TOKYO - Once the exclusive preserve of female employees, beauty parlors, nail salons and cosmetics retailers across Japan are seeing an uptick in the number of male workers.
Kei Kishimoto, 28, has been working as a beauty consultant for Shiseido Co. at a drug store in Osaka for over a year. He speaks calmly to customers and his soft touch in applying their makeup appears even more gentle than that of female consultants.
Kishimoto joined the largest Japanese cosmetics producer after earning a degree at Tottori University's Faculty of Engineering in western Japan.
"I was looking for a job in which I can make people happy," he said. "I'm happy that I now have some regular customers although there are not so many yet."
In the cosmetics business, foreign companies have been increasing the number of male workers since 2000 and Japanese companies followed suit.
|A man walks past sale signs displayed at a shoe store, along a shopping district in Tokyo January 24, 2013. Photo by Toru Hanai, Reuters
Shiseido has also been recruiting several male workers as beauty experts annually since the early 2000s, and there are now 16 male beauty consultants out of some 10,000 at the company.
"Female customers seem very pleased with male beauty consultants as they can feel like they are princesses when they get their makeup done by men," said Yasuhiro Kawashima, director at Shiseido's personnel department.
Kawashima said the company is considering hiring more male workers as beauty experts since the number of male customers has also been rising recently, and it believes male consultants can better respond to their needs.
In the field of aesthetic treatments, there are even men who have opened their own salons.
Yoshinori Okamoto, 31, opened a salon in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, in May 2011.
Okamoto said many customers have told him his massage therapy feels great because of his thick, manly hands.
His salon, which was built by remodeling the second floor of his parents-in-law's house, also attracts male customers turned away from receiving massages at salons operated by women.
Tomoya Nakai, a 41-year-old former hairdresser, also started an aesthetic salon in Tokyo in January this year.
"In the field of hairstyling, younger people usually have an advantage as beauticians are always required to keep up with the latest fashions," Nakai said. "But massage therapists can continue to work regardless of their age if their skills remain satisfactory," he said.
An increasing number of men also seem interested in becoming nail artists in recent years.
Tokyo Nail Expo 2012, featuring such events as a nail trade show, a nail skill competition and a free nail salon trial, was held in mid-November last year, bringing together many male nail artists.
"My nail art features 'coolness' and that's my strength and I believe it is a big difference from the designs done by female nail artists," a 27-year-old participant with four years of experience in the field said while painting a woman's nails.
Yoshio Mizuno, director of the Japan Nailist Association, said the number of male nail artists is "steadily increasing."
Mizuno explained that men used to be uncomfortable about being nail artists but fewer men feel that way today as many men pay more attention to their physical appearances and polishing their nails and maintaining their cuticles have become part of their habits.
But these male workers seem to be having peculiar difficulties not shared by female workers.
Nakai, an aesthetician, said he sometimes feels hesitant about giving a massage to women, while Kishimoto, a Shiseido beauty consultant, said he knows little about how customers' makeup comes off and is trying to learn about it from his female colleagues.
Kimio Ito, a professor specializing in male studies at Kyoto University, believes men previously had not chosen these beauty-related occupations as they tend to pay less than the jobs that have been traditionally taken by men such as ones in the manufacturing sector.
Ito then added that men are increasingly turning their eyes toward these occupations that were considered for women too, as they are having a hard time finding a job amid the flagging economy.