Expert Advice

TOKYO TAKE OVER: Cosmetology Students Go Abroad

Alison Alhamed | October 29, 2013 | 10:42 AM
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The Pivot Point Chicago crew poses in their kimonos.
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Had you been born in Japan and decided to become a hairdresser or esthetician, this is what your life would be life: how to get your cosmetology license, how much it costs, how long it takes, where to go to school, how much money you would make as a professional, and more. Through Pivot Point's study abroad program, we head to Tokyo, for a week full of the sights, sounds, people and places that make up this magnificent city.

I would say that the study abroad program available to Pivot Point International member schools offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience to cosmetology students and alumni—but it’s actually twice each year member school students have the opportunity to attend a trip that is, for lack of a better word, INCREDIBLE from start to finish. There is never a wasted moment on a study abroad trip planned by the PPI team.

The study abroad trip I had the absolute pleasure and honor of attending was to Tokyo, Japan, for a week full of the sights, sounds, people and places that make up this magnificent city.

The member schools that had students and alumni participate on the trip were Pivot Point International academies from Chicago, Xenon Academies from St. Louis and Wichita, Penrose Academy from Scottsdale, Arizona, and Federico Beauty Institute from California—all together we were a group of 40.

The moment our plane hit the ground at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the experience began. In addition to exploring Tokyo’s major sights (including the Tokyo Tower observation deck, Buddhist temples and shrines, Hakone National Park and Tokyo Disneyland), participating in quintessentially Japanese activities (karaoke singing, sushi-making class, buying something from one of Tokyo’s many vending machines, and taking off our shoes before sitting at a dinner table), we had the most incredible beauty-related experiences.

“Tokyo, Japan, is a modern, sophisticated city that clings to its rich history as much as it looks to the future,” says Robert Passage, Global Ambassador and CEO of Pivot Point International, who attended and led our group on the trip. “It is a city on the cutting edge of fashion and design, and it is the perfect setting to learn about our industry and to be inspired by the energy of this historic country and its innovative people.”

A tour of Tokyo’s hottest salons had our group wide-eyed and camera happy—we loved seeing the high-end décor, open color bar spaces, concept salons and watching the stylists in action. Many salons offer relaxation lounges catered to travelers suffering jet lag—oxygen-infused services populate the spa menu, along with acupuncture and services in the Head Spa room. Head Spa expands beyond traditional shampoo rooms and, instead, offers clients a variety of massage and treatment options. Just like in the U.S., hairdressers wear black, stylish clothes and sport edgy hair cuts and color.

We were immediately enamored with the kindness demonstrated to us by the Japanese people. Signs of respect and thanks like bowing are everywhere we looked. Cashiers in retail stores personally thank each customer through a series of bows following a purchase—and often customers are walked to the door.

However, despite the organization, politeness and reserved nature of the Japanese people we encountered, the one place where this is not demonstrated is on public transportation. Our hotel was in Shinjuku Station—the busiest train station in the world (every day, nearly 4 million commuters fluctuate in and out of the city!). Our group had so much fun navigating the railways and managed to make it to each destination in one piece—despite Tokyo’s famed pushing and squeezing of passengers fighting to make it onto the train. One day, however, we also got to experience the Shinkansen, a “bullet train” that zips passengers across the country at speeds going up to 200 miles per hour.


Above all, our favorite parts of the trip were when we spent time in the cosmetology and esthetics schools. We toured the Yamano Beauty College and interacted with the students as they prepared for the International Beauty Forum hair competition in Tokyo. Yamano cosmetology students, as part of the curriculum, study the art of Kimono dressing to keep the Japanese tradition alive. As such, Kimono dressing is a major category at the International Beauty Forum competition held in Tokyo each year. Our group got to attend the competition—and it’s challenging to find the words to describe how incredible it was to watch hundreds of competitors dress their models in traditional Kimono on stage in front of the judges.

We loved watching them take such pride in their work—and were thrilled when our group was invited to visit the Yamano College of Aesthetics the following day where Japanese beauty students dressed up our group in Kimono so we could participate in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony on the Yamano property. First-year Japanese students created hair designs and make-up looks on each of us in our group prior to dressing, and then we were lead in a traditional tea ceremony in an ancient tea house.

They were so excited to spend time with us, practicing their English, as we spent time in the classrooms learning more about what the daily experience is like as a cosmetology student in Japan. Students take classes in flower arrangement to not only study total beauty, but the expression of art, balance of design and complementary color placement—all of this translates to beauty and the study of hair.

Our group is in agreement that one of the major highlights of this day was interacting with the Japanese students. We learned that, in Japan, cosmetology students do not work on clients or live models—instead, for the two-year program, they work entirely on mannequins. US-born educator John Parker, assistant professor in the International Beauty Communications Department, leads a class that mimics the client/stylist relationship using role-playing exercises for consultation practice so students can learn how to interact and consult with clients in English.

In the afternoon, all of the U.S. students were treated to a traditional Japanese hand massage and paraffin wax treatment to see how it’s done in the cosmetology schools and, later, learned a Japanese upstyle technique using backcombing, folding, smooth sectioning and flower adornment taught by famed master educator and stylist Nori Tanaka, Intercoiffure member Designer. While U.S. esthetics students learned skin care and facial techniques in the school’s spa.


Throughout the day, US students asked questions to learn what it’s like to be a cosmetology student in Japan and, upon graduation, what it’s like to be a hairdresser.

We were very surprised to learn that, in Japan, hairdressers do not receive tips. Instead, they work for a salary. (The Japanese were VERY shocked when we explained U.S. custom of tipping!) A beginning hairdresser can expect to earn about $1,600/month, and a beginning esthetician can expect to earn $2,000/month. “After three years in the industry, it’s roughly $2,000 per month, and after five years professionals earn between $2,000 and $3,000 each month,” professor John Parker says. “After that, the sky’s the limit with top stylists earning up to $10,000 per month.”


There are multiple ways of earning your license as a cosmetologist. You can enroll in a Beauty College, like Yamano’s Beauty College, for your license, or you can attend a junior college, like Yamano’s College of Aesthetics, for an Associate’s Degree that can lead to a Bachelor’s Degree in one of four majors: Beauty Design, International Beauty Communications, Esthetics, and Contemporary Beauty and Welfare.

The Yamano College of Aesthetics is an accredited junior college where cosmetology students can earn an Associates Degree (out of the 267 beauty schools in the country, Yamano is the only accredited junior college institution), and can elect to continue their education to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Art and Design. Yamano Beauty College is a vocational school where students earn a certificate, primarily for the national cosmetology license exam. “There are 267 beauty schools in Japan, but Yamano College of Aesthetics is the only ministry of education accredited junior college for cosmetology students,” Parker says.

In Beauty Design, students train to become top stylists; while in International Beauty Communications, students learn how to handle practical beauty and esthetic work situations in an English-speaking environment. In Esthetics, students will gain not only esthetic skills, but also management and leadership skills; while in Contemporary Beauty and Welfare, students will train to contribute widely in society. 

In Japan, more families are opting to have fewer children and, as a result, there are more elderly people in the country that will, eventually, need alternative beauty care needs. As Mr. Mike Yamano explained to our group, when people dress nicely and are groomed, their health improves—rather than staying in pajamas in a bed which can deteriorate confidence and mental health. Students focus on how to operate a wheelchair, how to shampoo a client's hair if they are in a bed, how to cut hair while your client is lying down, and more.

After completing the licensure program, stylists enter into an apprenticeship program of sorts for additional training. Still, they are not yet cutting or coloring clients’ hair, instead they are learning from their “elder.”

Through an interview with Ko Nimori, who is the manager of general affairs, I learned that there tend to be more female students than male in school (70% v. 30%). Yet, he told me that hairdressing is a predominantly male-dominated career. I expressed surprise to John Parker about that stat, and he explained that while many young women do attend cosmetology school, the following three years after gradation are extremely taxing. Many times young women do not return to hairdressing work after getting married or having children, and that unfortunately there is a challenging “senior elder” relationship that can be very intense, similar to older students being rough on the younger students during this “apprentice”-esque training. At this time, graduates still aren’t working on clients—they are studying from their masters and assisting when needed—practicing over and over and over again.

The Japanese are extremely meticulous in the work they create—we were fascinated at the perm wrapping we witnessed. Students learn to perfect the perm wrap and are expected to do so within 20 minutes (!). They practice sunrise to sunset, maintaining the perfect amount of tension, sectioning, moisture level and balance.

This level of professionalism and discipline is not unique to hairdressers. We witnessed it throughout our entire trip in every experience. When our group attended a sushi-making class at the Japan International Sushi School, we learned of the art, delicacy and tradition of sushi making. Watching the sushi chefs take such care in the delicacies they create, establishing routine hand movements and handling the fish and rice with total care. When checking out at a retail store, cashiers wrap goods in the most delicate, gentle way—whether you were purchasing a $5 magnet or $1,500 handbag (one day, in the rain, we saw a Japanese retailer use a clear plastic shopping bag to protect the paper bag underneath it—an umbrella of sorts).

In fact, when purchasing something, the custom is to not hand money directly to cashiers. Instead, cash or credit cards are placed in a small tray near the register, always. Rarely will a shopper ever hand money directly to the cashier. This is to signify that both parties are exchanging something of value and, we learned, they respect both the item and each other enough to entrust it to the other.


This pride in professionals also extends to personal appearance and grooming. Japanese youth express themselves through fashion every day. The streets of Toyko do not look like the streets of America. Women are on trend and it’s very common to see skirts with tights paired with a cardigan and little bow top. Men wear blazers and slim-fit pants. You won’t ever spot gym shoes or sweat pants ever. And forget seeing people sipping Starbucks or smoking on the street—you will receive a fine for smoking cigarettes outside of a designated smoking area—and the Japanese people follow this rule (strangely enough, however, smoking is allowed in some bars and restaurants in the city). Because it’s considered extremely tacky to eat or drink on the street, there is essentially no litter on the city streets.

Our group got to experience the extreme side of fashion with a trip to Harajuko’s Takeshita street, Venus Fort mall, Daikanyama and the famous Marui One department store. Street fashion has created little subcultures of fashion-obsessed youth. Similar to American high school’s famed “prep,” “punk,” “rocker,” “cheerleader,” and “geek” classifications, the Japanese street fashion ranges from avant garde to street couture. One of the most popular forms of street fashion is Lolita—as our guide Hiro explained to us, this is the most recognizable style in Japanese street fashion as it’s considered the “cutest.” The Marui One department store is known as being extremely unique—even for Japan’s high-fashion world, as the store offers all of Japan’s fashion styles—Tokyo street, modern kimono, gothic, Lolita and punk, Japanese pop culture, music, anime, doll and more.

There are many different forms of dressing Lolita, ranging from Gothic Lolita (a Victorian Gothic style with knee-length socks, ruffled or lace-rimmed tops paired with petticoats) to Sweet Lolita (a child-like style inspired by baby dolls and Hello Kitty), and more. Lucky for our camera-happy group, it is not uncommon for the high-fashion youth to be willing to take photos for tourists and often-times throw up a peace sign to pose for the camera.

“Our study abroad programs arrange a great mix of education, sightseeing, meals and group events,” says Robert Passage, Global Ambassador and CEO of Pivot Point International. “As a participant on these trips, your enjoyment and educational opportunities are our top priorities. We enoucarage you to learn from what you see, both in and out of the classroom, and we urge you to immerse yourself in the culture and experience the best that these countries have to offer.”

To learn about how YOU can attend a study abroad trip with Pivot Point, CLICK HERE, and ask your school to become a Pivot Point member school!



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