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 :).