TOKYO---Although there are many cheap and cheerful things in Japan such as discount drug store Matsumoto-kiyoshi and 100 Yen shops, as a rule, Japan has moved away from its dark days of manufacturing when 'Made in Japan' meant cheap. Today, what they achieved as a nation would be called a successful re-invention or a spin-job.
Cheap is such a bad word in certain places like mobile phone provider, SoftBank who hired Cameron Diaz as a local image model.
This was what happened last week at SoftBank:
Me: (who is a techno-phobe and would rather spend on clothes) I would like a cheap phone, please. The CHEAPEST. No roaming, only call and text. No internet.
SoftBank salesgirl: Ah, hmm. Soh des, unfortunately we have no cheap phone.
Me: WHAT!!?? You can't make me buy an i=phone or any of those that can do tricks, walk the dog, call Saturn and internet. I don't know how to use those things. What is your CHEAPEST. Most yasui.
SS: We don't have cheap phone. Only free. Only call, text only to other Softbank.
Me: That's better. I'll take that.
SS: Do you need charger?
Me: (thinking: I know Japan is high-tech but....What do you think I'm going to charge this phone with? Brainwaves?) YES!
SS: Charger not free. It is 1500 yen.
(So I guess the phone ain't 100% free)
Meanwhile, hair salons don't come cheap (or free). My husband said that a gauge of how wealthy a neighborurhood is, is by the number of hair salons. And Hiro-O has tons! (So do many expensive neighbourhoods around the world if you will only notice)
I tried a hair salon on top of a supermarket, not exactly the most glamorous of locations. No one in there was under 65. No service in there was under 65 USD, either! A shampoo and blow dry was about 60, the cheapest service. Half leg wax was----get this Hotel Crillon of the 200 USD manicure--100 USD. But the shampoo was great!! They covered my eyes (all Japanese salons do) maybe so I don't see the prices and they gave me such a good head massage, I fell asleep.
I found another place that charges about 10 USD less, luckily next to the 100 yen shop so I can spend money on my hair and save on kitchen supplies. Aside from the usual shampoo and blow dry, the guy gives you a little trim just to keep your hair in shape.
The place I went to yesterday (conveniently located on the same street as my yoga studio and neighbourhood bath house) was yet another 10 USD less and they washed my hair in cold water with a minty shampoo then put a hot towel on my head. Before the blow dry using both dryer and curling iron, I had a head and back massage. (Plus in the land of service, they put my jewelery on a tray)
Now you know what I've been up to in Tokyo all week.
Tomorrow we will be back in the uncivilized world of Hong Kong for a few days. Thank God for a life of contrasts. Too much perfection can kill you.