are beautiful pins selling for hundreds of dollars. It’s completely unexpected.

At least Instagram is free.

I first browse album_hair, which I think is a salon. I can’t read Japanese so the rest of my experience is limited to images.

It’s all so soft. Soft lighting, soft hair colours, soft curls. There’s a lightness to the page’s entire aesthetic. I scroll through photos of girls with fringes, hair short or just below the shoulder – certainly none with my length, braids, and an overall tousled look. The hair colours are all very natural. If there are any styles with unnatural colours, they aren’t all over and they use temporary dyes. This style keeps popping up in the videos where they use a curling technique I’ve never seen before, tucking the hair under with a curler so it kind of does this little flip thing. It’s adorable.

I continue to my next page, haruna_kawaguchi_official. A model? I think she’s the one my friend thinks is pretty. She has a fringe, and her hair is often in slight waves, always tousled, and just past shoulder length. Scrolling through, it appears she’s gone from a darker brown, to this reddish brown, and back to dark brown again.

Airisuzuki_offical_uf. Another side-swept fringe. Always soft, with hair out or at least some loose. But how can I describe this colour. It dawns on me that I can’t describe how her hair isn’t black. Like many of the girls who I’ve seen on this journey, she has dark hair that I associate with Asian girls but it’s not black. I never noticed before but the lighting picks up this brown tone throughout.

Is this the case for many Asian girl’s hair colour? Is this natural or dyed?

I’m questioning everything.

I think the next page is another salon, maybe. Angelcanna. Finally, lots of hair accessories. Tons of clips and ribbons adorn models hair. I see it again, the ‘short hair undertuck’. More loose, soft curls. None of the hair colours are rich, but what’s the word to describe them. I see English sprawled across some of the photos.

‘Milk tea blond’

‘Honey beige’

‘Smoky lavender’



That’s it! A lot of these colours aren’t bright, rich tones. They’re ashy, smoky, woody, earthen. Mousy. Like me.

I’m not used to looking through Instragram for so long –  I only really follow my friends on it. I’ve never used it for inspiration before. Hmm.

I click on nobuhair. More short hair in bob/lob cuts. The hair is rarely straight, always in the ‘short hair undertuck’, in tousled beach waves, or lightly curled.



I just saw men’s hairstyles for the first time. I didn’t realise until I saw them there. Well, not really. It’s just a picture of a magazine, but wow did that not occur to me.

Finally, I’m on kyohei_konshi. I assume this is a salon because they have before and after photos. They always seem to go shorter. There really aren’t many photos of people going darker, either. They keep leaving with a lighter, shorter look. With the undertuck or tousled wave, of course. I start to notice the layers in the hair styles, usually with these shorter pieces at the front. Most of the haircuts seem to have a slightly shorter front. I wonder why.

I close Instagram, maybe understanding a little better why my friend likes my mousy brown natural waves.

Yukana finishes her English course and flies back to Japan.
I buy her a farewell gift.
It’s a hair comb, decorated with flowers and gems.


  1. Your blog post is very observant! I love your reference to the suggested Instagram page’s common theme- the fact that they all appear to have a lightness to their aesthetics. I have similar friends of Asian descent who have always envied how easy it was for me to swap through hair colours. Personally I have noticed Asian hair colour trends but never accessories.
    I found an article that touches on Asian trend setting and selfie-taking. Something mentioned that is quite interesting is a Japanese app called Primo that aims to ‘unfilter’ people’s pictures. If you would like to read more the link is: https://digc330.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/hatoful-boyfriend/


  2. Pingback: Digital Asia
  3. This was great, Mel! Not a topic that I would usually be interested in, but your stream-of-consciousness style or writing was really engaging. Your initial epiphany with your friend is interesting, while you may covet someone else’s hair I doubt many of us would think about someone wanting yours. The use of both dialogue and monologue are great for transporting the reader through your ethnographic process. Both your friend, and the Instagram accounts you’re observing show trends towards your kind of hair. Do you think that this is an insular thing within Japan, or do you think that these styles you’re seeing are due to a western influence on their beauty industry? Maybe something to explore in your follow up post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s