Interview with Kenichi Nagase

Kenichi Nagase is one of the most prolific groomers in Japan. He belongs to a group of A-class groomers who can command a fee of 20,000 yen per grooming session.

You may find his face familiar as he’s often featured in grooming magazines in Japan. Famous across Japan, Asia and even in the USA, his unique styles spark trends in Japan and elsewhere. We interviewed him to find out his roots, his experience and what keeps him going.

How did you become a groomer?

I aspired to be a veterinarian. But I could not enter the university that’s offering veterinary medicine. So instead I went to another.

When I was in my third year in college, the desire to work with animals was still strong. So I did some research and came to know about the occupation of a groomer. Since I am also very interested in fashion, I thought it would be interesting to have a job that allows me to style dogs. So I quit university and entered a vocational school for groomers. After graduating from school, I started life as a groomer in a salon attached to the school as well as a lecturer.

Why is there such a strong desire to work with animals?

When I was a child, I had many opportunities to come in contact with animals. My grandparents live in Kagoshima, in the countryside where you could keep plenty of animals, both farm and strays. I was living in an apartment where you couldn’t keep pets. Perhaps as a reaction to that it strengthened my desire to be in touch with animals.

What are the ups and downs of a groomer?

I never ever had a fixed idea of what a groomer is about. Even as I worked as a groomer I didn’t feel any different. I get to meet various dogs, play with them and become friends with them after some time. So even though I do not own them, I kind of feel like they are my furkids and it made me happy.

With regard to skills, I do worry. For example, it can be about how to further develop my own skill, or why can’t I connect with a certain dog. But each time I go to bed I forget about such troubles. (Laughs) So there really isn’t much of a “down”.

What is most important to you as a groomer?

The most important thing to me as a groomer, which is also my shop’s concept, is to consider a dog’s feelings. I feel that is very important in everything we do. Grooming is necessary for dogs. And if your furkid feels how horrible it is to have to go through it every month, he or she will come to hate it every month. That makes it 12 times of annoyance per year. I felt sorry for the dogs.

Although dogs cannot express what they think or feel, at least we can try to feel it through their behaviour or body language. And hopefully because of our understanding them, they look forward to coming back to my salon again. This is the kind of salon I would like, hence the concept.

Your pet trim styles are very unique, where do you find your inspiration from?

I get my inspiration from a lot of places. For example, from human’s hairstyle or from the ridiculous demands of pawrents, or when I try to correct a mistake. I look out for inspirations in various situations.

What kind of mistake do you mean, a bad cut by a pawrent, or your own mistake?

Both. For instance, when the dog makes a sudden movement and I accidentally cut a portion that I did not intend to cut.

Wow, in a way, it’s a good thing because it forces you to take a risk that you normally can’t take. 

Yes, but it can be quite nerve wrecking too. (Laughs)

You took part in the SuperZoo grooming contest at Las Vegas, tell us more about it.

When I was in Las Vegas, I met a local groomer through a friend. I sought his opinion of my usual grooming style by showing him photos of my works. Before I met him, a lot of people told me that I should be doing American style grooming or else I would not win. I even gave serious consideration about these opinions because I really wanted to win. But the local groomer advised against following the American style. He said that I should stick to my own style even if the judge may not appreciate it.

My conviction was strengthened after that. So I groomed my own usual way for the contest, which is to bring out the dog’s own personality in a “kawaii” way. As expected, I did not win, but everyone was constantly taking photos of my work. It was overwhelming. I wasn’t aware while I was in the midst of grooming but those around me told me that everyone took more photos of my grooming than anyone else. After I completed the grooming, a lot of people swarmed in to take photos. Although I didn’t win anything I was glad to be able to showcase my style.

The next year, I was invited back to SuperZoo to conduct a “Japanese style” seminar. I had the honour of being the first Japanese trainer for SuperZoo.

You are coming to Singapore for a grooming seminar next month, what can they expect from you?

I can show you the most advanced techniques in Japan that is gaining worldwide attention right now!