Judit Kawaguchi

Words to Live by: Hairstylist Masahiro Murata

Interview by Judit Kawaguchi

Masahiro Murata, 44, is a hair and makeup artist whose salon, MaQueen , just behind the Kabuki-za theater in Ginza, is a sanctuary for both his loyal clients and staff. Murata loves people, and especially beauty in them, which he believes manifests itself in the way one treats others. As one of Japan’s top hairstylists, for five days a week he works almost 15 hours a day, and he spends the other two traveling around the country doing workshops for professional hairdressers in styling, perms and cuts. As famous for his technique and style, he is more about substance than anything else.

Many Japanese women want special treatment, regardless of whether they deserve it or not. I love women who care about others more than they do about themselves. That is the kind of beauty that will never go out of style.

Age is just a number — the higher it is, the better the person seems to get. Nothing is more attractive than people who are kind, caring and also look their best. They have a great atmosphere, and others just want to be close to them. That is sex appeal.

People who steal had their childhood robbed from them.I guess they are ill, and it is hard for them to get well. Once, in another shop, I worked with a guy who was taking cash out of the register. I didn’t confront him but invited him for dinner, where I asked about his upbringing, which, as I suspected, was troubled. I also talked about my life. He said he was lifting money off us and felt really bad about it. After that he tried to stop but couldn’t — it was a disease for him. Even his best intentions were not good enough.

Looking good is not for yourself but out of respect for others. Choose the proper look and hairstyle for every occasion.

Be toughest on yourself. People pick the easy way in or out, but I always choose the hardest possible route. This way when I succeed, my happiness is that much greater.

Effort does pay off, although it might take a long time to see results. The deshi (apprenticeship) system between master and student is very strict in Japan. For the first three to four years a hairdresser in Tokyo gets about 130,000 yen a month and works from 9 a.m. till 3 a.m., at least six days a week. The worst part is that you are almost never allowed to quit and open your own salon. In my 15 years in the industry so far, I have only seen one example besides mine where the stylist left his salon amicably.

Silence is full of meaning. My father was a carpenter and I helped him out in my teens. He used to drive me to the houses he built 10 or 20 years earlier, park the car, and we would just silently sit and stare at the buildings. He was checking if the structures were still safe because Japan has so many earthquakes that cause shifts in the ground. If he found something amiss, he contacted the owners; if not, we just drove home. We didn’t say a word but we sure were talking. He passed away four years ago, just when I was hoping to take him on trips.

True love sometimes has to lie. My parents divorced when I was six and I was raised by my father and his mother. She is 93 now and the most important person in the whole world to me. When I was a child and had a fever, she sat beside me all night, putting cold towels on my forehead. When my dad was hospitalized and we had no income, except the little money she had from selling sweets in her tiny candy shop, she would still prepare good meals for me. But she didn’t eat with me. She said she had eaten already. Actually, she hadn’t, because we were too poor, and she only had enough food to give me my portion, but she never let me know that.

A popular person is popular everywhere. He or she does more than others expect or hope for.

Your staff and customers are first. The owner always comes last. At night, I clean the whole shop, our tools, the toilet, everything. I just hope the staff follows and learns to care about the details as much as I do. I want them to feel thrilled to have become stylists and to be able work at my salon.

Japanese need to develop their personalities more. Many new clients want to look like a famous actress or model and ask me to copy their hairstyle and makeup. I encourage them to find their own style by asking many questions.

Never call in sick, unless you have a disease that others can easily contract. I try to stay healthy for others’ sake more than my own. This is my 15th year as a stylist, but I have never taken a day off because calling in sick causes too much trouble to both one’s coworkers and clients. Even when I have a headache, or stomachache or fever, I pretend that I am well. Nobody should know when I am in pain because then they worry about me.

Being a professional means continuing to study forever. Japanese never stop researching and studying. Every night after we close the shop, we continue experimenting and teaching our younger staff. This goes on till 3 a.m., then we go home and are back around 9 a.m.

Complexes are pretty simple. Sometimes they are just reflexes. Japanese want to be beautiful because we have strong feelings of inferiority, especially toward beautiful Caucasians, who are taller with longer legs and smaller faces. This is the driving force behind the well-dressed and put-together Japanese.

Bald is beautiful.Once the hair is gone, it is gone. Say goodbye and be proud that you have enough male hormones to have lost your hair.

Technique has to be shared.I keep teaching what I know because I think of this as my duty. Not only do I pass down what I already know, but I learn so much from students, too.

Body language expresses more than words can.Those who master skills quickly and well are good listeners. As I teach, I can tell instantly which students will master the moves fastest. Their posture shows attentiveness and alertness, they keep the perfect distance from the wig and have smooth, elegant movements.

Big plans require big action. Just planning is not enough — one must make the moves too.

Keeping the proper distance is the way to get really close. People come to a salon to look and feel better. Basically they need a place to rejuvenate. I listen to anything they say but I never dig deeper into their private lives.

Tokyo's greatest hairstylist Masahiro Murata, owner of MaQueen @ Ginza. Pic by Judit Kawaguchi
Tokyo’s greatest hairstylist Masahiro Murata, owner of MaQueen @ Ginza. Pic by Judit Kawaguchi

A word from Judit: Whenever I look great, it is thanks to Murata san. If you see my pics in kimono, all those incredible hairstyles are created by him, too! On pics where my hair is a mess… that’s me, naturally!

This Quote

Keeping the proper distance is the way to get really close. — Masahiro Murata