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 :).


  1. I just returned from a vacation to Japan and I was frankly a bit overwhelmed. The department store makeup up areas were huge so I got lost a lot even with repeated visits. SA were impeccably dressed in suits and many were very beautiful with flawless white skin. Although they were kind, attentive and very helpful, I could not help feeling like a troll in my tired travel clothes and worn off all day makeup. Some spoke a bit of English and others did not which sometimes made the transaction difficult. Browsing was no problem; I was left alone without interruption if I just wanted to look at stuff.

    I was disappointed to find that in comparison to other make up counters, Hakuhodo counters were very small and selection limited in Osaka, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. But they did have brushes with shorter champagne handles which I love.

    SA immediately offered to apply makeup as soon as I expressed interest in a product and quickly provided makeup remover on a cotton pad if I swatched. They also asked me if they could open the box and check the product I selected for purchase. They then showed me the product for my final approval. That was excellent as sometimes I have left with the wrong product at home in the USA due to sloppy service. I felt I was pampered with the polite and impeccable service and was truly impressed. Next time, I'll try to fit in more time for makeup shopping as it is truly a wonderful experience!

    1. I feel like a troll in most department stores -- not just Japanese ones! The language barrier can be tricky -- I am learning Japanese but it's slow progress; obviously I think shopping is excellent practice ;). I am lucky living in Tokyo that I have access to the main Haku boutique as you're right that most counters only have a limited selection. I hope you managed to pick up some exciting goodies while you were here :).

  2. I would LOVE to go makeup shopping in Japan! Someday . . .

    1. I often feel the same about the US ;). Japan is an excellent holiday destination in many ways - so much to see and do here.

  3. Excellent post! Japan's shopping experience is something else, it can be quite overwhelming for those not used to the culture. I do miss the service and politeness as here in Toronto they are definitely lacking.
    The manners posters are very interesting and so effective with the cute little graphics, going to go checkout the artist now:) I'm hoping to get back to Japan for my new project; mental health/illness and stigma awareness through contemporary art, omg, so much work to do before organizing trip to Japan!
    Thank you for sharing, your posts are insightful and interesting to read:)

    1. Thanks Marie :). Your project sounds fascinating. I really love the manners posters -- they're just fantastic. I went to an interesting exhibition of some of the artist's other work recently. It's no longer running but there's some more information on this site --