Akihabara’s awesome Off Kai is a hair salon by otaku and for otaku, and SoraNews24 stopped by for a trim.

So the other night I hopped on the train and headed to Akihabara. But while I make frequent trips to Tokyo’s otaku district, this time I wasn’t going there to search for that Slayers Try soundtrack CD I’ve been wanting or to munch on the surprisingly delicious food at the Square Enix Cafe. This time, I was going to Akihabara because I needed a haircut.

Not far from Akihabara Station (though Suehirocho Station on the Ginza subway line is the absolute closest rail stop) you’ll find Off Kai, a hair salon that bills itself as being “by otaku and for otaku.” Off Kai shares its name with a Japanese slang term for “offline meeting,” and its existence is another sign of how being an otaku in Japan is evolving from a solitary existence to a more social one, with modern hard-core anime and video game fans valuing personal grooming more than their predecessors did.

▼ The street leading to Off Kai

From the outside, Off Kai looks like any other stylish hair salon, unless you notice the sign out front which explains that it’s “a hair salon that’s nice to otaku.”

But once you open the door…

…you’ll know you’re in the right place.

Instead of the bland, general-interest magazines you might find in a regular hair salon, Off Kai is stocked with hundreds of volumes of manga. They’re lined up on shelves in the waiting area, so you can read through your old favorites or check out a new series while you wait your turn, and you’ll also hear anime theme songs playing through the salon’s speakers.

There’s also a menu of free drinks on offer, including coffee, green tea, and juice.

If you’re a first-time visitor, the staff will also ask you to fill out a survey with three simple questions. The first asks how you found out about Off Kai, while the second asks you to share a few of your favorite anime, manga, or video game series.

▼ And no, they won’t laugh at you even if you don’t list anything newer than 1996’s Escaflowne.

The third question asks whether or not you’re the sort of person who likes to chitchat while you’re getting a haircut (with check boxes for “yes,” “no,” and “no preference”). That’s because Off Kai recognizes that while some people enjoy having a lively conversation about the latest and/or greatest anime (no dull chatting about the weather here!), other people relish a bit of quiet time while they get a trim. The salon says its customers are split pretty evenly between the three conversation comfort levels, and there’s no stigma about staying silent as you continue to flip through whatever manga you’ve grabbed off the shelf while the stylists quietly do their thing.

▼ Sitting back and admiring the figures and artwork is also an option.

Appointments can be made through Off Kai’s website, which also has brief bios for each stylist, and since Haruki, the woman who would be cutting my hair, describes herself as a big fan of ‘90s anime and robot series, I figured we’d have plenty of common interests to talk about (other staff members list series such as Love Live!, Onegai Teacher, Serial Experiments Lain, and FLCL as their personal favorites).

▼ After years of small talk along the lines of “Umm, how about that local sports team?” it’s pretty awesome to have the person cutting your hair ask “So, are you a Ranma 1/2 fan too?” and then be able to bond over how you both agree that Ryoga is the best character.

In addition to being a hair stylist, Haruki is also an avid cosplayer, and is gearing up to do some KanColle cosplay at the upcoming Winter Comiket. She was also kind enough to recommend some more recent anime series that a fan of ’90s series might like, such as Hisone and Masotan, Zombie Land Saga, and Karakuri Circus.

Given its clientele, Off Kai often gets customers who ask for their stylist to recreate a particular anime character’s hairdo or color, both services they’re happy to provide. My hair is no longer long enough to pull off a respectable Vash the Stampede, though, but that’s no problem, since the staff is equally skilled at styles with no connection to any fictional franchise.

▼ Unless this sort of counts as Deckard from Blade Runner.

Off Kai charges 5,400 yen (US$48) for a haircut, which isn’t an unusual price for a full-service salon in downtown Tokyo. All haircuts also include a shampoo and styling.

▼ The finished result

▼ Before/after

On the way out, you’ll be given a point card, and once you’ve filled it up, you can exchange your points for discounts on hair products sold in the salon, or, as most customers no doubt prefer, anime figures.

OK, so we’ve established that Off Kai is a great place for a haircut if you’re an anime fan, but what if you’re a foreigner? Yep, it’s still a great place. While the staff doesn’t have a designated English speaker, Haruki says they regularly get foreign customers, and with the help of some basic smartphone translation apps, they’re able to communicate well enough to understand how they want their hair cut, once again making a shared love of otaku culture and entertainment a way for Japan and the rest of the world to connect.

Salon information
Off Kai / オフカイ
Address: Tokyo-to, Chiyoda-ku, Soto Kanda 3-6-6, Akihabara Hattori Building 1st floor
東京都千代田区 外神田3-6-6秋葉原服部ビル1階
Open 11 a.m.-10 p.m. (Monday, Wednesday-Saturday), noon-10 p.m.(Sunday)
Closed Tuesdays

Photos ©SoraNews24

Follow Casey on Twitter for more about Akihabara, though less about his hair.