TOKYO -- While Japan's GDP heads skyward, so too do its hairlines, if the rising tide of baldness here is anything to go by.
But while shiny domes might get struggle to get respect, there's at least one place in Japan where a clean scalp pays off. At the Otasuke bar in Tokyo -- the name might be translated as "the baldie's friend" -- patrons with vanishing locks get a few bucks shaved off their tab.
"I don't like to admit I'm going bald," lamented Fumio Terashita, a businessman with a receding hairline, as his friends cackled around the table. "But the bald discount idea is fun."
When one of his companions diplomatically asked if he, too, would be able to take advantage of the price break, he suddenly sobered up. "I'm not eligible!" he insisted.
A handwritten sign outside the door of this bar in the Japanese capital's Akasaka district features a cartoony bald-headed guy and the pub's mantra: "Baldness is a man's badge of honor!"
Tucking into the buffet on the second floor, Hiromichi Suzuki, 33, pondered the revelation that hair loss could have an upside as he chewed. The coiffure-challenged talent agent called the concept "revolutionary," but said he had been lured here, unsuspecting, by two friends.
"I knew I was getting a little thin on top," he said, "but I was shocked it was so obvious to everyone else."
To Japan's baldness-remedy industry, the world is basically divided into hair-haves (Asian countries, with low rates of hair loss) and hair-have-nots, concentrated in the Western world.
An infographic by the Japanese subsidiary of TripAdvisor found western countries tend to have the highest rates of hair loss, led by the Czech Republic, at 42.79 percent. The U.S. (with visual surveys conducted by the Aderans wig and transplant company in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles) is another baldness hotspot; sixth highest in the world at 39.04 percent. Asian countries were clustered much lower in the ranks, in the teens and twenties, flanked by China at 19.04 percent.
In Asia, Japan ranks highest for baldness, with a 26.78 percent rate of thinning hair. The phenomenon is blamed on everything from irregular eating habits and stress to overuse of hair products.
Whatever the reason, pub owner Yoshiko Toyoda happened upon the gimmick after doing stints of volunteer work. "I wanted some kind of volunteer theme with the bar," she said. "When I looked down from the second floor at the lunchtime crowds, I just noticed all the bald heads." The baldie discount was born.
Each hair-thinning customer -- partial baldness does qualify -- is entitled to a 500-yen (about $5) discount. If a party of five bald or balding men walks in, one gets to drink for free.
"Customers have to ask for the bald discount," Toyoda said. "We inspect them and decide whether they're eligible," she adds, noting that rowdy young patrons do sometimes try to game the system.
"At first, people wondered what it was all about," she said, noting that about 10 - 20 percent of her clientele currently get the price break. "But gradually, it's catching on."