Growing up, Jane Aiko Yamano never dreamed that she would be the heir to her remarkable grandmother and the various beauty and health schools she fostered. Nor could she imagine being at the forefront of perpetuating and modernizing the Japanese traditional kimono with an eye at engaging young people in Japan. A Japanese American born in Los Angeles, she was summoned with her family at the age of 12 to Japan. Jane found herself faced with the ultimate challenge when she was 18—accept a role as her grandmother’s disciple, or move aside.
If Jane’s choice seems inevitable today, it is important to recognize the daunting task she faced. Her grasp of Japanese was limited (she graduated from the American School in Japan) and her understanding of the family philosophy concerning beauty and health was incomplete. Jane had hoped to enroll in college in America to become a teacher, but wound up attending Sophia University’s Faculty of Foreign Studies during the day and Yamano Beauty College at night. Her doubts reached an apex during this period, but her family, especially her father Mike Masayoshi, bolstered her resolve. Her determination enabled her to earn both her college degree and a beautician license, but she still had to learn how to manage hair contests, beauty pageants and other activities established by her grandmother.
Determination is a clearly a family trait. Aiko Yamano opened the first Yamano Hair Salon in 1925 as a teenager. She introduced permanent wave machines to Japan in the 1930s and founded the Yamano Beauty High School in 1949 (now Yamano Beauty College). With her husband Jiichi Nakaya and their six sons, Aiko Yamano laid the foundation for the Yamano Gakuen, encompassing the beauty college, college of aesthetics, medical college, Japanese language school and the International Beauty Association, from which the Yamano Kimono Stylist Class instructs on the art of kimono. The international expansion of the business led to the establishment of a Yamano Beauty College in Los Angeles. Mike, as the eldest son, came to America to earn his degree at Woodbury College and married while in America. He named his first daughter Jane Aiko for her grandmother.
Jane officially assumed the mantle of her grandmother in March of 1984 in a special ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York. Since then, she has spent her career developing her skill in cosmetology while learning the basic Yamano beauty philosophy: the “Bido Way of Beauty.” “There are five elements of beauty—hair, face, fashion, mental health and physical health,” Jane revealed. All of the schools contribute to the five elements and each element supports the others. Students specialize in beauty, health or medicine with additional study in kimono dressing, tea ceremony and flower arrangement.
Not surprisingly, Jane believes the Yamano Gakuen has something to offer both the young and the elderly. In promoting kimono to the young people of Japan, she observed, “I think it’s something very special to Japan and being of Japanese descent, I think this is something we should be proud of.” She acknowledged that the expense of the wedding kimono, for example, has forced couples to choose less expensive white wedding dresses, which also eliminates the need for the bride to change clothes as is traditional. Yamano Kimono Stylist Class seeks to offer more affordable kimono and has developed techniques for “Bridal Quick Change”.
For the elderly, the connection to one’s appearance and their mental and physical health is strong. Jane noted that when people dress nicely, their health improves. Mike Yamano explained that if seniors lounge around in their pajamas all day and don’t get dressed, their mental and emotional states deteriorate.
While her father Mike is President of Yamano Gakuen, Jane has many roles, including as an Executive Board Member of the Yamano Gakuen School Corporation, Principal of Yamano Beauty College, Vice President and professor of Yamano College of Aesthetics, Vice President of the International Beauty Association, head of Yamano-ryu Kimono Dressing, President of the Yamano-ryu Corporation, Board member of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, Vice chairperson of NPO All Japan Bridal Association and Souai of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea. Jane is married to Stan Nakagawa and they have a daughter.
How does she handle all her responsibilities? She models herself after her grandmother, who demonstrated “her ability and endless energy,” Jane said. Clearly, Jane Aiko Yamano is the true heir to Aiko Yamano.
*This article was originally published in the 2011 Gala Dinner journal “Continuing Family Stories: The Expanding Nikkei Community” by the Japanese American National Museum.