There are many things that surprise people when they first come to Japan - people drive on the other side of the street (depending on where you’re from), paper towels don’t exist in public restrooms, and it’s not unusual for people to openly and without embarrassment discuss their obsessions with trains or school aged girls in uniform. However, one thing that may not immediately occur to people, but will quickly become a source of confusion and frustration, is how different beauty supply shops and selections are. Men and women may have trouble finding products that they’re used to using back home, or that even make logical sense. Fortunately, many of us at IZANAU have suffered long enough on our quests to look as effortlessly presentable as the Japanese do, so we’re here to help you make sense of this nonsensical chaos.
This is our first article in an ongoing series about the wacky and convoluted topic of beauty in Japan. For this edition, let’s talk about makeup and where to get it! The basics of a Japanese makeup routine are likely similar to what you’re used to - foundation, eyeliner, blush, ect. However, Japan has expanded upon the number of products available, both within recognizable categories and outside of reason.
Finding the Right Products
When it comes to foundation, Japan makes and sells liquid, powder, BB, CC, and DD creams, all of which are popular and readily available. Foundation here is blendable and light, so that it looks like you’re not wearing any at all. There are also familiar things like face lotions and moisturizing creams that go a bit further than what you’re used to; termed “whitening” products, they actually work to remove freckles and make your skin clearer and/or appear more translucent (or at least they claim to). Eyeliner and mascara come in so many types and shades it may make your head spin, but the quality of all these products is generally very high, even for the cheap stuff, so it’s difficult to go wrong even if you grab something random.
The typical Japanese makeup routine may have more steps than what you’re used to. Japanese makeup is supposed to simultaneously look natural as well as enhance one’s face or create features that aren’t even there, like high cheekbones or anime eyes. On a less dramatic note, many women start their routines by religiously applying moisturizer and/or copious amounts of sunscreen (retaining light skin is, again, weirdly important, but this also prevents wrinkles). Fake eyelashes are for many a daily routine, which may be hard for some to imagine; in other countries, such an extravagance might be reserved for a night at the club, not a day at the office.
Where to Buy Cosmetics
If you want to buy Japanese makeup, but you can’t read kanji and you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the incomprehensible choices, one tip is to look for brands rated highly on Cosme. These are usually noted in stores with a sticker - in English! - with the name of the popular Japanese beauty and rating site on it. It’s important to note, however, that all-natural and ethical makeup haven’t caught on in Japan, so if that’s a concern of yours, you may want to do research before going shopping, or stick to products you know and trust.
So, where can you get products you know and love? There are some useful resources online, like iHerb (which sells all-natural products!), Cosme, and Amazon. (Sephora also delivers to Japan, but only a limited supply of their stock; plus, it’s expensive.) Also, large department stores, like Daimaru (大丸) and Takashimaya (高島屋), have huge beauty selections and carry brands you’re more likely to be familiar with. The same goes to a lesser degree at shops like Loft (ロフト) and Tokyu Hands (東急ハンズ). Or you could just do as the Japanese do and buy a plane ticket to Korea and go shopping there.
Japan is the second the largest market for cosmetics in the world, yet women here tend to care more about skin care, so that they don’t have to apply as much makeup every day. This will be the topic for our next article on Japanese beauty, so stay tuned!
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