TOKYO, Feb 24 (Reuters) It's a case of the vanishing blondes. Ten years ago, a stroll through central Tokyo could leave travellers wondering what country they were in as they watched a parade of tanned, fair-haired women walking tall in precarious platform shoes.
Now fashion has moved on and hairdressers say bleached blonde tresses are going the way of fake tans, although a dark brown tint still seems more popular than natural black.
The only fair-haired women to be seen on the covers of Japanese fashion magazines nowadays are foreign models.
Even Ayumi Hamasaki, the Japanese pop world's answer to Madonna, has dyed her trademark platinum locks sleek black to stay ahead of the curve.
''What's seen as attractive now is to look well groomed and cute,'' said hairdresser Yuko Shimizu of the afloat-f salon in Tokyo's trendy Aoyama district. ''People want natural-looking shiny hair, whereas dyeing it blonde tends to damage it.'' Neighbouring countries are providing inspiration, with popular actresses Zhang Ziyi of China and Choi Ji-woo of South Korea often seen showing off their glossy dark hair in TV commercials that emphasise their Asian identity.
Japanese women of a certain age have long tinted their tresses to cover the grey.
Light-coloured hair was popular because it was believed to make the face appear brighter and to be easier to coordinate with Western-style fashions, hairdressers say.
Admiration for European hair made even mousy brown tones a more desirable option than black, while younger Japanese of both sexes sought to express individuality with a palette of colours.
While brassy blonde is out, hairdressers say few fashion-conscious Japanese women are prepared to go completely natural, since many feel poker-straight black hair is unflattering.
''Black hair simply doesn't suit Japanese women any more, because their complexions are fairer than they used to be,'' said Kenichi Uehara, a veteran stylist at the Double salon in Harajuku, an area popular with young people.
''Magazines put forward the idea of black hair, but women aren't actually taking it up,'' he added. ''The idea is to find a colour that's not too light but not too dark.'' REUTERS SB SP1042