Why These $2,000 Japanese Hair Shears Are So Expensive
Narrator: This pair of professional hair scissors costs almost $2,200. When it’s customized further, it can reach nearly $3,000. Compare that to a standard pair of hair shears that costs under $10. The main reason for this stark difference is a specialized design that ensures the blades don’t wear down and can last decades.
Artisans spend hours shaping, hammering, and adjusting two blades by hand to create shears that rarely need to be sharpened. So, how do they create a pair of scissors that stay so sharp for so long, and what makes them so expensive?
Hiromi Iida has been a professional hairdresser for 10 years. During this time, she’s invested thousands of dollars in high-end hair scissors. But those made by Naruto Scissors in Japan’s Hyogo prefecture stand out.
Hiromi Iida：It was approximately 350,000 yen [$2,500] to 400,000 yen for a pair of scissors. They do a great job and are worth the price. The sharpness of the scissors allows for us to work faster. I can hold the scissors for long time without them hurting my wrist.
Narrator: When selecting scissors, professional stylists look for three qualities: sharpness, longevity, and ergonomic fit. The scissors need precision to enable various techniques, like feathering or blunt cuts, while making the experience comfortable for the stylist. And they shouldn’t require frequent maintenance.
High-end hair scissor producers like Naruto have solved all three problems by ensuring the blades have only one point of contact: the exact location where the user wants to make a cut.
When using a standard pair of scissors, the hinge connecting the two flat blades can wear down over time, throwing off the alignment. That means the user sometimes has to grind the blades against each other to achieve a clean cut. The consistent metal-to-metal contact wears the blade edge down over time. A damaged edge has to be sharpened more often, thinning the blade further and eventually making the scissors unusable.
To avoid this kind of damage, high-end hair scissor producers ensure that the blades only have a touch where they need to make a cut. One way they accomplish this precision is by warping the blades.
Constructing blades with the correct warp and twist requires careful shaping. Artisans shape the outer blade at a fixed angle of 45 degrees from the base to the tip. The angle is the same throughout the blade, allowing for consistent cuts without deviation or snagging.
Toshio Hasegawa: Naruto scissors have a stronger warp and twist on one blade than standard scissors. Rather than crossing this way, they actually cross like this. By making the warp and twist stronger, it is easier to catch the hair, and the blade closes with a constant force in any position.
Narrator: As with the entire process of making these scissors, artisans judge when it’s ready by eye. After the first round of shaping, the blades are buffed and polished. Then they’re ready to be warped.
Adjusting the warp requires mathematical precision and undivided attention. The warp is achieved by delicate hammer strikes to the inside of the blade. The high-quality metal Naruto uses, a martensitic special alloy, is strong but elastic, allowing artisans to warp the blades as needed. The curve of each blade is about 0.03 millimeters, small enough to cut a single hair. But artisans don’t use any measuring instruments. Instead, they rely solely on experience.
Next, the blade is sharpened in increments. In the first round, artisans sharpen the edge to 70% and repeat it two or three times until the blade reaches its optimal sharpness. But this may alter the warp of the blade, so they must continuously address any defects with careful hammer strokes between rounds of sharpening.
Shintaro Watanabe: Now I will check again to see if the warping of the blade has changed. And now I am going to fine-tune it.
Narrator: Shintaro has been working at Naruto for 19 years, 18 of which he has spent in the adjusting department, working on the warping of the blades. Even with all this experience, Shintaro doesn’t view himself as an expert. But his skill in warping the blades directly contributes to the high price of the scissors he produces. In fact, the cost of labor accounts for up to 40% of Naruto’s expenses.
This is where the mechanism connecting the blades is made. It’s a crucial part of the scissors design that also ensures a single contact point while cutting. In Naruto’s case, the mechanism is called the three-dimensional circular ride.
Toshio Hasegawa: We use spacers with bearings like this one inside. This ensures that the blades do not touch each other in the center of the scissors, or where the screw is located, and that they move smoothly. This way, there will be less structural deviation from wear in the center. This will help the shears last longer.
Narrator: When the ride is installed, artisans prepare to test the scissors.
Shintaro Watanabe: First, I check to see if it is possible to cut with a constant force from the base of the blade to the tip of the blade. Once I’ve done that, I use a wig with real hair to test the sharpness.
Narrator: All this meticulous attention pays off not only in the cutting performance of the scissors, but also in their longevity. Because Naruto’s design places less force on the blades, the scissors don’t need to be sharpened as often and last longer compared to ordinary scissors.
Hiromi Iida：It’s been four years since I bought the scissors, but I have only had to sharpen them once.
Narrator: Naruto says well-designed scissors last so long that some clients still bring in scissors for maintenance that are decades old.
Toshio Hasegawa: Scissors from the company’s founding days may also be returned for maintenance. In other words, some of them have been used for more than 50 years.
Narrator: But for Hiromi, sharpness and longevity aren’t the only reasons professional hair shears are worth the price.
Hiromi Iida: You need to choose scissors that fit your hand for your work. Because you will be using them for a long time to come. The fit between the scissors and your hand is a deciding factor when making a purchase.
Narrator: Stylists request scissor types and shapes tailored to their specific needs, and ergonomics are paramount. Some producers even adjust the handles to the exact measurements of their clients’ hands and their style of cutting. While Naruto’s most expensive base model costs around $2,000, Hiromi requested an arabesque pattern, which takes longer to design. That brought the price of her scissors to almost $3,000. But there’s no shortage of clients willing to pay the price.
Naruto sells about 6,000 of its scissors a year, and sales are increasing. In fact, the global market for hair scissors is set to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 5.5% between now and 2030. But the biggest threat to the professional hair shears industry is knockoffs.
Toshio Hasegawa: Our company is not the only Japanese scissors manufacturer whose scissors are being copied by foreign manufacturers. I have a meeting next week with the presidents of some companies in the same business. It is one problem that we face.
Narrator: But these fakes don’t perform nearly as well as the originals. And producers of professional hair scissors know their buyers appreciate the difference.
Toshio Hasegawa: I think people who are tricked into buying a copy of the scissors will realize it immediately. Even if they are made to look exactly the same, our quality cannot be imitated.