The zany adventures of Jess Harper, an Australian girl who finds herself fired, broke and homeless in Japan
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Jess Harper’s personal life is a mess.
She hasn’t had a haircut since 2006 and she doesn’t have time to find better friends than the self-centred associates she’s had since University.
And instead of searching for love, she’s settled for ‘friends with benefits’ status with one of her buddies. Yet none of that matters, because professionally she’s living the dream, and has just scored a highly coveted assignment in Japan with the promise of a promotion on her return.
But when she arrives in Japan, instead of the smooth integration she anticipated, Jess finds herself wrongfully fired, abandoned and broke in a country where she doesn’t speak the language.
Now she must rebuild her life and clear her name. But the friendly locals and allure of the ex-pat lifestyle soon have her reconsidering her priorities and challenging her views on climbing the corporate ladder. With a new job as an English teacher and the temptation of her cute (but already attached) roommate, Jess discovers that although life doesn't always turn out as planned, maybe that's not such a bad thing.
‘Hi! My name’s Cindy and I’m going to be your hair technician today! Would you like a glass of champagne or a cup of tea before we get started?’
I marvel at the little elf standing in front of me. She’s only about four foot ten and dressed from head to toe in tight black lycra. She is also wearing the tallest platforms I’ve ever seen – which means she’d be positively tiny without the shoes. How does she not get a backache standing in those things all day?
‘Uh, just a cup of tea thanks.’
‘Great. I’ll be right back.’
It’s only 2.30. If I start drinking now, there’s no telling what might happen later. But then again, I could probably use the Dutch courage. I’m not very comfortable in hair salons. A colour is one thing, but a cut is a life-changing and irreversible decision. I can’t even remember the last time I put myself at the mercy of a ‘technician’. Maybe 2006? Could it really have been that long? I think my aversion stems back to when I was 10 and my mum told the stylist to give me one of those ‘fetching pageboys’ and I came out sharing a do with an 80’s animated action hero. I still suffer from confidence issues due to the relentless teasing at school – I was known as He-Man right up until I graduated. And when newer students came along, I think they got confused and thought I was a hermaphrodite because they started calling me She-Man instead. Kids just don’t realise how cruel they can be.
Cindy trots back and hands me a mug. ‘It’s rosehip,’ she explains. ‘With a little honey. It’s full of Vitamins A, C, D and E. Plus,’ she lowers her voice conspiratorially, ‘it helps prevent cystitis.’
‘Oh, right. Ta.’ I wonder if this is some new hybrid service where hairdressers are also qualified to dole out medical advice. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had changed the rules since I’d last had my hair done professionally.
‘OK! Now let me just get my clipboard. Take a seat and we’ll start with a few questions.’
That confirms it. They’ve definitely changed the rules. I don’t remember filling out any questionnaires last time.
I put my purse on the floor, and it immediately attracts all the loose hair lying around nearby. It’s like a magnet. I’m going to have to find the lint brush when I get home.
Cindy grabs a pencil from the counter and perches on a small stool opposite. She slides in really close so that our knees are practically touching.
‘Alright, first question. How much time do you spend styling your hair each day?’
I think back to my routine this morning. Hmm. That’s probably not a great example. I wanted to get to the office early, but I forgot to set my alarm so I didn’t even look at my hair today, let alone touch it. It’s quite possible that I forgot to brush my teeth as well. Oops.
‘About 15 minutes?’ I reply, half as a question.
She looks at my ratty hair dubiously but writes it down anyway.
‘Question two – which celebrity’s hair do you most admire?’
I stifle a giggle. I’m really not sure how that’s going to help. What if I said Whoopi Goldberg?
‘Um... I guess I kind of like…’ I frantically look around the salon for inspiration. There’s a copy of Vogue lying nearby. I squint to see who’s on the cover.
She follows my gaze to the magazine.
‘Catherine McNeil?’ she suggests helpfully.
‘Yep. Her.’ Who?
She shakes her head and moves on.
‘What would you say your face shape is?’
What does she mean? Isn’t it shaped like a face? Oh wait! I remember this from an old issue of Cosmo. There’s oval, round, square, heart… What’s heart again? Is diamond a choice? It sounds pretty.
She frowns and looks at me.
‘No, you’re definitely not a diamond. I would say…’ She studies my face for a second. ‘… a square.’
Really? I’m a square? That doesn’t seem right. But she’s the expert I suppose.
‘Have you permed your hair in the last twelve months?’
Hang on. What decade are we in? Didn’t perms go out of fashion in the early 90’s? I did actually try one a few years after the pageboy incident but it was also a huge disaster. When my gender wasn’t being questioned, I would often randomly hear sheep noises behind my back.
‘Is this really necessary?’ I ask as politely as possible. ‘I mean, surely you can tell whether I’ve had a perm just by looking at my hair.’ For the record, it’s dead straight.
Her ever-present grin starts to falter.
‘Look, I know you probably think that this is pointless, but it’s important to ascertain all the facts before choosing the right style for you. For all I know you could have used the GHD on it today and if I choose the wrong product, your hair could disintegrate and break off. You don’t want to go around looking like 2007 Britney, do you?’
I’m rather taken aback. I didn’t realise the situation was so dire. Could I really end up bald? And what’s a GHD?
‘You know what?’ I say, standing up. ‘I think I’ll be fine. I don’t really need my hair done. I’m only here because I’m supposed to be in a fashion show and my friend Alex seems to think that my current style isn’t good enough. But maybe if I just have a word with him….’
I turn to leave.
She smirks. ‘Honey, you totally need a makeover. And your friend already pre-paid so you really should take advantage of the offer.’
I sigh. She’s right. I can’t let Alex blow two hundred on me and not have anything to show for it.
I sit back down, defeated. ‘OK. Well do whatever you want then. I don’t care.’
Her eyes gleam. I hope I don’t regret this.