17 February 2013

Beauty Destination: Brush Shopping in Tokyo

One of my favourite things about Japan is the extreme specialisation and pride that people take in their work -- even the most seemingly menial tasks are executed diligently and beautifully. I went to a gyoza restaurant recently (one of the tiny one room mom and pop shop type places) and watched in awe as the old man behind the counter churned out hundreds of dumpling shells. He must have done it every day for years, and he did it with such perfection. There was no sense of the mundanity of a repetitive task, but rather someone performing their chosen craft. I have a real soft spot for this side of Japanese life. I quite often see restaurants and shops which only sell one thing and never seem to have any customers. They must be entirely financially unviable, but are clearly the product of a dearly held dream -- run for love not money.

I also love the regional specialisation (I believe this is called meibutsu). Some people dislike this as they see it as perpetuating the omiyage culture (obligatory gift-buying whenever you go on holiday which seems to function almost as repentance for letting your work colleagues down by your absence), but I love the sense of pride and quality that it encapsulates. Small-scale regional manufacturers turning out hand-crafted wares also means small production runs, limited availability and high price points, which I think helps engender the cult status of many Japanese-made goods. For example, Japanese denim, produced on small looms in Kojima, Okayama prefecture, is considered by many to be the best in the world (for more information see this SOAS research piece).

Similar cult status is afforded to Japanese make-up brushes. The town of Kumano, near Hiroshima, is famous for the production of hand-made brushes (not just make-up tools, also calligraphy and art brushes), known as Kumano Fude. There are around 30 different brush companies based in Kumano. The brushes are so prized because the highly-skilled craftsmen hand select the (usually uncut animal) hairs for each brush to produce perfectly weighted, beautiful quality brushes. Each stage of the process is typically performed by a specialised craftsman -- from hair selection to bundling the head, producing the handles, attaching the ferrule and so on. For more information on the history and manufacture process see the Kumano Fude website

The best known Kumano companies are probably Hakuhodo and Chikuhodo. As well as producing their own-brand brushes, they also make them for a number of other companies. For example, Suqqu, RMK and Kanebo brushes are made by Chikuhodo and Hakuhodo produces brushes for Tom Ford (and formerly MAC).

This post isn't going to be a guide to Haku and Chiku brushes, but rather a quick outline of where you can find them in Tokyo. For those stuck on where to begin deciding what to buy, there are some excellent blog posts introducing the lines. I particularly recommend the following:
  1. Glossed in Translation's Hakuhodo series, which includes a very useful introductory post and buying guide;
  2. Diabolus in Cosmetica's introduction to Chikuhodo and Hakuhodo brushes;
  3. Sweet Make-up Temptations, which contains a huge amount of information -- I won't link a specific post as there are so many, but I definitely recommend visiting Sonia's blog if you're interested in brushes; and
  4. Drivel About Frivol for a number of really helpful comparison posts.

View Brush shopping in Tokyo in a larger map

Hakuhodo brushes are fairly widely available across Tokyo. There are counters at a number of department stores, including Mitsukoshi Ginza and Tobu Ikebukuro (see my department store guides here and here). However, the counters only carry a small number of the huge range of Haku brushes so if you have time I highly recommend paying a visit to their Aoyama boutique in Omotesando. As with most places in Tokyo, it's quite difficult to find and it's almost essential to have a Google Maps app. A bonus is that once you do finally find it, the shop is just down the road from the excellent Kua 'Aina Hawaiian burger cafe.

The Omotesando shop sells the full range of brushes, which is extensive -- as you can see from my dodgy iPhone pics below.

Until recently it wasn't possible to buy Chikuhodo brushes in Tokyo other than at the occasional temporary pop-up stand in major department stores.

Fortunately last summer they opened a counter at the TAU Hiroshima brand shop in Ginza. The Kumano Fude shop on the 2nd floor sells a selection of brushes produced by Chikuhodo, Koyudo, Tanseido, Kyukasangyo, Nakamura and Mizuho Brush.

This is a genuinely fascinating little shop. I find the staff unfailingly helpful. They also let me play with the Kiwami set so I obviously love them. The shop doesn't carry every single Chiku brush, but they do have a good selection and stock most of the Artist and Z series.

Note that Chikuhodo still have the travelling department store counters. Details of these are listed on their website under 'What's New' (non-Japanese speakers will need to use Google translate).
Hopefully I will at some point get around to writing a post on my favourite Haku and Chiku brushes. I am also keen to pay a trip to Kumano and visit the museum there...

19 January 2013

Beauty Destination - Kyoto

I use the term 'beauty destination' fairly loosely for Kyoto, because of course there are so many wonderful and beautiful sights to be seen that make-up shopping is probably not very high up most people's to-do list. However, not every visitor to Japan travels via Tokyo so I thought it might be useful to show what you can find in Kyoto. There are also a couple of Kyoto-exclusives that are worth a little look.

View Beauty Destination - Kyoto in a larger map

In terms of general beauty shopping, Kyoto has a few department stores. There is a branch of Isetan in the station which stocks Helen Rubenstein, Anna Sui, RMK, Shu Uemura, Kanebo and more. It also has a little offshoot (Suvaco Isetan) which houses drugstore lines plus mid-range brands including MAC and L'Occitane. 

Downtown Kyoto is the most obvious place to head for department store shopping. Here you will find Takashimaya and Daimaru, which between them stock most major beauty lines. Note that, as far as I know, neither Addiction nor Suqqu are available in Kyoto. My other most favoured Japanese brand, THREE, has a small counter in Takashimaya. There is also a branch of OPAQUE in Downtown Kyoto which sells a selection of 'natural' beauty lines including Jurlique, John Masters Organics and Erbaviva. For drugstore products and other curiosities head to LOFT.

Kyoto's most famous beauty brand is Yojiya, which was founded in 1904 and is probably best-known for its blotting papers. There are a number of Yojiya stores dotted around Kyoto -- you can spot them by looking for the mirror/head logo. Other than at a couple of counters at Narita, Haneda and Kansai airports, Yojiya products are not available outside Kyoto.

The Yojiya website has a full list of the Kyoto store locations. There is one in Downtown Kyoto and a large store in Gion. There is also a pretty shop and garden just off the Philosopher's Walk en route to Ginkaku-ji (for me the most beautiful of Kyoto's temples).

As well as the blotting papers, Yojiya also produces a number of skincare products plus some colour cosmetics and brushes. I only saw the make-up and brushes on sale in the Gion store. I was most interested in the lip creams, but skipped them as they seemed too sticky to double up as cream blushers. See Messy Wands for reviews of a Yojiya lipstick and cheek brush.

Also just off the Philosopher's Walk is Chidoriya, which sells a range of natural/organic Japanese beauty products and accessories. Chidoriya products are carried by a number of stores in Tokyo and the US, but the only free-standing store is in Kyoto. There is also a little salon next to the shop. I had to work quite hard not to buy everything in this shop. I managed to limit myself to the Nail Treatment Oil, which is lovely (if very expensive). Interestingly for a brand which markets itself as selling Japanese products, an awful lot of them are made in the USA (including the nail oil).

Make-up aside, this post is really just an excuse for me to spam you with some photos from my most recent trip to Kyoto. I went in November at the height of koyo season -- it was gloriously beautiful (if very crowded). 
Clockwise from top left: koyo at Kinkaku-ji, Kinkaku-ji, more koyo, gardens at Ginkaku-ji (I love seeing propped-up trees), Ginkaku-ji.
Clockwise from top left: lots of temples have a little spot for a cup of matcha and a sweet, Gion, Kinkaku-ji koyo, gardens at Ginkaku-ji.
Have you visited Kyoto? Is there anywhere you think I should add to my list? Let me know!

17 November 2012

Beauty Destination: Tokyo Department Stores Part II - Shinjuku and Ikebukuro

As much as I love visiting Ginza for its department stores, it is actually a little out of the way for me. My most regular haunts are in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. [I will make no bones about excluding Shibuya from this series (at least for now) because I try to avoid it like the plague.]

I generally choose to head to Shinjuku, which is packed full of department stores and high street shops. There are several enormous branches of Muji, a large (and loud) Topshop, a big Tokyu Hands and so on. I find Ikebukuro less appealing as an area -- it's something of a transport hub and not terribly attractive. It does, however, have some decent department stores which are conveniently located by the station.


Isetan is a strong contender for my favourite place to shop in Tokyo. The Shinjuku branch, which was established in 1886, is the chain's flagship store. The beauty hall (on the first/ground floor of the main Isetan building) is not as capacious as that of Mitsukoshi Ginza, but it's a bit easier to navigate and equally stuffed with all my favourite brands. It can be a bit less overwhelming than Mitsukoshi so might be preferable for first-time visitors and jet-lag sufferers.

As well as the usual high-end Western brands you will find counters for Addiction, THREE, Shu Uemura, Suqqu, Anna Sui, Sonia Rykiel and so on. Around the corner by the handbags and jewellery there is also a small perfume selection (with a large Jo Malone counter).

Isetan recently re-opened a really excellent 'Beauty Apothecary' on floor B2 of the main building. This section stocks tonnes of brands, including lines such as John Masters Organics, Korres, Ila, Jane Iredale, Nuxe and Sundari. The Beauty Apothecary also sells products intended to promote 'inner beauty' - i.e. organic teas and foods, all imaginable brands of bottled water, etc.. The space is large and well-designed. Shopping in Isetan is a real pleasure.

Lampone and Crema di Grom
Note that Isetan is housed across more than one building and there is another beauty section in one of the off-shoot sites. The 'Beauty Park' (housed in Park City Isetan, around the corner from the main building) has counters for a number of high-end brands including Sisley, Cle de Peau, SK-II and De La Mer.

My other (possibly most) favourite thing about Isetan is its proximity to a very tasty gelateria... Grom is located on the ground floor of the O1O1 (Marui) building opposite Isetan and, oh my, the gelato is good. Now it's colder they've also started selling the most delicious hot chocolate so I can barely keep myself away.


Takashimaya is my newest discovery in Shinjuku. The department store chain was founded in Kyoto in the 1820s and the Shinjuku branch opened in 1996. Although the beauty section (on the first floor) slightly has the feel of a train station (it's huge with high echoing ceilings and seems a little under-populated), it has some decent brands and is a quiet and pleasant place to shop.

Counters you will find in the Takashimaya beauty hall include Paul & Joe, Jill Stuart, Sonia Rykiel, Albion, POLA, Ipsa, Est, Cosme de Corte and RMK.

It has the added benefit of a great purse emptier Kino Kuniya food shop in the basement selling all sorts of exciting (and expensive) yummies. There is also a big Tokyu Hands on floors two to eight of the Takashimaya building, including a cosmetics section with a large number of Western and Asian drugstore products (more on this in a later post). 

Note that both Isetan and Takashimaya Times Square are directly accessible from Shinjuku-sanchome station (as well as via several street level entrances).


The Seibu department store chain was founded in in 1949 and the flagship is located in Ikebukuro (there are also branches in Shinjuku and Yurakucho). Seibu is owned by the same parent company as Sogo, another Japanese department store with a number of overseas branches (although many of these have been sold off, including the Hong Kong stores) and the Loft chain of shops. The Sogo & Seibu Company is in turn owned by Seven & I Holdings which also indirectly owns the ubiquitous 7-Eleven convenience stores.

It's actually quite tricky (at least for me) to find the beauty hall when entering from Ikebukuro station as it involves walking through several departments and going up and down escalators. I find it easiest to exit the station and walk straight into the beauty department from the street.

The beauty hall is expansive and well-stocked. All the obvious high and mid-end Western brands are there, including Chanel, Dior, Bobbi Brown, MAC, Guerlain and so on. Other counters include Addiction, Shu Uemura, THREE, Paul & Joe, Jill Stuart, Sonia Rykiel, Anna Sui, Cle de Peau, RMK, etc..  

There is also a small section called the 'Organic Market' with lines such as Trilogy, Neal's Yard Remedies, Dr Hauschka, PHYT'S, Primavera and Senteurs du Sud. Just around the corner from this area are Jurlique, Origins and L'Occitane counters.


Most of the Tobu department store in Ikebukuro feels unloved and outdated, but it does boast a recently revamped beauty hall which is worth visiting if you're in the area. It's usually quite quiet so makes for a peaceful shopping experience.

Unlike Seibu, the Tobu beauty hall has a Suqqu counter. You will also find Anna Sui, Est, SK-II, Guerlain, Estee Lauder, Helena Rubenstein, YSL, Kanebo, Cover Mark, Laura Mercier and lots more. 

In common with most Tokyo department stores, there is a natural/organic products section with John Masters Organics, Erbaviva, SINN Natural & Organics amongst others.

Tobu also has a small Hakuhodo counter, which carries a limited selection of brushes -- mostly travel sets, and some brushes from the S, G and J series.

I was very excited to learn that there is a branch of Din Tai Fung in Tobu (on the 13th floor). I was completely obsessed with Xiao Long Bao in Hong Kong and I thought I'd discovered where to get my fix in Tokyo, but sadly it's not the same. The dumplings just weren't as delicious :(.
In other news, Manner Bear strikes again...

As always, please do let me know if you have any questions or would like any further information on anything I've posted :).

31 October 2012

Beauty Destination: Tokyo Department Stores Part I - Ginza

Ginza is probably the most obvious place to begin one's Tokyo shopping adventures. I would describe it as Tokyo's Mayfair, and it's packed full of shops -- both high street and designer. A number of Japan's major department stores have branches in Ginza, and they are a convenient port at which to call when searching for high-end Japan-exclusive brands. They also stock the usual major international lines such as Chanel, Dior, YSL, etc., but I usually give these a wide berth because of the hefty mark-up on imported cosmetics.

Before I turn to some of the department stores, a few notes which I forgot to include in my introduction to this series:
  • Tokyo is probably the hardest city to navigate that I have ever visited. The highly confusing Japanese address system is based on district (chōme), block (ban) and house numbers (gō). These numbers are rarely marked and there are almost never street names, which makes finding your destination very tricky. I was getting by quite happily relying on Google Maps to take me everywhere until Apple screwed me over with the iOS 6 upgrade -- now I just wander about blindly... [Note that the Apple Maps app does work if you type the addresses in Japanese, but this is mostly beyond me and it doesn't seem to be able to cope with transliteration at all.]
  • To combat the  problem, Ginza has recently launched a Navigation Tags System. There are now coloured flags dotted around the area with the chōme and ban numbers of locations marked on them. These correlate to a colour-coordinated map which is available in hard-copy or on smart phones. I have tested this out and it does make it easier to find what you want, but you do have to keep your eyes peeled for the flags because they have been placed fairly high up in trees and on street signs, etc..
  • Confusingly for a UK-er, in Japan the ground floor is actually the first floor (I believe this is the same as in North America).
  • Consumption tax is levied at a rate of 5%. Visitors to Japan can claim a refund of the amount of consumption tax paid on most products (provided the day's purchases exceed a certain set value). Each department store has its own procedure and tax refund counter and information is usually available on their websites.
  • When you buy beauty products in department stores the sales assistant will usually open the box to confirm that you're getting the right product and that there are no problems with it. I believe that this is because it is not generally possible to return items once purchased.


Matsuya's Ginza store was established in 1925. There is another branch in Asakusa in Northern Tokyo near the famous Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji.

Matsuya Ginza has a large beauty department on the ground floor. As well as the obvious high-end Western brands (including Guerlain, Nars, Chantecaille and Sisley), Matsuya stocks Aesop, Origins, cle de peau, Kanebo, Helena Rubenstein, KOSE, est and more. Note that Matsuya does not carry Addiction, THREE, RMK or Suqqu, but it does have Lunasol which isn't stocked by Mitsukoshi.

I find Matsuya pleasant enough, but a little lacking in character; I tend not to visit unless looking for a brand not stocked by my preferred shops. 

Also in the area (just down the road from Matsuya, over the main Ginza crossing) is Matsuzakaya, another department store which originates from Nagoya and dates back to 1611. Sadly, the Ginza branch doesn't have quite the same upmarket feel as Matsuya or Mitsukoshi and it feels a bit grubby and bedraggled inside. The main store is located in Ueno.


Opposite Matsuya and next to the Apple shop on Chūō-dōri is OPAQUE -- a rather charming boutique department store, with an interesting beauty section on the ground floor. The beauty department houses some harder to find (at least in Tokyo) brands including Kure BAZAAR, rahua, jane iredale and deborah lippmann. I really like this little store and appreciate the plethora of natural and organic brands it stocks. 


There is another OPAQUE boutique in nearby Marunouchi which, in keeping with its status as Tokyo's financial district, is home to a number of boutiques and high-end shops. 


I've saved my favourite until last; Mitsukoshi Ginza is make-up shopping heaven on earth. Mitsukoshi, which was founded in 1673, is Tokyo's oldest department store. It is now owned by the same parent company as my other favourite department store, Isetan (which will feature in Part II of this post). Mitsukoshi is on the corner of the main Ginza crossing, and is easily accessed through Ginza station exit A11 (as well as one of the many above-ground entrances).

Mitsukoshi's beauty department is located in the basement (floor B1). On the floor below is the food hall, which is extremely impressive and very worth looking in on; I was quite overwhelmed the first time I entered! 

If you only visit one department store in Tokyo, then consider making it Mitsukoshi. It carries most brands that one might be looking for on a trip to Japan -- including Suqqu, Ladurée, Addiction, THREE, Anna Sui, Sonia Rykiel, Kanebo, RMK, Cosme De Corte, Shu Uemura, Shiseido and so on. I find the beauty hall to be very well laid out and designed. I love it in there and can spend lengthy periods exploring :).

Just around the corner from the main beauty hall is an area housing a number of perfume brands (including Diptyque and Jo Malone). This leads into a little accessories section with decorated mirrors and other such knick-knacks, plus Mason Pearson hairbrushes and a Hakuhodo stand. There is only a limited range of Hakuhodo brushes available at this counter -- mostly travel sizes and some brushes from the S100 Vermilion range and the G and Basics series. I will be doing another post in this series on where to find Japanese brushes in Tokyo, including the full Hakuhodo range.

As far as I'm concerned, no trip to Mitsukoshi is complete without a visit to Minori Cafe on the 9th floor. They do sweet little soup and sandwich lunch sets, but I always head straight for the ice-cream :).

Mikan and Strawberry Milk. This was delicious.

21 October 2012

Beauty Destination: Japan - Introduction

Japan is a make-up lover's paradise. I sort of feel that there is more excitement surrounding make-up here than in the UK (although I think this is probably changing with the likes of BeautyMART, Selfridges Beauty Workshop, John Lewis revamp, etc.). It somehow seems that is more publicly acceptable to enjoy make-up in Japan (see the comments section on online newspaper beauty articles for examples of how divisive the topic can be in the UK).

This is all just conjecture on my part really, but there's no denying that the make-up shopping to be had in Japan is fantastic. A number of highly sought-after lines are exclusively available in Japan (for example Addiction, THREE, Chikuhodo, etc.) and many Japanese drugstore products are of genuinely excellent quality. Walking around Tokyo I often feel that there's make-up to be bought everywhere, with cosmetics shops on every corner and in every station.

Over the next few weeks (or months, depending on how disciplined I am) I'll be writing a short series of posts on the places I like to shop in Japan -- obviously beginning with Tokyo because that's where I live, and extending to other locations as I visit them. To start with the Tokyo posts will cover some of the main department stores, high street and drugstore beauty retailers and brush shops. I'll link them in this post as I get around to publishing them. I also highly recommend checking out A Touch of Blusher's great Beauty City Shopping Guide series of posts, including one on Tokyo which I found really helpful when I first visited Japan.

To begin with, though, a few general notes on shopping for make-up in Japan. I find the beauty shopping 'experience' in Japan quite different to that in the UK. The service, particularly at department store counters, is generally much more attentive than in the UK (I also noted this in Hong Kong). Sometimes this can be a little overwhelming, but the SAs are usually happy to leave you to browse if you say you're just looking. I particularly like that at most counters the SAs are super quick to give you make-up remover and cotton wool if you swatch the products. I missed this when I went back to Selfridges a couple of months ago!

It is worth noting that shopping in Japan is not cheap (this applies across the board, not just to cosmetics). The Yen is strong at the moment so everything seems expensive when converted into Sterling (or USD). Many Western brands are also heavily marked up and can be quite prohibitively expensive (I'm looking at you Guerlain...). I tend to stick to Japanese brands as much as I can -- lines such as Addiction and Hakuhodo are comparatively quite reasonably priced, although I confess it is a little galling that Suqqu is more expensive here than in the UK. I also try to order Western brands online where possible as it's usually much cheaper to order from abroad.  

On the topic of money, whenever you buy something in Japan the till will usually have a little tray for you to put your money or card in. This is probably obvious to most people but, being perennially unobservant, it took me quite a while to notice it :|. Speaking of politeness, I thought I would share one of my favourite things about living in Tokyo -- namely spotting manners posters in the Metro.

The manners campaign has been running since 1974. As of April 2008 the posters (which change monthly) have been designed by the graphic artist Bunpei Yorifuji. If you want to read more about it see here. This website also has pictures of the posters from the last couple of years.

Other posts in this series

As always, if you have any questions or requests please let me know :).