TBC is a nationwide chain of salons offering beauty treatments and hair removal. The company promotes a cosmopolitan image, with David and Victoria Beckham having appeared in their campaigns in the past.

Their current celebrity face is Rola, the bicultural model and “It Girl” who seems to be everywhere right now. However, Lifelines reader MQ had a less than beautiful experience after showing up for her appointment at their Yurakucho branch in central Tokyo a few weeks ago.

First-time customers are required to fill out several forms, including one asking about medical conditions. MQ, a returnee, speaks Japanese fluently and reads and writes at a high level, so although she had no real problems with the majority of the paperwork, she was stumped by some of the medical terminology.

“They tried to ditch me, insisting that without a translator or proper Japanese reading skills, I was unable to enroll for their services,” she writes. “I then asked if they had either an English form or if someone could possibly help me by reading the kanji I didn’t understand. They simply refused.”

Frustrated and angry by now, MQ left the premises. She wonders if her outwardly “American” appearance and accented Japanese worked against her.

After cooling down, she called the salon and attempted to talk to the manager, only to be told the manager was away that day, so she obtained TBC’s customer service number instead.

While the customer representative did call the Yurakucho office on MQ’s behalf, no apology or explanation was forthcoming, and she was simply invited to make another appointment.

“They just made me out to be a complaining American,” she says. MQ wonders if all their non-Japanese customers are given the same runaround.

TBC have a short explanation in English about their treatments at www.tbc.co.jp/english. No mention is made of the procedure for setting up an appointment, however.

For those booking online via the Japanese site, it does mention that TBC cannot accept customers with a pacemaker or HIV/AIDS. Similarly, women who are more than seven months pregnant or have given birth in the last two months are also excluded.

Lifelines called TBC’s customer service center on our disgruntled reader’s behalf. The representative was able to confirm the date of MQ’s call to their center, but said the agent who had dealt with the complaint was away. “In any case,” she said, “the company cannot reveal the contents of the conversation between your reader and our staff member due to customer privacy.” She was, however, able to answer general questions about their procedures in relation to non-Japanese clients.

The agent stressed that due to the nature of their services, all new clients are required to fill out every form in full. “The ones relating to health are particularly important to ensure the safety of our valued customers.”

While nobody is disputing this fact, what about those who don’t understand the forms?

“Our advice to our foreign clients is to have a partner or friend who can read Japanese accompany them on their initial visit. In fact, that is what most of our foreign clients usually do anyway. If they can’t fully understand the forms, we ask them to take the forms away and reschedule their appointment for another day.”

In MQ’s case, since it was only a few kanji she needed help with, surely one of the staff could have taken a couple of minutes to read them for her?

TBC’s representative agreed that yes, this approach would have been possible. However, she didn’t know how busy the salon was on that particular day and assumed the staff at the Yurakucho branch were just following standard procedure when they wouldn’t treat MQ.

The conversation finished with the representative assuring Lifelines that TBC values all their clients equally and has many foreign nationals among their customer base. However, all the paperwork is in Japanese and they can make no guarantee about the foreign language skills of their staff at any given branch.

As for MQ, the representative apologized for the poor customer service and expressed hope that our reader will give them another chance. MQ, however, says she will not be returning to TBC in the foreseeable future.

Finally, one beauty salon in Tokyo with fully bilingual staff is Boudoir in Shibuya (www.boudoirtokyo.com). If readers have any other tips to share, please contact us.

Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on NHK’s Nodo Jiman show, among other things. Send comments and questions to lifelines@japantimes.co.jp

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.