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.

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