Once the exclusive preserve of women, beauty parlors, nail salons and cosmetics retailers nationwide are seeing an uptick in the number of male staff.

Kei Kishimoto, 28, has been working as a beauty consultant for Shiseido Co. at a drugstore in Osaka for over a year. His calm mannerisms and soft touch when applying makeup to customers may be even gentler than that of his female counterparts.

Kishimoto joined Japan’s largest cosmetics producer after earning an engineering degree at Tottori University.

“I was looking for a job that can make people happy,” he said. “I’m happy that I now have some regular customers, although there are not so many yet.”

In the cosmetics business, foreign companies have been increasingly hiring men since 2000. Japanese firms are following suit.

Shiseido has been recruiting men as beauty consultants since the early 2000s, and 16 out of its 10,000 or so consultants are now men.

“Female customers seem very pleased with male beauty consultants because they can feel like they are princesses when they get their makeup done by men,” said Yasuhiro Kawashima, director at Shiseido’s personnel department.

In light of the rise in male customers, Kawashima said the company is considering hiring even more men as beauty experts.

In the field of aesthetic treatments, some men are even opening their own salons.

Yoshinori Okamoto, 31, opened a salon in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, in May 2011.

Okamoto’s massage therapy has earned plaudits, but mainly because of his thick, manly hands.

His salon, which was built by remodeling the second floor of his in-law’s home, also attracts men turned away for massages at salons operated by women.

Tomoya Nakai, a 41-year-old former hairdresser, started an aesthetic salon in Tokyo last month.

“In the field of hairstyling, younger people usually have an advantage because beauticians are always required to keep up with the latest fashions,” Nakai said. “But massage therapists can continue to work regardless of their age if their skills remain satisfactory,” he said.

An increasing number of men have also taken an interest in working as nail artists.

Tokyo Nail Expo 2012, featuring such events as a nail trade show, a nail skill competition and a free nail salon trial, was held in November, bringing together many male artists.

“My nail art features ‘coolness’ and that’s my strength and I believe it is a big difference from the designs done by female nail artists,” a 27-year-old participant with four years of experience in the field said while painting a woman’s nails.

Yoshio Mizuno, director of the Japan Nailist Association, said the number of male nail artists is “steadily increasing.”

Mizuno said that men used to be uncomfortable about being nail artists but fewer feel that way today. Many pay more attention to their physical appearance, with nail polishing and maintaining cuticles becoming part of their habits.

But these men seem to be encountering peculiar difficulties not shared by their female counterparts.

Nakai, an aesthetician, said he sometimes feels hesitant giving massages to women, while Kishimoto, a Shiseido beauty consultant, said he knows little about how makeup comes off and is trying to learn about it from his female colleagues.

Kimio Ito, a professor specializing in male studies at Kyoto University, believes men previously avoided choosing beauty-related occupations because they tend to pay less than jobs that men are traditionally used to taking, such as those in manufacturing.

Ito added that, as the nation’s economic doldrums continue, men will be increasingly looking at occupations once considered for women only.

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