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Afro Abroad: Maintaining 4c Hair in Japan

Whenever I go back to America, after telling people that I live in Japan their follow-up question is usually, “How do you take care of your hair?” And rightfully so. The world is globalized but black hair care culture is still a foreign concept to non-black people. Every person has their own challenges when living here but maintaining 4c hair in Japan is a whole other animal. You would think with the way black culture is consumed, there’d at least be an international market for black hair car in most countries.

For black women especially, the topic of our hair care can get sensitive. Most of us have gone through a phase of rejection before completely accepting our hair texture. The world isn’t too kind to kinky/curly individuals so it’s extra important for us to be able to take care of it anywhere we go.

Is 4c Hair Manageable in Japan?

KupoKoins Jamila Wine Festival Tochigi
My Mini Fro | KupoKoins

Personally I have 4c hair— my curls are tight and kinky and dries out easily. Is 4c hair manageable in Japan? That highly depends on your routine. For some women, they easily drop $200-$300 a month on products, hair appointments, etc. while others are comfortable doing the bare minimum. I’d say if you’re hoping to remain the same hair goddess in Japan that you are back home, you might want to consider if living abroad is right for you. The options for hair prodcuts are scarce and Black salons are only found in Tokyo and other major cities. But, just because you won’t have a lot of options here that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t live abroad. If there’s a will there’s a way to make even afro hair care possible overseas. It was a journey for me to figure out how to take care of myself but with some help and guidance here are some tips I used to help make hair care here a little bit easier.

Go to Youtube Academy

One of my favorite 4c hair bloggers

If you’re like me and didn’t grow up with someone teaching you how to braid, YouTube Academy is a great start for learning the basics of care and style. A lot of natural hair vloggers go in-depth on washing tutorials, product reviews, and hairstyles for multiple occasions. Breanna Rutters is especially great for braiding since she covers everything from simple cornrows all the way to intricate tree braids. Before going abroad try to learn a few styles on your own so you don’t feel so stressed about getting yourself together for work, school or an outing.

Teacher and student take a selfie together
One of the Many Hairstyles I had here

Over Pack Your Products

Girl holding a dragon ball back pack
My Famous DBZ Backpack

It’s very hard to find specific products outside of America, and if you do often it’s marked up by at least 20%. Most American retailers don’t deliver overseas or have restrictions on what can be delivered here. When I first came here in 2014, I ran out of leave-in about halfway through since I only bought one bottle. I had to wait at least about three weeks before my mom’s shipment arrived. Don’t be like me. Save yourself some time, money, and heartache by packing more.

Minimize Your Routine

I like how evolved natural hair care has become. Taking care of your afro just meant washing it, conditioning it, then getting a perm or braids. Now people have schedules and 20 step processes in order to keep their hair in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, you might need to downsize a lot when going abroad. It’s easy to have a long drawn out style regimen in America. There’s a variety of products and stylists available, so I could just pick and choose. But once you land in a new country, the last thing you’re going to want to do is worry about your hair. I don’t mind shelling out the extra coin to ship things here but I’m much more cautious with my products. Try to get your hair routine down to something simple and easy to maintain. Wash, condition, and style; that’s it. Anything more and you’re just asking for a hard time.

Protective Styles are a Must

2 girls standing in uniform.
JET Orientation | KupoKoins

This one probably depends on the person but every black girl here I know is usually in some sort of protective style 90% of the time. Whether it be weaves, wigs, flat twists, or a head wrap protective styles are a must while abroad. The environment of Japan can be so harsh on your kinky hair. The water is incredibly hard in Japan, the weather changes constantly, and you’ll be surprised by how many wandering hands there are. Plus if you’re a traveller you don’t want to have to think about styling your hair every day. Protective styles are a must as an expat.

Join Black Expat Groups

Black Creatives Japan, Black Women in Japan, Black Travelers, etc. are just a few groups of many out there that are dedicated to Black expats like myself with certain needs. Groups like these can offer support and a sense of community through the struggles while living abroad. Often times you’ll be able to find freelance hairstylists or vendors selling their own products.

Dedicate Time For Hair Care

Black girl wearing a kimono

This last one seems like a no brainer but, it’ll surprise you how long it takes to actually comb and style your hair. I didn’t have much practice doing my hair before coming to Japan and I had to learn the hard way how long that actually takes. For me, it’s at minimum a four-hour process to style my hair. At the moment I’m on a 2-week schedule. I take one whole day to wash, comb and style my hair. Then I’ll leave it in that style for two weeks then repeat. Find a routine that works for you and stick with it.

I always pictured I’d be living abroad for a little while, and not once in that plan did I ever think that my hair was going to stop me. I have my good days and my bad days of course. Sometimes I fantasize about walking into Wal-Mart for hair cream. But this experience makes all this struggle worth it. How about you do you have any hair care tips for living abroad.

Black girl in Kimono

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