My stepmom insisted I take an additional carry on for my trip to Tokyo. That meant trekking around the mass populated city with two suitcases in addition to my hiker’s backpack. Thankfully I listened and optimized the use of that carry-on with extra shoes, but more importantly, filled it to the brim with Japanese skin-care and beauty products for my return home.

To be honest, I didn’t go to Tokyo with a strict itinerary or laser-focused purpose. I hadn’t found that thing yet; the angle that would make the experience my own. Granted, the trip would mark my first solo adventure and that felt like the obvious exploratory theme, but it wasn’t enough.  

The day after I landed was the day my mission became clear: “Oh my god! The makeup here is so good,” I thought to myself while shopping at the Ainz & Tulpe store in Harajuku, “is this the Sephora of Tokyo?”. Turns out it’s more like an haute Duane Reade. The elevated drugstore chain offers a range of goods to include: certified organic beauty, popular Japanese brands, and even trendy international products. 

Japanese beauty became my obsession and it wasn’t a hard lead to follow. There is always an opportunity to shop in Tokyo. Every neighborhood and almost every major train station has a dedicated shopping center attached and beauty stores abound. 

I quickly learned while doing more research that Japan is heralded as a skincare mecca with celebrities often following the trends and buying strictly Japanese products or adapting certain Japanese routines to own regimen. For example, Japanese women opt for skin softeners as cleansers. Anything oil based is preferred so I ditched my alcohol-drenched makeup wipes for two new products: “DHC Deep Cleansing Oil” and the “Rafra Balm Orange Extra Cleansing”. The latter is great for a low maintenance face care routine since the balm acts as a cleanser, make-up remover, and skin moisturizer all in one. So far both products have not disappointed and removed all traces of makeup, even the “Kiss Me Heroine Super Waterproof” mascara I purchased, which ended up really putting them to the test.   

Blush and brushes, I was told by a local, are the must-have makeup items in every Japanese girl’s cosmetic bag. One of the latest trends in Japanese beauty is the ‘pheromone’ look which is created to imitate the flush in the face that usually happens after you come out of a hot bath. Although my own attempt at it failed, I am a firm believer that you can never put on too much blush or own too many variations of blush products. I found my perfect shades with Canmake. Their “Glow Fleur Cheeks Blush Palette with Soft Brush Applicator” is one of my favorite buys and boasts a Cosme Japan beauty award. The formulation has startling luster paired with a powdery texture that clings to your bare skin. The included brush contains a little shimmer which helps finish the look with a perfect glow. 

Next, I was on the hunt for a good brush and purchased four! But the real MVP is my Efface Kumanofude brush for the face. Synonymous with high craftsmanship and a legacy for creating some of the country’s best brushes, Kumano expertise is a sought after and expensive makeup brush labelmate. The bristles are soft yet firm enough to control the amount of powder blush or highlighter easily and that’s what makes it a worthwhile investment. Thankfully the Efface price point is mid-tier which made this purchase a no brainer. Unfortunately, I can’t find the company anywhere online which means I should have stocked up when I had the chance.

There are two major stores that make finding beauty in Tokyo super easy: Ainz & Tulpe and Matsumoto Kiyoshi. They both share a good range in products and are tax-free so you can enjoy more bang for your buck.  Matsumoto Kiyoshi is Japan’s national drugstore and the place where I died and went to beauty heaven. Every chance I had I stopped in to buy some form of lip tint or blush or reputable Kumano Fude brush. And since it’s like the Duane Reade of Japan, but infinitely better, I must’ve visited a million of them. 

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