Japanese cosmetics brands have long had a presence in the high-end American beauty market. Shiseido and Shu Uemura products have been widely available in the United States since the '90’s and have many adherents who appreciate the high quality of these brands. A few years ago, cosmetics retail giant Sephora introduced us to Imju’s Fiberwig Mascara, which promised to create as-long-as-fake lashes with its high-tech formula. Since then, interest in Japanese cosmetics and skincare brands have expanded rapidly as beauty enthusiasts spread the word about favorite products via blogs and message boards. Most of this hype is focused not on high-end cosmetics, but on drugstore and youth-market brands not normally sold outside of Asia.
In Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo neighborhood, Japanese beauty products have always been available at ethnic markets and variety stores, but it was not until the opening of Make Asobi one year ago that a wide selection of imported brands could be found in a single boutique. Make Asobi also stocks a variety of exotic skin and haircare products and gadgets.
Immediately, my attention was drawn to the bright, feminine packaging of the Fairydrops brand mascara, which features cartoon drawings of dolly-eyes and silhouettes of Hollywood and Las Vegas . According to Kayleen Schaffer’s New York Times article "Makeup from Japan to Your Mailbox," the highly competitive Japanese beauty industry and the perfectionist attitudes of consumers drive the development of higher quality, well-engineered products with elaborate packaging. While the majority of these are pricier than American drugstore brands, they are more affordable than upmarket cosmetics sold in the United States.
Browsing the Palty hair color display, the image of impossibly cute doe-eyed spokesmodel Tsubasa Masuwaka caused me to briefly consider dyeing my bleached blond hair a sultry auburn called “Raspberry Macaroon.” Masuwaka, a former model associated with the Gal subculture, is still a powerful media presence in Japan. She also promotes her own line of cosmetics, Dolly Wink—a top seller at Make Asobi. Most of the brands sold at Make Asobi are formulated to create a subtle version of Ms. Masuwaka's dolly-chic; flawless skin, pink cheeks, and long, dark lashes. The dewy, youthful Gal look is wearable in any situation and simple to create, factors that contribute to the cross-cultural popularity of the Dolly Wink line and others like it.
I am a creature of habit when it comes to cosmetics and my skincare routine, so I was very skeptical about trying some of Make Asobi’s most popular items. For one week, I swapped out my go-to products for their Japanese counterparts, and found some keepers. If you don't live near Los Angeles, don't despair—these brands can be purchased through Internet retailers and shipped worldwide.
Toyo Life Service—Cure Natural Aqua Gel ($37)
Cure Natural Aqua Gel, a combination cleanser and exfoliator, has the honor of being the top-selling skincare product in Japan, with one bottle sold every twelve seconds. On first glance, Cure resembled a large bottle of hand sanitizer, but a product with this kind of cult following was just too exciting to pass up . Unlike acid peels, Cure exfoliates using activated hydrogen and contains no abrasive particles, dyes or scent. Cure felt a bit like watered-down aloe vera gel when I applied it to my face. As I rubbed the liquid into my skin, the layer of dead skin began to slough off, forming little white balls. After rinsing, I noticed a marked improvement in skin tone. Continued use has helped reduce the appearance of a small scar on my cheek. Although this product is not a panacea for all skin problems, it is a gentler and cheaper alternative to acid-based peels and abrasive scrubs, and is appropriate for use on other areas of the body in need of exfoliation such as elbows and feet.
You can purchase Cure Natural Aqua Gel from Toyo Life Service here on Amazon.com.
Naris Up—Pore Clear Pack ($8)
The Pore Clear Pack mask is one of the oddest beauty products I've ever tried. The small blue tube, featuring a mustachioed Humpty-Dumpty character names "eggshell essence" and "charcoal" as the featured ingredients. The mask looks like black slime and looks rather gross when applied to the face. The mask dries in fifteen minutes, and the shiny black "skin" takes blackheads and dirt along with it. While decidedly strange, the mask is certainly effective—the dark color of the product allows you to examine the light-colored material that has been extracted from your pores after use. If the slimy texture of the Pore Clear Pack turns you off, Make Asobi also stocks the Japanese version of Biore Pore Strips, which are also colored black.
You can purchase Pore Clear Pack here, at imomoko.com.
Fairydrops—Platinum Mascara—Film Type ($24)
Fairydrops was founded by newscaster Aya Yasuda, who created an undulating mascara wand that produced the appearance of a wider and more dramatic eye on camera. Fairydrops Platinum Mascara—Film Type, uses a combination of this patented wand and lash-enhancing fibers to create the illusion of length. Unlike some other fiber-enhanced mascaras that I've tried, Fairydrops Mascara applies smoothly, and the lengthening effect seemed natural. While this mascara is water-resistant, not waterproof, it did hold up through an hour-long cardio blast at the gym. Although Diorshow Waterproof in Chestnut Brown is still my first choice for everyday wear, I will certainly use this to create a more dramatic evening look.
Another variety, Fairydrops Scandal Queen, is now available at Sephora retail locations.
You you can purchase Fairydrops Platinum Mascara—Film Type here, at imomoko.com.
Koji—Dolly Wink Waterproof Liquid Eyeliner ($15)
One of the top-selling products from Tsubasa Masuwaka's Dolly Wink line, this no-fuss liquid eyeliner pen is perfect for creating the perfect "dolly" eye, or retro glam looks that requires a precise line on the top lid. This is by far the most waterproof formula I have ever used—it passed the swimming pool test with flying colors, and can only be effectively removed with an oil-based makeup remover.
You can find Dolly Wink Liquid Eyeliner here, at imomoko.com.
Make Asobi is at 130 Japanese Village Plaza Mall, Los Angeles, California—213-620-0181