Whether you’re a full-time makeup guru or just interested in expanding your skincare routine beyond soap and water, Japan should be your next go-to beauty destination.
Japan is a cross-cultural beauty hub with stores stocking all the best products from Japan, South Korea and Western countries, among others. With a beauty pedigree that goes back to the sixth century, Japanese beauty highlights both simplicity and innovation. Taking its cues from nature, Japanese cosmetics are known for their effectiveness and quality of ingredients.
South Korean cosmetics, or K-beauty, has stolen a lot of the limelight in recent years with its intricate 10-step skincare routines. But Japanese makeup, also known as J-beauty, takes a more manageable approach that marries centuries-old beauty traditions with the latest technology in the industry.
A great place to explore new products and stock up on old favorites, Japan offers Asian skincare devotees and makeup newbies alike something new to discover. Here’s J-beauty 101.
The J-beauty Basics
J-beauty often involves a refined makeup look, a sensible yet effective skincare routine and lots of baths. Skincare takes the streamlined approach of “cleanse, tone, moisturize,” and sometimes an additional hydrating step with the application of an “essence.” Baths, on the other hand, are more ritualistic. A key pillar of the Japanese beauty routine, a long bath at home in a deep soaking tub (known as a furo) is considered to be an effective way to maintain balance and contentment.
From makeup to moisturizers, J-beauty emphasizes light textures. Oils often have a special focus, from cleansing to hydrating, and are designed to quickly absorb to protect skin with multiple layers. The Japanese beauty cabinet often employs the capabilities of nature, from green tea extract to the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu.
The Brand Breakdown
J-beauty has a reputation for being expensive, but in reality, plenty of options span the price spectrum. While shopping for beauty products in Japan, keep an eye out for these popular brands:
One must-try Japanese brand is CANMAKE, an affordable line with a wide range of products. Known throughout the country for being both trendy and good quality, CANMAKE can be found at most drug stores — and is even starting to gain a following worldwide. Try their popular Cream Cheek Blush, a makeup artist favorite.
For those who prefer a bold look, Kate Tokyo offers makeup in bright trendy colors. Its midrange price point makes it popular with the fashion conscious (the Super Sharp Eyeliner EX is a favorite), and it’s available in both department stores and drug stores.
SK-II is a high-end Japanese cosmetics brand with somewhat of a cult following, especially the SK-II Mid-Day Essence. Essence is an essential product in Japan (it’s that bonus, hydrating skincare step that’s somewhere between a serum and a toner) and promises to deeply refresh and give skin an extra glow. SK-II’s effectiveness comes with a higher price tag, so it’s mainly found in department stores or boutique cosmetic shops, along with similar luxury J-beauty brands like Tatcha and Boscia.
Where to Shop
Japanese stores are often packed floor to ceiling with some of the world’s most coveted beauty products, from cult K-beauty options, to Western favorites, to J-beauty finds. For the broadest selection, shoppers should check out one of Japan’s many department stores, like Seibu in Tokyo. The beauty department is located on the store’s first floor, where brand experts are ready to help shoppers navigate the hundreds of choices.
Because beauty is such a cultural phenomenon in Japan, travelers can find great products in a variety of places, including most drug stores. Matsumoto Kiyoshi may be one of Tokyo’s biggest drug store chains, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t carry top brands or cult favorites like CANMAKE, Kate and Shiseido (one of the original J-beauty brands, founded way back in 1782) in its many aisles, all for a drug store price tag.
For a more boutique experience, the elevated chain Ainz & Tulpe offers a less cluttered shopping environment than a typical drug store. The assortment focuses on beauty and cosmetics and is known for its stylish displays and skincare rankings wall, where store attendants list their top J-beauty picks. Testing products is encouraged.
A sense of discovery is really all you need when it comes to exploring all things J-beauty. From department store staples to drug store finds, Japan’s skincare and cosmetics offerings make the country a wonderland for beauty lovers of all ages.