In March 2008, the 32nd OMC HairWorld Championships of Beauty was held in Chicago, drawing hairdressers from 60 countries. This biannual competition is better known as the “Olympics of Hair,” and the Japanese team won the championship in the Hairdressing Category. It was the first time in 16 years for a Japanese team to win a gold medal at this competition.

In January 2009, two of the three competitors on the winning team were given an award from the governor of Tokyo. One of the award recipients was SATO Hideki. He runs five shops in Mitaka City, Tokyo, and other neighboring towns. He is currently planning to open his sixth salon.

He was born as the eldest son of parents running a hair salon in Yamagata Prefecture. “Every day customers came in and had their hair cut by my parents. When they were leaving, the customers always said, ‘Thank you.’ Seeing the way my parents worked, I found myself wanting to be a hairdresser someday,” Sato says. He came to Tokyo at age 18 and learned the basics at a barber school. After that, he joined a hair salon run by TANAKA Toshio, whom he had long admired.

One year after he started at the salon, he realized his long-cherished dream of participating in a contest. “My father had entered competitions, and I wanted to win the world championship someday,” he says. While instructing Sato, Tanaka Toshio, who had won a world championship himself, said, “Make several times more effort than other people. Concentrate on completing your work without minding your competitors.”

Sato would practice on head mannequins and people for three hours before the salon opened and another three hours after it closed. On his days off, he put in 10 hours. In his fifth year at the salon, he was appointed manager of the Shinjuku branch. The following year, he became the youngest participant to have won a national championship. But it was just a stepping stone for Sato. Now that he had qualified for the world championships, he became even more motivated.

What Sato does best is a hairstyle called the ‘Classical Cut.’ “It is a hairstyle that became popular over 50 years ago. Now the hairstyle is often used as a category at hair competitions because it requires genuine skills. The reason I strive to win prizes at contests is that I would like to prove my precise cutting skills and give my customers a sense of security and trust,” he says.

In 2003, Sato went independent. He opened his first salon in Mitaka City. Business is good, as Sato’s record of winning a number of awards at home and abroad has brought a good reputation to his salons. Sato likes to teach young staff the skills he has mastered by dint of hard work. He advises them to enter six competitions a year and instructs them himself. “I give instructions after the shop is closed and on days off. I teach only the basics, 30 percent of what they need to know, and leave the rest up to their own creativity. Rather than talking about images, I show them lots of specific skills,” he says.

“One of my goals is to train a lot of hairdressers to follow in my footsteps. I would also like to tell the world about the skills of the Japanese,” he continues. Thus his classes are not limited to his salons. He also gives lectures to young hairdressers in other salons and students at barber schools. In 2009, he started visiting other Asian countries with his mentor Tanaka Toshio in order to give technical guidance to local hairdressers.

Though he has a hectic work schedule, he visits his parents’ house in Yamagata Prefecture every once in a while. “I really respect my parents because they are over 60 years old and still active as hairdressers. I didn’t take over the family business, but as it turns out, that has made me a better son, I guess,” Sato says laughing. He gained the gold medal at Paris Cup Open last October, and is currently preparing for the world championships to be held in Paris in 2010, as both a trainer for the national team and a competitor aiming for his second consecutive title.

Text: MATSUURA Tsuneo

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[From January Issue 2010]