So usually when people are off on a trip to Japan their mind is bursting with sight-seeing locations, skiing, tours, hot springs, cultural experiences and sushi. I’ll admit these thoughts were absolutely running through my mind, although, when I did finally decide to book Japan, scoping out their mysterious skincare and beauty counters was high on my priority list.
Women are always dying to learn an exotic new beauty secret which will simultaneously turn back the clock, brighten skin tone, murder acne and generally have you walking around like a certified 10.
And as it turns out I wasn’t alone in my thought process. I had various friends express their interest to me before boarding:
“Make sure you hook me up with some bomb whitening products”
“Are you gonna go HARD on the cosmetics?!”
“Give me the scoop on their essence and serums!”
These are just some examples of what I was struck with pre-departure.
I couldn’t wait to hit up a Japanese pharmacy which I’m sure to natives is an absolutely mundane experience, or a necessity, but to me – a wide eyed foreigner – it was an actual destination point. Lets be real, when you’re a little over-grown for a female like I am, Asia isn’t really the spot for clothing and shoe shopping. Sure there’s the odd item, but on the whole it’s a bit of a battle. Fortunately, cosmetics and skincare are a little less prejudiced!
Visiting the pharmacies was a fairly horrific experience in all honesty. As the language barrier combined with literally mountains of products, signs (in Japanese of course), people and aisles of literally everything under the freaking sun I would generally leave more stressed than when I walked in. And I’m not unfamiliar with Asian products as I have dabbled a little here. I can only imagine how overwhelmed your standard Aussie girl would be. In saying all this, it’s pretty fun too. Kind of kid-in-candy-store style just taking it all in. Despite constant confusion it’s awesome and I enjoy trying new things.
There are some key differences between Japanese beauty ideals and our western ideals though, and that is probably half the reason why we are so fascinated. For example, I didn’t see one self-tanning product the entire time. NOT ONE. Walk into an Aussie pharmacy, or just anywhere selling skincare or cosmetics, and there is bound to be dozens of tan options at your disposal. Instant tan, wash-off tan, spray tan, face tan, tanning oil (if you’re still stuck in the 80s…) and more. It’s nuts. Japan – zilch. It’s the reverse…. whitening products sell like hotcakes. Just about every face moisturiser, serum and even cleansers have the word “whitening” on the label. And they were just the ones I could actually read cause believe me, the English language in Japan is bottom of the food chain.
It’s no surprise then that sunscreen is #1 on the desirability list. It’s in everything and there are more sun care products than you can poke a stick at. I found this gorgeous hand cream with SPF (pictured) which will serve me well back in Aus. As an extension to this, vitamin C products (which are said to reduce pigmentation from sun damage) are quite common and AHA/BHA exfoliants are essentials too.
So the Japanese women desire flawless, even, pure white skin. Their hair is to be clean, soft and silky and coloured either their natural black or lightened to a warm light brown, not quite blonde. Dry shampoo is a non-commodity and I know this because I ran out of my trusty Klorane (god damn travel size) and was on the hunt to absolutely no avail. The few retail assistants who managed to understand English or if I somehow managed to get enough bloody wifi to use Google Translate and type in DRY SHAMPOO?!?! looked at me like I was an alien for requesting such an item (side note – wifi is not like oxygen in Japan as one would think). I mean, Japanese women just wash their hair for God sake. Having dirty hair or desiring extra volume is terribly uncouth…… of course….
For some reason my hair copped a bit of a beating while I was away. Probably to do with forgetting my Kerastase and perhaps the cooler weather, so I picked up a bottle of John Masters rose & apricot hair milk which looked as though it could possibly be my saviour. And it was. While it’s actually a U.S based line, I am IN LOVE with this leave-in treatment/serum/multi-purpose conditioner. I’ve already put another friend onto it and she’s been singing its praises also.
Something else I noticed in droves was this mysterious “emulsion.” Which is essentially a light moisturiser. So it’s more of a lotion I guess, as opposed to a rich cream. They also love their “essence” which is said to stimulate cellular turnover and some say a serum and an essence are technically the same deal… so, up to you whether you think you need one or not. Asian women are positively mad for them though. SK-II and Missha are two standout labels with popular essences. I’ve used the Missha Time Revolution Essence in the past.
Fake eyelashes are huge business. Like, HUGE. Nearly every girl wears them and they aren’t after the “natural” look either. They are statements and there are dozens of brands available in every pharmacy or beauty store. I never bought any because, don’t hate me, but I was blessed with pretty awesome lashes so maybe in a decade or so when they start falling out I might invest but right now it seems like a waste of dough. It’s no shock then that mascara is top shelf as well and options are pretty overwhelming there too, as are eyelash curlers. Any beauty junkie worth their salt is familiar with the iconic Shu Uemura eyelash curler…essentially the Rolls Royce of eyelash curlers for the last 15 years or whatever. Yes I own one….
Liquid liner is highly coveted with Japanese women and it’s something I strongly share in common. I have an obsession with the stuff and came home with one by local line, Kate.
Another interesting observation I made is the notion of drinking your beauty. That’s right, beauty boosting tonics are heavily marketed as life-altering, age reducing, super model enhancing elixirs. Shiseido has this collagen drink which is ubiquitous and naturally when I spotted it I bought 800 bottles. Thankfully it also tastes delicious! Not sure it’s quite redeemed my looks to it’s 18 year old self but I’m hopeful it just takes a few weeks to kick in ;).
Many Japanese women LOVE a manicure and it’s not uncommon to see nail art and jewellery involved in the process. Despite the emphasis on nail fashion, my hunt for a bloody nail file lasted about 3 days in total! Shocking right?! I couldn’t believe it. Of all the basic requirements, Japan doesn’t hold the emery board in high esteem it seems. Clippers, on the other hand, are everywhere! I did eventually find a pack of about 5 by Shiseido (naturally) but it took several visits before hitting the jackpot #notideal.
So that pretty much sums it up. I’ll go into their fashion in a later post, but in a nut shell Japanese women are impeccably groomed, flawlessly made-up and their attire is clean, wrinkle free and chic. Of course there is some individuality, though they all (appear to) share these common traits. On a whole, they tend to be fairly submissive, passive and sweet people. I’m sure there’s more than what meets the eye but to a tourist this was the vibe I received.
Browse the images above for what I indulged in myself. BBS!
Chat soon xo