Close your eyes and imagine the serene confines of a beauty salon with its minimalist white decor, gentle music and smiling therapists — and now add to the scene a hungry, red-faced toddler on the rampage.
The list of no-go zones for the parents of babies and young children often feels like it’s growing longer by the month — from child-unfriendly restaurants (prime territory for plate flinging) to designer stores (not compatible with sticky-fingered toddlers).
But perhaps one of the most dreaded of places for parents to take their offspring is to the uniformly white, clean and child-free environs of a beauty salon.
For most mothers, the idea of undergoing a “relaxing” treatment while their children are let loose in the vicinity is likely to be as relaxing a thought as being in a car crash.
So, many woefully unpampered mothers are likely to welcome the discovery of Cirsion, a chain of beauty salons in Tokyo that offers nail- and eyelash-related treatments — as well as in-house childcare services.
The concept is cleverly straight forward: Mothers simply book childcare services at the same time as their treatment, before entrusting their offspring to qualified staff in the toy-filled Kids Room and sinking into a nearby treatment chair.
The salons accept a wide range of ages — from babies, as soon as their necks are strong enough to hold up their heads, to young schoolchildren — with a six-strong team of childcare staff all licenced and with years of experience under their belts.
I put the theory to the test last week, by taking my 1-year-old daughter to a salon in Tokyo’s Jiyugaoka district, where I set myself the task of treating my very neglected hands to a one-hour manicure.
My first reaction upon arrival was unfortunately not a feeling of serenity but surprise, as I spied several staircases leading to the entrance of the salon (it’s set above a cafe) — not the most baby-friendly of entrances.
But as I attempted to lug both baby and stroller up the stairs, several uniformed and unwaveringly friendly staff immediately rushed out to help — before expertly extracting my daughter from the stroller and whisking it out of sight.
We continued up a floor to the Kids Room. The room is compact but light and airy, with a sloping ceiling of glass and a pretty mural with apple trees and animals on the wall. And, to the clear delight of my daughter, it is also home to an expansive selection of toys, soft creatures and a large flat-screen television playing children’s programmes on the wall — a stroke of genius in terms of last-resort child control.
There, we met Miyako Hasegawa, the on-duty childcare staff, who as efficiently as Mary Poppins, makes a few brisk queries about where the nappies are (in the bag) and if we’ve ever used childcare before (yes).
Then, she magically picks up my daughter — who is perhaps too surprised to remember to cry — before I am politely ejected from the room and into a large, comfortable chair in the treatment room next door where my manicure begins.
At first, it is a little tricky relaxing: As my fingers and nails are scrubbed, soaked and scraped, I find myself trying to see if I can hear any sound of my daughter’s discontent (I can’t) and occasionally strain my neck to see if I can spot her.
But although the childcare room has walls of glass, the staff have quite cleverly placed piles of boxes and files so that even if you are sitting closest to the room — as I am — it’s almost impossible to see the children playing.
“That’s so they can’t see their mothers because that just makes them upset,” my young therapist Syoko Watanabe explains. “The children and babies aren’t allowed in the treatment area as it’s quite dangerous with all the products around. So it’s best if they just stay in the playroom with the childcare staff, who are very good at what they do.”
An hour later, it is with a relaxed demeanor and uncharacteristically pretty nails that I find myself entering the childcare room at the end of my treatment — and receive a big hug from my smiling daughter, who has been happily playing, it seems, the entire time.
“She didn’t cry at all,” says Hasegawa, after filling me in on the precise details of my tot’s bowel movements. “She loved this giraffe toy best. She did a little dance whenever it made a noise.”
It doesn’t take long for me to be plunged back into the hectic world of real-life motherhood (I smudge one nail before even leaving the salon while putting on my daughter’s shoes).
But all in all, it’s a relaxing midweek treat that I — and quite possibly my daughter — will look forward to indulging in again.
Cirsion operates four salons with childcare services within the Tokyo metropolitan area, in Ginza, Futako-Tamagawa, Jiyugaoka and Kichijoji. The service is available between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. from Monday to Friday. Childcare reservations are essential. For more information, visit www.cirsion.co.jp.