Learning English also paved the way for 26-year-old Sayuri Tsuchitani, who felt the lure of the city all the way from her rural town of Anabuki on the island of Shikoku. New York, she said, had a "buzz kind of thing." She heard that it was dangerous here, that "you could get killed." And so, she added with a gleam in her eye, "I wanted to check it out."

Attending Rennert Bilingual, a private language school, became the first stop on her road to independence and a job as a hairstylist, a career she had always yearned to pursue. After two years of full-time English study, her language skills were strong enough to allow her to enroll in Libs Beauty School in Midtown. Her defining moment came when she got work as a hairstylist at Damian West, a salon at Waverly Place and 10th Street.

"That was my real breakthrough," Ms. Tsuchitani said. "That and having really great, cool clients."

She often visited with local musicians and singers who came to the salon and turned her on to the neighborhood's jazz hot spots, like the Village Vanguard and Sweet Basil. As she trimmed hair one afternoon recently, she chatted animatedly about two concerts she attended recently at Irving Plaza -- the metal band, Gwar, and the Afro-European music group, Zap Mama.

Ms. Tsuchitani now works at a Japanese-owned hair salon, Hair Kuwayama, on East 10th Street. Since 10 percent of the clients are Japanese, the salon needs bilingual employees, and Ms. Tsuchitani finds herself in the position of being an American-trained stylist working with other Big Apple Issei who underwent the more rigorous training that stylists receive in Japan.

"They can do anything," she said admiringly of her colleagues. "They blow my mind. I'm learning a lot from them."

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