Japanese beauty trends, products and practices have long had a devoted following in America. From Japanese hair-strengthening to previously unheard-of categories of skincare (skin softeners, anyone?) to multistep routines with 4 different cleansing steps alone, trendsetting and forward-thinking beauty is a given in Japan, and in Tokyo especially.
Yet some of the best of Japanese beauty never makes it stateside. Tokyo is teeming with ways to explore and, let’s face it, obsess over the coolness of Asian beauty. Here are five must-see, do, soak, spritz and more that you can’t experience anywhere else.
1. Spa-musement parks
Ever been to Korean-style spas in the U.S.? They’re huge, communal multipool emporiums where clients spend hours soaking, scrubbing and massaging away stress, often late into the night. Tokyo’s Ooedo Onsen Monogatari and Spa LaQua take that experience not only to the next level, but into the stratosphere. The former, described as a “hot springs theme park,” draws visitors to its two separate but equally expansive areas for men and women to soak in varying-temperature baths (indoor and outdoor) fed by natural hot springs 4,500 feet deep.
But, as you’d expect from a spa version of Disneyland, there’s much more to do, see and soak in: You can get a massage, body scrub, reflexology and other treatments, relax in the rock-salt sauna or hit a microbubble bath, which feels like bathing in silk. Stroll over to the outdoor (co-ed) courtyard, where what looks like a winding, decorative pond is actually a footbath. If your feet need a little more attention, one of the onsen’s (aka bathhouse) signature treatments is fish therapy — letting a school of toothless minnow-sized carp nibble off calloused skin, leaving feet as smooth as river rocks.
Speaking of fish, when you get hungry, hit the main hall, where a food court serves sushi and other Japanese specialties, as well as carnival games, shops, shows and more.
Spa LaQua’s bathhouse, meanwhile, looks like what you’d expect from an upscale, luxurious spa resort and is similarly fed by sodium chloride-rich hot springs. The spa also offers a range of massage and other treatments. But outside the relaxing confines, you’ll literally find an amusement park with a roller coaster, Ferris wheel, water slide and other activities.
There’s so much fun and relaxation to be had, both onsens are open 22 hours a day, from 11 a.m. to 9 a.m. the next morning, 7 days a week. Be advised that like most Japanese baths, neither spa allows visitors with tattoos.
2. Extreme nail art
If the nail art trend in the states is akin to painting, in Tokyo, it’s a mixed-media, sky’s-the-limit creative pursuit.
One of the best places to try it: Nail Elut’s by Viens Viens. Here, nails aren’t merely polished; artists design, accessorize and adorn your digits with beads, stones, bows, character faces and other baubles. Think more nail décor than manicure. Nail Elut is also the only salon officially sanctioned by Sanrio, producers of Hello Kitty, to create nail art using the famous feline and other Sanrio characters.
Before your appointment, pop into Sanrio World, the brand’s flagship, for inspiration; both are in the same mall in the high-end Ginza shopping district.
3. Cutting-edge, world-class hair salons
From quirky to ultracool, you’ll find salons that fit any style, whim and beauty philosophy. What they all have in common: stylists, colorists and other experts with a devotion to hair and studied skills that rival the best from other mane meccas like Los Angeles, New York and Paris. Except here, you’ll pay a lot less.
Take the tony salon Twiggy, for example, which, in 2014, Harper’s Bazaar magazine called one of the best salons in the world. A cut and style in its breezy space, which also features a juice bar and spa, will set you back only about $70. At a hip LA salon, with a similar celeb- and model-heavy clientele, you’ll shell out several times that. Other salons worth a look: Bloc, Garden Tokyo and LIMCode.
4. Customer-curated beauty stores
At Tokyo’s @cosme stores, the displays and offerings change based on reviewers’ ratings and rankings on its sister website, cosme.net. Here you’ll find a wide range of mass and prestige brands, and, because every product has won its spot with good reviews, it’s the perfect place to experiment. So go ahead and fill your basket with stuff that looks and smells good or just seems interesting — carbonated shampoo, collagen supplements, you name it — chances are you’ll love it.
5. Traditional geisha makeup
These days it’s rare to see a traditional geisha — women who, as part of a centuries-old tradition, are trained as professional hostesses who keep conversations flowing and guests entertained at restaurants and banquets. It’s been reported that there are only about 40 geisha left working in Asakusa, Tokyo’s oldest Geisha district. Yet beauty enthusiasts from around the globe continue to be intrigued by and eager to appreciate up close the distinctive powdery white foundation known as shironuri, scarlet puckers, and meticulously sculpted, shiny updos (typically a wig).
At makeover studios like Studio GeishaCafe, you’ll do more than see a geisha; visitors can experience firsthand the authentic aesthetic transformation the women undergo, followed by a photo shoot. This makeover, which takes 60 to 90 minutes, is like none you’ve ever had, nor will soon forget — much like a trip to Tokyo itself.
For more information on where to find fashion options in Tokyo, see the Official Tokyo Travel Guide: http://www.gotokyo.org/en/.
—Beth Janes for Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau