Since I was about 12 years old I knew that at some point I would live my life overseas for a little while. I wasn’t sure which country it would be or how long I would stay but, I’m extremely lucky to live here in the land of the rising sun.
Not once in those 13 years prior did I ever think that my hair was going to stop me from doing that.
It even sounds silly to say that out loud, but that’s a very real concern for a lot of black women who are thinking about living overseas. “What are you going to do with your hair?” is the age old question, all our cousins, aunties, and mommas asked us growing up. And now that we’re adults we have to ask the same question. What are you going to do with your hair?
That was the first question my mom asked me when I got accepted into JET. Taking care of your hair in America as a natural is no easy feat. Searching for the right combination of products to get the perfect stretch and curl is therapeutic in a way. And now you have to uproot yourself and leave behind not only your old life but also that magic hair regimen that made your curls pop severely.
The Black Travel Movement has really taken off in these past couple years but you still rarely see black people, especially black women making their homes in other countries for long periods of time. And I think a lot of that comes from fear; fear of a multitude of things that I’ll save for another post. But I think a lot of black women really aren’t sure what to do with their hair when their outside their comfort zone.
My Own Hair Journey
I’ve been natural for about 5 or 6 years, and I have very kinky 4c hair. My hair drys out and breaks off very easily. Even though I’ve been natural for so long, I never actually knew how to take care of my hair. For a long time I always wore wigs, weaves, and braids because I just wasn’t comfortable with my hair.I didn’t know about the LOC method or how to achieve the perfect twist out. So I went through a lot of trial and error on my own searching blog after blog trying to find the right products.
I had a lot of tough times with my hair and even thought about just cutting it all off but I think I’m finally comfortable with the way it is now. So from one black girl to another I’ll share some advice that I really wish someone had given me.
Stockpile Your Products
If you’re going to be abroad for a long time (a year or more) try to stock your luggage with products before you live. Bring at least two of everything, because you’ll have a tough time finding them here. Especially here in Japan; the black hair market is very small. If they are available sometimes they’ll be two or three times their original price. Every-time I go home I always stock up on my hair essentials before leaving. And make sure to put them in your check in bag. You don’t want to argue with customs about saving your $20 jar of deep conditioner.
2. Check to See What Products are Available Abroad
Do a quick google search to find out what products are available in your area that you can use. Check the regional amazon sites as well as other international shippers. iherb.com has a very limited selection on African-American hair products but they do have free shipping to Japan. Amazon.co.jp does sell the shea moisture line (although it is overpriced.) There are also individuals that sell their own line of beauty products as well.
3. Research Stylists before You Leave
Before you leave try to research stylist in your area that can do afro hair. In major cities there’s usually a community of African immigrants and often times there will be someone that can do the styles that you’re looking for. Tokyo has two or three salons that have stylists that work with afro texture hair; here, here, here. You can also join facebook groups where many people offer freelance hair styling services. Explore, research, and explore.
4. Learn to Do Your Own Hair
Having a stylist is good but prices abroad can vary greatly depending on the country. I never paid more than $150 for box braids but in Japan I’ve seen prices from $300 and up. Unless you’re a celebrity, you probably don’t want to pay that much to get your hair styled. As an ALT, you’ll most likely be placed somewhere very rural so it could be next to impossible to find someone to do your hair.
This was my biggest challenge here. Learning to do simple hairstyles such as cornrows, box braids, twists, etc. on my hair was frustrating. It was a steep learning curve but once I got the basics down I ended saving a lot of time and money on my hair. The natural hair community online is growing larger everyday. Make it your best friend.
5. Embrace Protective Hairstyles
I love to have my afro blowing in the wind but the weather changes so dramatically from place to place in Japan I can’t afford to have my hair out all the time. It doesn’t matter what style you stick with but find a protective style that works for you to hide your ends away from the harsh weather changes. I bounce between simple mini twits, wigs and braids to try and keep my ends covered
You don’t have to do anything elaborate to take care of your hair just keep it simple. Luckily enough it’s actually fairly easy to get wigs and hair extensions in Japan. Sites such as aliexpress.com and ebay ship them over with relatively low shipping cost.
6. Try Your Hand at DIY
I was never into DIYing my products. I never saw the point if the real product was available to me for only $10 at Target. But Japan has brought out my DIY side when it comes to hair care. I love to use butters for my hair but it’s hard to find a good whipped butter here. So I do mix together my own shea butter formula as well as my own hair clay masks.
Again youtube has been such a big help with finding recipes for hot oil treatments and deep conditioning treatments.
There are lots of black women living in Japan with all types of hair textures. Taking care of your hair in Japan will require a lot more patience than your used to giving it in America, but it’s worth it. You might not be able to go to your favorite salon every month for a while. But are you really going to let hair stop you from living abroad?
Like what you read? Pin this post!