by Karuna Shinsho
With her chestnut colored hair and perfect English delivered in a booming voice, Jane Aiko Yamano, at first glance, seems an unlikely candidate for promoting a traditional Japanese robe as the kimono.
With her chestnut colored hair and perfect English delivered in a booming voice, Jane Aiko Yamano, at first glance, seems an unlikely candidate for promoting a traditional Japanese robe as the kimono. But this young American, who was raised in Los Angeles until she moved to Tokyo at the age of twelve, is doing that and more while running a beauty empire first started by her late grandmother Aiko Yamano in Japan in 1925.
It's easy to be overwhelmed when sifting through the literature promoting the Yamano beauty conglomerate. It boasts the Yamano Company, which supplies beauty products to salons; Yamano Beauty Mate, an Avon-like make-up firm that has expanded to add on a kimono company, the Aiko Yamano Salon of Beauty, which also operates day spas; the Aiko Yamano Bridal Salon, which offers kimono rentals for weddings; and the beauty schools, which encompass the Yamano College of Aesthetics and Yamano Beauty College, as well as the Yamano Japanese Language School, and the newly established Yamano Medical College. It's a family affair, with the five sons of the legendary beauty maven Aiko Yamano each heading the various companies. And Jane Aiko Yamano shares the responsibility of running the beauty colleges with her father, as Principal of the Yamano Beauty College and Vice Chancellor of the Yamano College of Aesthetics. She is also chairperson of the International Beauty Association founded by her grandparents.
But getting into the beauty business wasn't something Jane put much thought into while growing up. "In high school I wanted to be an elementary school teacher." Yet, if one looks back on the Yamano family history, it's an almost undeniable destiny. Her grandmother bore only sons and Jane, as the daughter of the eldest, was given her grandmother's name at birth. A sign, Jane believes, of her grandmother's desire then to have her play a prominent role in the Yamano beauty business in the future. But it wasn't until Jane graduated from the American Shool in Japan that this virtually inescapable reality hit her. After expressing a strong interest in going to college in the United States, Jane was handed an ultimatum from her grandparents. If she left for the U.S., then her whole family, including her father, mother, and sister, would have to go with her. So Jane stayed in Japan, studying at Sophia University by day, while learning the ropes of the beauty trade at the Yamano beauty school by night. She also got to see first hand how her grandmother worked by accompanying her to beauty shows and meetings, a task that tested her both physically and mentally. "My Japanese ability was zero... I really didn't understand anything that people were saying, so it was just by facial expressions... It was really difficult for me." So difficult that she carried around her passport for many years just in case she changed her mind about leaving. But Jane says her family and friends helped her through this tough time. Even her father cheered her on saying that if she didn't want to be in the business, then he could even be a janitor.
It's a step he ultimately didn't have to take as Jane opted to keep the family together and learn from scratch the art of beauty that her grandmother cultivated into a thriving business. And it's a business that has an illustrious history. At the age of only sixteen, Jane's grandmother, Aiko Yamano, opened her first beauty salon in Tokyo. And for the next seventy years, she would be at the forefront of the beauty industry, creating hairstyles that were ahead of her time and promoting Japan's traditional arts around the globe, while simultaneously garnering accolades and awards from her peers and world dignitaries. Jane says her grandmother was the talent and her husband, Jiichi Nakaya, the brains behind some of Japan's unique beauty innovations, including the electric hair permanent machine and the body mudpack.
Yet, despite the overwhelming accomplishments of her grandparents, Jane isn't intimidated about carrying on their work. She enthusiastically explains the basic beauty philosophy behind the Yamano brand called Bido, or "beautiful road." "There are five elements of beauty- hair, face, fashion, mental health, and physcial health. And basically eveything moves around these five elements, whether we teach the hands-on, technical side or the psychological or physical side. If you don't have your health, then you can't do anything. And if you don't want to do it, then you can't do it either."
Changing the mentality of Japan's youth has been one of Jane's major goals, particularly regarding their view toward the kimono. "I think it's something very special to Japan and being of Japanese descent, I think this is something we should be proud of." Yet in reality, Jane explains that many foreign apprentices in Kyoto are now learning about the art of designing and dyeing kimono patterns, and in turn enlightening the Japanese tourists about their cultural heritage. But Jane admits there are major hurdles, including the hefty price tag of a kimono and the cost of wearing it. Because putting on a kimono is an art in itself, a novice would have to pay fifty to sixty U.S. dollars just to have a professional help dress her each time. So the increasing trend of Japan's brides-to-be opting for a white wedding dress over the kimono is not hard to fathom. "Just renting a wig costs a thousand dollars for fifteen or twenty minutes. Decorations for the wig can run into the thousands. Do you want to go on a honeymoon to Hawaii or wear a wig? Well, the choice is obvious."
Aside from trying to lower the cost of wearing a kimono, Jane is also an avid supporter of quickening the tempo of the Japanese wedding procedure. If you have ever been to a Japanese wedding, you'll likely remember sitting through the long pauses between the numerous wardrobe transformations the bride goes through. Jane says that isn't necessary if you use the Yamano Bridal Quick Change. "Basically you're layering things. And the make-up is the hardest thing to change. So now what we do is we use a lot of powder so you can dust it off. You give the image of a traditional kimono with the white look and then you could go into a wedding dress or evening gown." Jane has also made other adjustments to cater to young people's tastes. Wigs come in other colors than the traditional black. Even Jane's wedding wig was in line with her own hair color, a light brown.
Speaking of her wedding, Jane married fellow California native and childhood friend, Stan Nakagawa. A structural engineer by training, Stan is now part of the Yamano business as Executive Director of the Yamano Gakuen. Despite being new to the beauty industry, Jane says Stan's engineering background has come in handy. He's currently working on the construction of a Bido Kaikan in Hachioji for Jane's late grandmother. And there are also ambitious plans underway to build a new, 30-story building that will replace the current Yamano Beauty College campus.
Future building plans aside, Jane has already got her plate full with fashion shows, kimono designing, radio shows, writing, and class field trips. The idea of the yearly excursions came from Jane's grandmother, who took her sons around the world to "open up their eyes about the world... seeing Japan from the outside and from within." And now Jane's students go on such trips to the U.S. and Europe, not taking the backpack route, but staying at nice hotels, visiting museums, and seeing top artists. Just last year, Jane took 1,100 students to Europe and was able to rent out the famous night show venue, The Lido, in Paris for her kimono-clad group.
Q & A
KS: How has your chanpon background helped you?
JY: It helps me every day, because rather than getting upset with something that happens. I always give people the benefit of the doubt.
KS: How has our chanpon background hurt you?
JY: I give people the benefit of the doubt so I may be too flexible. When I should get mad I become too understanding.
KS: What do you miss most about Japan when you're away?
JY: The kindness of the people and the service. You can't find that anywhere else in the whole world. Also the food(noodles and rice)!
KS: What do you miss most about the U.S. when you're away?
JY: Freedom. Just to be and do whatever I want without everyone knowing exactly what I'm doing. With my schedule, there's at least five people who know what I'm doing every day.
JY: Wearing the kimono and promoting the kimono. Because of my American background, my friends are always surprised that I'm promoting Japanese culture
KS: What makes you not feel Japanese?
JY: The hierarchy that goes on in Japan. The senpai-kohai thing. I just don't believe in that, unless I'm the senpai! :)
KS: Any websites related to you?
Posted by Karuna Shinsho at 2003年07月31日 17:23