Photo/IllutrationTomohiro Yoshizawa trims the hair of a female participant in a “hikikomori” support project in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture. (Norio Kamijima)

  • Photo/Illustraion

ABIKO, Chiba Prefecture--Stylist Tomohiro Yoshizawa knows firsthand the positive effects that getting a simple haircut can have on people with low self-esteem.

Chopping his long locks proved to be a crucial event that helped Yoshizawa, 29, gain the confidence to escape his life as a social recluse, or "hikikomori."

Yoshizawa, who works at Avenir salon’s Abiko branch near JR Abiko Station, leads a group of hairdressers and others who are helping people who seldom venture out for psychological or other reasons, by regularly organizing events to change their appearance.

“We will provide encouragement for people who have gone into their shells,” he said.

Under the Beautiful Life Project, hairdressers cut participants' hair and other specialists offer them advice on selection of clothes and makeup. Participants get to take home photos of their new hairstyles and appearance to help them regain the confidence to venture out. These services are available for 3,000 yen ($28), including tax.

“We're doing these things to give people a good opportunity to start something by changing their looks,” Yoshizawa said.

Yoshizawa was bullied when he was a second-year junior high school student and refused to attend classes for half a year. He said he rarely communicated with others during the period.

One day, however, he was gripped by the thought that “doing nothing is bad and I have to transform myself,” and visited a nearby hair salon to get his long hair cut.

“A male stylist kindly took care of me,” he said. “I was impressed that he cut my hair just as I had hoped. The experience gave me confidence.”

After that, Yoshizawa started going to school again. After graduating from high school, he enrolled in a vocational school to become a hairdresser and then began working at Avenir.

When he was starting the Beautiful Life Project, Yoshizawa asked some friends and others for help. A clothing coordinator, a makeup artist, a photographer and a life counselor joined the program.

The five-member group began its activities in December 2017. It held events for hikikomori on eight occasions last year when Avenir was closed.

They sought participants through a hikikomori support organization and other means. Seventy current and former shut-ins in their teens to 40s took part, according to Yoshizawa.

The group's second event this year was held in mid-April.

A 41-year-old man from Tokyo said it was his fourth time to join the program.

“I feel better,” he said after having his hair fashionably trimmed. “I'm happy because I really feel like a new person.”

A 22-year-old woman from Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, who participated said she developed depression at age 19 and is now trying to readjust to society.

“(Having someone cut my hair) cheers me up and makes me feel like working hard for a brighter future,” she said.