Three is among the Japanese beauty brands reasserting themselves now.
After years of ceding the limelight to K-beauty, Nihon makeup and skincare are flexing their muscle and making their presence felt once again on the global stage.
Like the people, brands from Japan tend to be low-key. Unobtrusive. Measured in their approach and polite to a fault. So when K-beauty exploded onto the scene with its snail extracts, addictive cushions, snazzy makeup and wallet-friendly sheet masks, it was no surprise that J-beauty took a little step back.
Eventually, however, the rise of K-culture became a wake-up call. Japanese brands could not remain as insular as before. In order to keep pace with competitors, Korean or otherwise, they had to be inclusive and adopt a global outlook as opposed to focusing on just the domestic market.
Which is why more and more are now reasserting themselves and reminding consumers that they were the original beauty virtuosos of Asia.
Figures from Japan’s Cosmetic Industry Association show robust yearon-year growth of 28.8 per cent in beauty exports. And according to the Financial
Times, exports are expected to hit more than US$2.75 billion (S$3.8 billion) this year.
Sachi Kimura, a research analyst at Euromonitor International, says: “As the market in Japan is mature and the population decreasing, many manufacturers realise there is little room left to expand locally. They are making global expansion their top priority, to increase their presence.”
Mariko Endo, international division general manager of Japanese luxury holistic brand Three, feels there is an upside to all the attention K-beauty has been grabbing. “K-beauty has been a trendsetter in the international cosmetic industry for the past few years. The Korean brands’ quick manufacturing speed and efficiency in bringing cuttingedge trends to the market led to high interest in Asian beauty brands, including Japanese ones,” she says.
It’s a view echoed by Kimura, who says the global K-beauty phenomenon may actually have helped to focus attention on Japanese companies. “K-beauty established a trend of looking at beauty products by location, where a brand’s country of origin is part of its identity.
“Consumers are now seeking authenticity and trying to understand the differences and attributes of each country’s brands,” she explains.
Among the traits frequently associated with Japanese brands are quality and dependability. Whether it’s a drugstore buy or high-end splurge, the benchmark for Japan-made beauty products is perceived to be high.
“Japanese brands place importance on developing products with proven efficacy and high functionality after intensive research,” says Kimura. “The local market is very competitive. Many manufacturers, big and small, are developing products to meet the needs of mature Japanese consumers with high expectations, so they have to be highly effective. Such an environment has helped to build the Japanese brand identity and works as an advantage when competing on the global stage.”
This belief in product quality has certainly given some Japanese brands a confidence boost. Case in point: Inoue Olive, a niche olive-based skincare brand from the island of Shodoshima. Previously only available in Japan, it opened its first overseas outlet in Singapore in 2016 after more than 40 years as an exclusively domestic label.
What spurred them to do that? “We’re farmers first and foremost, so we know that the olives used in our skincare are top-grade, and our production methods are sound. We feel our products have the quality needed to compete,” says the brand’s manager, Kosuke Otsubo.
With the Japanese economy looking up, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics creating buzz, and a desire among consumers for simple, well-thought-out beauty products that don’t involve 10-step routines, glassy skin or ever-changing fads, the J-beauty renaissance may be just beginning.