The Japanese Beauty Secret: 14 Unexpected Lessons I Learned on My Latest Trip

The Japanese Beauty Secret: 14 Unexpected Lessons I Learned on My Latest Trip

06.07.2016    |    
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I left for Japan with high expectations. I was fully prepared to come home with additional suitcases packed full of hidden gem beauty products. While I managed to come back to NYC with lots of goodies (my shopping guide is coming soon!), some of the best beauty discoveries I made were in the form of beauty tips and secrets from real, trend-setting women.

During my two-weeks in the country, I explored many different Japanese beauty traditions and experienced many out-of-this-world treatments that lead to these discoveries. I spent a total of 4 nights in Tokyo at two different hotels — the Aman and the Mandarin Oriental. I treated myself to spa treatments at both hotels.  I also experienced a private tour (one of the last…ever!) at the Tsukiji Fish Market, watched the Sumo tournament finals and had dinner at Narisawa. Afterwards, I headed to the countryside to Hakone where I visited Gora Kadan (one of Japan’s best Onsens) and received an acupuncture facelift – painful but worth it! I also visited the art island of Naoshima and experienced a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. I went on to spend three days in Kyoto at the Ritz and did lots of beauty research through my guide and some locals, even experience a special kaiseki dinner at Arashiyama Kitcho. Somewhere in there I traveled to Kobe, to the P&G headquarters for an interview with an SK-II scientist and a trip to a sake brewery where I learned about the fascinating skin benefits of sake and fermentation (details/ way more to come on this!). I ended the trip at another Onsen called Beniya Mukayu. This one was more modern and the food and minimalist décor was out of this world.

Out of everything, I owe most of my insider look at the Japanese beauty scene to my friend Maria, former Miss Universe Japan and major influencer on the Japanese fashion world. She served as my main local connection in Toyko and gave me real, unfiltered advice about approaching beauty like Japanese girls.

One of the high points of my trip was a traditional Japanese dinner Maria hosted for me. The best part (besides the food, of course) was that she brought along a group of incredibly chic (also, ahem, famous) friends who gave me the 411 on beauty and wellness routines in the East. Here are a few things I learned during our very thorough, super interesting chat:

  1. The #1 beauty trend at the moment is whitening, following by face-narrowing. Japanese women look for products that give the face a slimmer appearance.
  2. Japanese women, unlike me and my fellow American friends, are not really into lasers, peels, acids, or anything that might cause downtime.
  3. The Japanese drugstore is merely a drugstore, not this mecca of uncovered Japanese beauty treasure that I thought it would be. That’s more of a Parisian thing.
  4. If you are pregnant, you absolutely can eat raw fish – as long as you only eat raw fish in Japan, the freshest of the fresh.
  5. Real women don’t leave home without sun-protection. In addition to traditional SPF, they wear hand, leg and arm gloves and always carry an umbrella sunbrella. Japanese women don’t mess around.

These insights are just the tip of the iceberg. As I continued my trip, I uncovered more and more Japanese beauty secrets from real women. Some of the best tips stemmed from ancient Japanese traditions and teachings passed down from women over the years. Here are a few of my favorites.

  1. Mie-nai osharé. This translates to “unseen beauty.” The basic idea is that beauty does not have to be displayed to be appreciated. True beauty radiates from the inside out, and does not have to be visible in plain site.
  2. You are what you eat. After spending two weeks traveling throughout Japan, I didn’t gain weight like I normally do on vacation. But why? The Japanese diet consists of lots of veggies (brassica vegetables), fish, seaweed and lots of anti-inflammatory chemicals. I ate soba, sushi, sashimi, fish, veggies, lots of tea, white rice, tempura, those weird red-bean curd Japanese sweets and even lots of champagne and sake and I woke up every morning feeling light and energized. Also, using chopsticks ensures small bites and slower consumption.
  3. Drink green tea or matcha. I am obsessed with Matcha and the ceremony that goes along with it. The benefits are endless.
  4. Use natural, non-toxic and organic skincare products. Traditionally, Japanese skincare is quite natural. They source real ingredients from Camilla oil to sake to keep their perfect skin.
  5. When it comes to makeup, less is more. They focus on the skin and hair, not necessarily color makeup.
  6. Japanese women shower and cleanse their face more than anyone. In fact, they take cleansing so seriously that they shower before bathing.
  7. Fragrance isn’t really a thing in Japan like it is in the US. If you are looking for a new perfume, head to France. Most of the sushi restaurants even specified on the reservation confirmation, “no perfume.”
  8. The Onsen. It’s the Japanese equivalent of a weekend in the Hampton’s. Like I mentioned, the Japanese LOVE to bathe. Bath time is a ritual, from simple at home bathtubs to hot spring Onsen (bathhouses), involving a series of steps to clean and scrub the body from head to toe before climbing into a steaming hot bath or natural hot springs. It’s perfect for beautifying the skin, as well as de-stressing and detoxing the mind and body.
  9.  Exfoliate, exfoliate and exfoliate for better, brighter skin.

Do any of these surprise you? Let me know what you think in the comments! As a more detailed and specific followup to this story, I will be sharing my complete Japanese beauty shopping guide. Who is excited? Look for it early next week.

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  • Ivonne Ackerman

    Incredible post! Loved that you combined a trip with learning more of what you are passionate about. Can’t wait for the shopping guide.

    • anabel_atkinson

      Thank you so much- there are so many famous Japanese beauty rituals and secrets that I had to learn more!

  • Lovely post, and golden insights! 🙂 I love everything about Japan — the flashing neon lights, the picturesque countryside, the food, the culture and its citizenship’s discipline, and those beautiful, beautiful women! I went for a week-long holiday with my family last year and I could not stop marveling at almost every Japanese lady I ran into! They all seem glowing, poreless, and just perfect! LOL. I cannot wait to return in autumn this year. Thank you for sharing these valuable insider’s insights! 🙂

    • anabel_atkinson

      Such an amazing country and you’re right- the women have great beauty secrets! Let me know how your trip goes this fall, can’t wait to hear about it!

  • Loved this. And how interesting that they want to be more white, and everyone in America wants to be more tan?

    Did they mention any specific products, or is that coming in a future post? Would love to know what products they use, especially for cleansing as that seems to be a major part of their routine.

    • anabel_atkinson

      I am going to share all my favorite Japanese products in an upcoming post…and yes cleansing is a huge part of the Japanese routine!

      • sarah

        I am definitely interested in how everyone cleanses so often without drying out their skin! I love a good shower, double-cleanse, etc. but I feel like it is a constant balancing act with drying out my skin 🙂

        • Annie Atkinson

          Are you using an oil cleanser like my fav from One Love Organics OR are a balm?! You need to get involved. I’d be interested to hear what you are using.

          • sarah

            Yes! I am a huge OLO fan, but right now I am rotating between the Maya Chia oil cleanser and a sample of the blue moon balm. Then I often second cleanse with Josh Rosebrook’s cleanser.

            It’s actually more my body washing that I need to figure out–I know I should experiment beyond Dr. Bronner’s, lol, but it is hard to convince myself to spend $$$ on bodywash 🙂

  • cdb

    I have a friend in Japan right now and she wants to know if there are any good products she should pick up for me while she’s there. Any ideas? Thanks!

  • I am obsessed with Japan! I went two months ago for a week, did Hakone and Tokyo… but ironically as a beauty blogger I did nothing to beauty myself when there, LOL! Your post makes me SO happy!

    • anabel_atkinson

      Japan is amazing, I’m so happy you had a great time! Now that you’re home you need to stock up on Japanese skincare products to keep the memories alive!

  • Dominique Versteeg Knijnenburg

    Hi Anabel!

    My husband and I will be heading to Japan next April (eek!!!!). So excited.
    How was the onsen experience, are there lots of rules or things we need to know before heading out to one. Do I need to bring a bathing suit, or is it completely in the nude? 🙂

    Is your new post on Japan skincare out yet? Would love to read it!

  • Femaleadda Blogs

    Nice Post 🙂 Japanese woman also use rice for their skin care.They not only eat rice regularly but also use rice water to whiten their faces.

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