A Guide to Beauty and Skin Care Shopping in Japan

in at February 2, 2017

I just came from a short trip to 2-7° Osaka and before all the ruckus – including daily responsibilities, occasional (almost) quarter-life crises, and mild anxiety attacks – I’m dedicating a few entries to Japan, beginning with a guide to beauty and skin care shopping!

Japanese drugstores are everywhere, and they’re overwhelming – to say the least. They’re bright, colorful, and carry thousands of beauty and skin care products from both local and international brands. You may get lost in the array of cutesy packaging – Sailor Moon liquid eyeliners and Hello Kitty sheet masks, anyone? Catered to the Japanese, packaging includes indecipherable language for the ordinary English-speaking fellow. How can you wisely spend your hard-earned money on your next trip? Let me help you with that!

First, where can you buy skin care and make-up? Fortunately, you can easily spot a drugstore. They’re outside your Airbnb, inside the subway, jumbled within shopping districts, and even the airport. Drugstore chain, Matsumoto Kiyoshi, can be found outside, and you’ll see it immediately by its mustard yellow and royal blue logo. They carry international drugstore brands (Maybelline New York, L’Oréal Paris, Rimmel London, etc.) plus local brands (Canmake, Shiseido, Excel, etc.). @Cosme, on the other hand, is a special beauty store that I found in Tsutaya located in Namba (near the crowded Dōtonbori area – beside Forever 21). There are locations both in Tokyo and Osaka. From an online platform – rating and reviewing the best in Japanese beauty – to a physical store, they carry a mix of Japanese drugstore and high-end. If you feel like splurging and you’re on the look-out for international high-end brands (Dior, Chanel, bareMinerals, etc.), Takashimaya is a good place to be.

How to make the best out of your shopping? Here are some tips!

  • Buy in tax-free shops.

Spot the cherry blossom logo! Overseas visitors staying in Japan for less than 6 months can have their taxes returned – the higher the purchase, the greater the discount! Bring along your passport with you. My biggest mistake was buying a single item in different stores thus not qualifying for tax-free shopping. I could have saved so much money!

More on Japan’s tax-exempt shopping here.

  • Research!

Peruse Japanese beauty blogs and websites like Tokyo Beauty Book, Savvy Tokyo, The Beauty Maniac in TokyoRatzilla, and Cosme plus watch YouTube vlogs from Kim Dao. Be on the lookout for best-sellers which have #1 on the packaging.

  • Keep photos of your to-buy list.

I hardly met people who knew how to speak English. If you’re looking for specific products, it may be difficult to converse with the salesladies, no matter how willing they are to help. Hand gestures are not enough! Keep photos of items you want to buy, and if you can’t find it on your own, just show your phone.

  • Buy items available in Manila but are cheaper in Japan. 

Stock up on Bioré’s UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence, Shiseido’s Perfect Whip Foam, and Canmake’s Shading Powder, which are significantly cheaper abroad. If you’re also packaging-conscious, you can buy your favorites with a Japan-exclusive packaging. I went loca upon seeing my favorite Maybelline Lash Sensational Mascara in a pink metallic packaging that I had to get it (although it was twice the price, oops). Brands that are also available in Manila carry Japan-exclusive items so check that out! L’Oreal’s Lucent Magique Cushion and Cushion Glow Blushes are divine!

Hope this helped, and I can’t wait to show you my Japanese beauty and skin care haul next!

Elisa Aquino

Elisa Aquino is a portrait photographer, life(style) writer, passion blogger, and beauty rookie from Manila, Philippines. This platform exists to document her daily musings and to showcase the life-changing power of grace to transform women from ashes to beauty.