300 guests celebrate hair stylist Shunji Matsuo's life at memorial service

 A memorial service for Shunji Matsuo held at The Star Gallery at The Star Performing Arts Centre.
A memorial service for Shunji Matsuo held at The Star Gallery at The Star Performing Arts Centre.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
A fashion show with models wearing Makeover Magic costumes.
A fashion show with models wearing Makeover Magic costumes.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Celebrity hairstylist Shunji Matsuo, who died on Oct 9 after a battle with pancreatic cancer, was celebrated on Wednesday (Dec 6) at a memorial service held at The Star Gallery at The Star Performing Arts Centre.

Matsuo, a bachelor, was 67 when he died in his hometown of Kobe, Japan. He had gone back to Japan to seek alternative medical care.

About 300 guests and Shunji Matsuo staff attended the event, including local celebrities Elvin Ng, Romeo Tan and Jade Seah.

The memorial opened with the hymn Amazing Grace sung by singers from The Acapella Society.

In addition to speeches by friends and business collaborators, as well as slideshow videos and photos of Matsuo at work, there were musical performances by tenor singer Jonathan Charles Tay, who sang You Raise Me Up; and Mandarin pop singer Tay Kewei, who sang The Moon Represents My Heart.

Ms Samantha Vong, Shiseido's regional general manager, called him a "generous and caring person with a very big heart who asked very little in return". "He had the gift of making you feel welcome and at ease. Life was always a lot of joy around him," she said.

Matsuo's commitment to his passion project, Makeover Magic, in which he gave free makeovers to cancer survivors and the elderly, was honoured with a parade of seven senior models in Makeover Magic gowns and headdresses, who each placed a flower in front of his portrait.

In a later segment, five younger models also presented a short fashion show in Makeover Magic costumes. Then, all the models danced to Pharrell Williams' song Happy and invited guests to clap along.

Matsuo, who had been based in Singapore since 1996, had planned his own memorial, approved the programme, chose the photos to be displayed and selected the music.

Originally, he had suggested that his memorial service be held at the Japanese Association of Singapore, but when condolences from business partners and friends started pouring in after his death, it became clear that a larger venue needed to be secured, said Mr Tay Tat Sin, who has taken over as Shunji Matsuo's director.

Mr Tay, 35, told The Straits Times that Matsuo had not wanted his memorial to be a sad affair. "He wants people to be happy for him and celebrate life. Even though he has passed on, he wants to spread the message to please be happy for him because he enjoyed life to the fullest."

Even so, more than one guest was seen dabbing their eyes.

Longtime salon staff member Justin Javier Tan, who has worked at Shunji Matsuo for 15 years, says: "Being able to work side by side with him was an honour." Tan, 37, currently serves as Salon General Manager.

In his speech, he shared: "Shunji-san always wanted everyone around him to succeed. He would always say, 'Do it. You must.' Another philosophy he preached was that when you share, you get 10 times back. This became my number one principle and belief."

Mr Eugene Goh, group general manager, Professional Products Division at brand distributor Luxasia, referred to Matsuo as "a great mentor with a big heart and generosity".

"He never failed to give his staff every opportunity to make themselves better," he added.

In Mr Tay's closing speech, he said: "He told me it was very important to announce today that Shunji Matsuo hair salon will continue and that it will become even better than before. You can expect to see changes. The process is beginning. His visions describe the future all of us will be working together to create."

Trained in Japan, Matsuo opened his first salon in Singapore in 1996. There are now 10 Shunji Matsuo salons in locations including Ion Orchard, Ngee Ann City and 313 @Somerset.