Chie Funakura is originally from Osaka, but has built a career as a hair stylist in Tokyo. After working at a busy salon for a number of years, she went solo two years ago. Her salon, Silva Papilio, is a short walk from Harajuku Station. Currently, around 70 percent of her clients are non-Japanese, and she is used to working with all kinds of hair.
Funakura uses English on a daily basis with her international clients. However, she says she was not that good at English at school.
“I didn’t think about using English in my career. But I always knew I wanted to be a hair stylist! I was also interested in traveling and spending some time overseas,” she said.
She was originally keen to try living in France and experience the culture there. She changed her mind after thinking about the language barrier.
“I didn’t know any French, so that was going to be a problem. Since I knew a little bit of English from my school days, I decided to go to the U.K.,” she says. “At first, I went to a language school in London for six months to brush up my English. After that, I took my CV to a few hair salons and got hired by one. I spent a total of four years in London.”
Living and working in one of the world’s major cities was a great experience for Funakura.
“It was exciting! I was working right in the heart of London, in Bond Street. It was fun just being there and seeing everything around me. At the beginning, even simple things like going to the supermarket was an adventure.”
Skills she learned in the U.K. are now useful every day at her salon.
“As I became more confident about speaking English, I was able to chat about things such as music, fashion and hobbies with my friends there. This was good practice for chatting with my clients here in Japan. This kind of small talk is a big part of communication for my job. Books and written materials are useful, of course. But in my case, I learned a lot of useful things on the job just through chatting.”
One major problem for many Japanese people studying English is the fear of making a mistake. As a non-native speaker, Funakura understands this very well. However, she says it can be overcome with a positive attitude.
“I knew my English wouldn’t be perfect — that is impossible! So, I just told myself that it’s fine to make mistakes. As long as communication is achieved, then it’s OK. I tried to think positively about things, and speaking in English became enjoyable. This motivated me to keep going,” she explains.
Even now, there are certain aspects of English she struggles with.
“I think my vocabulary is rather limited. I run my own salon, so I tend to use the same kind of phrases a lot. I can’t really chat with my clients in English about things such as politics or economics. Maybe I should read The Japan Times Alpha!” she says with a smile.
She also finds it interesting that people use different words for the same thing in English. For example, Americans say “bangs” while British people say “fringe” for the Japanese term “maegami.”
According to Funakura, learning English has created many opportunities for her, personally and professionally.
“The biggest thing for me is that I get to meet people from many different countries. I love helping each client to get the look they want. In this job, it is important to understand what the client wants and needs,” she says. “English has opened other doors for me, too. I sometimes get asked to work with international clients for photos shoots, fashion shows and weddings.”
Her advice for anyone hoping to use English in their career is to be proactive and look for chances in their field. (Louise George Kittaka)
船倉千恵 (ふなくら ちえ)
大阪府出身。大阪で５年間の美容室勤務を経て、1990年に渡英。現地の美容室での勤務と創作活動を４年間経験し、帰国。東京のサロン勤務を経て２年前に東京・原宿にサロン Silva Papilio をオープン。雑誌GQ、 i-D 他、CMやファッションショーにおけるヘアメイクを担当し、雑誌Harper’s Bazaarでは東京のベストヘアドレッサーと紹介される。