It’s been several months since we announced the publication of the Japanese angsty poetry collection, Molasses and Shochu, but we wanted to share this new addition by Phoebe Amoroso also know as ume’SHHU.
For those of you who are not familiar with long-standing Japanese tradition, Valentine’s Day here is celebrated by women giving chocolate to men, sometimes out of obligation aka 義理チョコ (giri-choco), and sometimes, containing trace amounts of menstrual blood. On March 14th, men reciprocate by giving white chocolate to the women they fancy or who bestowed chocolate upon them.
Although, as you will see, the complexity of this poem, written by Ms. Amoroso, briefly touches upon these cultural traditions. They are important confectionary artifacts that have existed many decades after being created by Japan’s male-dominated cocoa industry and society at large. Please see the annotated version in the hardback edition of the book to deepen your understanding.
This chocolate isn’t black Nor as large as I had hoped. Every March 14th Is my Friday 13th. I have no lover To sweeten the occasion. Ever hoping for a Melty Kiss But forever doomed To Crunky Balls from the conbini– I had, after all, merely been convenient. There is no sugar coating that fact. Even though, Japan Has resigned me to smaller portions I was not expecting this starvation. I stared at the wrapper on my desk And wondered how obligation could be so bitter. Unwrapping the white KitKat I held every total loss, My palm sticky.
Johnna Slaby is an abstract painter, from Osaka, Japan who’s work is gaining attention nationwide. Her paintings are evocative of some of the best artists of the genre, with a Nippon twist. She is also the twin sister of photographer, Reylia Slaby,
Join her at Look Close Look Far, an exhibit of works on paper and canvas that incorporate text, gestural marks and imagery from a day in the life.
Johnna works to mirror her own experiences and the elements she finds in her surroundings through the current series. Through the work there is an emphasis on how stories can be unfolded by both stepping back and taking a closer look; whether that be observing how morning light that enters the room, glancing up at the commuters on the train, or examining serendipitous moments in an everyday setting.
Julie Yukiko (雪子) Buisson aka Ukico has much in common with Snow-White, other than just her name, which literally means “child of the snow”—she is charming, peaceful, a beautiful woman with alabaster skin and blessed with an ethereal singing voice that calms the spirits of men and animals; she is enchanting. Her first song, Denial, and the surreal mystical music video for it were released on September 11.
She was born to a Japanese mother and French father and grew up in Paris. You could say she has made the best of her bicultural heritage, touching upon her roots to become a successful model and now a songwriter and singer. Her French-Japanese visage and sense of style helped her have a successful international modeling career.However, she has much more depth than her surface appearances, and that is part of her appeal.
Ukico (pronounced You-Key-Koh) was studying at the University La Sorbonne while pursuing her modeling career after high school. What sparked her interest in singing and songwriting was the death of her grandmother.
When she passed away, Ukico, wrote a poem as a eulogy, which she showed to her father—and to her surprise, he wept.
“It moved my father to cry and it showed me how to paint a picture with words. He still reads the poem, sometimes.” She felt the power of words come to life.
She had often thought about becoming a singer/songwriter but lacked confidence in her ability to compose or to voice her emotions musically. But seeing her father’s response stirred something inside of her.
“It was a wake-up call. I had always dreamed of studying and living in New York and pursuing music. I love so many different genres and singers. Everything from Massive Attack, to Little Dragon, to Lana Del Rey.”
The song writing of Fiona Apple was particularly inspirational to her.
To pursue her musical career more seriously she entered a music engineering school in NYC, The Institute of Audio Research. After graduating salutatorian, she interned at the recording studio Strange Weather based in Brooklyn.
She was given an opportunity to work on the production of 36 Seasons by Ghosface Killah. She also put in time at the world famous jazz club Birdland, live mixing for the Grammy Award winning band The Afro Latin Jazz orchestra, and other jazz acts.
While in New York, she experienced the loneliness, alienation and emotional struggles that come with life in the Big Apple.
She sought refuge in spiritual disciplines, yoga and meditation, eventually becoming adept enough to guide others.. Meditation and yoga are still a huge part of her life, and perhaps what gives her an aura of warm serenity—not the chilly vibe you’d expect from a snow woman.
During her time in New York, she was also taken under the wing of Justyn Pilbrow, a respected music producer who has handled major acts such as Halsey and The Neighbourhood.
After leaving New York and coming back to Japan she also became more interested in her own Japanese background and traditional music. It provided her with some solace as
She continued to work with Justyn Pilbrow and was also able to collaborate on musical pieces with Japanese virtuosos of Koto (Japanese lute), Shamisen, Shakuhachi (windpipes) and the Taiko (Japanese drum).
Her first single, Denial, has instrumentation featuring the shakuhachi and taiko. “The shakuhachi is such a beautiful instrument—it can express so much pain and tension.”
The video of the song is based on the story of Japan’s creation, as told in the Kojiki, a classic of ancient Japanese literature. The creation of the world starts with the first two existing Gods Izanagi (male God) and Izanami (female God). After forming Japan’s islands they gave birth to other gods—the god of the wind, seas, and more. But Izanami, after giving birth to the God of Fire dies from the trauma and fatal wounds. Her spirit goes down to the underworld. Izanagi who misses her terribly, decides to descend to the underworld to bring her back—like Japan’s own Orpheus.
The video, using Butoh dancers, brings to life the myth of creation, death and renewal. But what is the song about on a personal level? Fasting? Living without material goods? Denial of French culture, or Japanese culture?
Ukico answers, “It is a song about breaking up and the end of love. But it is a bit more than that. I was protecting my heart, not to fall in love again. I was in denial of closing my heart when I started to write it. But also there was underlying denial that I am mad at somebody.
But the real denial in the song is that I am angry at myself. It is because of myself, because of how I am choosing how to deal with things that the suffering comes. And there is some wisdom and transmutative power in understanding that.”
I am at the reception counter of Muji Hotel – the much touted and long awaited hotel produced by Muji, Japan’s popular minimalist clothing and household products brand. Muji, as you may know, stands for Mujirushi (無印) which literally means “no seal or stamp”; it’s a brand who’s trademark is no (visible) brand. Which is very Zen-like unless you look at the label inside.
When the hotel first opened in early April, rumor had it that every room was booked solid for the next 2 years. In late May, procuring a room (on a weekday) proved easy. Muji (rhymes with Fuji) has grown into a global label touting Japan-style simplicity and aesthetics but to the average non-minimalist Japanese, it remains inscrutable, even unfathomable. Many see the pared down surfaces and uniform designs of Muji products as a tad too aggressively simple to fit into their own lives.
Aggressive maybe, but never offensive. There’s not the tiniest fragment of offensiveness anywhere in the Muji Hotel, including the young woman who checks me in. She’s an epitome of serenity and calm, her hair in a neat bun at the nape of her neck and wearing what is clearly a Muji outfit (white shirt and loose black cardigan plus black pants) the uniform of the hotel staff. She speaks almost flawless Japanese along with English and Urdu which she says is her native language. Before handing me the card key to my room, the young woman gives me an ‘omamori’ or talisman, compliments of Muji – and explains that inside the tiny cloth satchel there’s an emergency whistle (“in case of a natural disaster and other unforeseen events”) and a tiny leaflet containing instructions on getting through emergencies great and small. I open this leaflet and on the last page there is this advice: “If you should feel lonely, look up at the stars in the night sky.”
My room which is a single, feels spacious thanks to the high ceiling measuring over 3.5 meters. In Tokyo, high ceilings are a luxury and when it comes to hotel rooms, they’re the exclusive domain of high-end imported brands like the Peninsula, the Park Hyatt and the Ritz Carlton. Muji is distinctive in that it’s a genuine Japanese hotel, located in one of the choicest pieces of real estate in Tokyo, but only charges a fixed rate of 140 USD per single room, per night. Most importantly, it doesn’t suck or resemble a prison cell.
On the other hand, you can’t imagine anyone having a tryst here– it’s far too pristine and devoid of emotion. And a hotel without a tryst is like a cupcake without icing. Or am I being offensive? (Editor’s note: Not offensive. ‘A donut without a hole’ might have been an offensive metaphor but then again they eat donut holes in Australia, so who’s to say?)
Back in my room, a faint scent of linen combined with lavender lingers in the air, piped out from a portable aroma diffuser, one of Muji’s most popular items. Actually, everything in the room is made by Muji, from the bed to the packets of shampoo and conditioner precisely laid out in an oak chest (also Muji), to the little bag of complimentary snacks and the bottled water in the mini-fridge (also Muji). The idea is to let the guests get a taste of what it’s like to live a life defined by Muji, by spending some time in a space designed and totally controlled by Muji. And afterwards, we can take the escalator down to any of the five floors of Muji’s flagship store that’s located right below the hotel. The hotel and the shop are in the same building, and some of the tourists check in with empty suitcases, to stock up on Muji products during their stay. It’s a pretty nifty arrangement for Muji and The Minimalists–which could be a great ambient music band name.
The brand has always opted for discretion, restraint, understatement with a whiff of snobbishness. To admit to a love of Muji is to tell the world that as a consumer, you’re very woke. Muji covers all the bases that would gladden the heart of a discerning shopper: recyclable materials, ethical off-shore manufacturing, diversity among the staff, organic cotton in the clothing line and energy efficient appliances. Add to that the flat, unobtrusive, utterly desexualized designs and it all totals up to something that is for many minimalists, a guilty pleasure. Indeed, many Japanese minimalists admit on their blogs that if they have to shop at all, they shop at Muji. Others have taken it several levels higher by buying Muji houses (yes, they will make an entire house from the ground up) and outfitting it with Muji kitchens and bathrooms, after which they proceed to fill it up with Muji furniture and Muji food.
Muji was launched in 1980 by retail giant Seibu Conglomerates, as an alternative brand to what (then) Seibu CEO Seiji Tsutsumi saw as the nation’s misguided and excessive consumerism. Japanese consumers were hurling themselves into the go-go economy, believing that shopping nirvana was the closest thing to paradise. All of a sudden, the cramped living spaces of the average Japanese were overflowing with stuff. Few of it matched or made sense, and perhaps for the first time in Japanese history, people found themselves in possession of with more STUFF than they ever thought possible.
Muji offered an escape hatch from the clueless clutter of it all, with uniform, collapsible shelves and drawers designed to hold the simplest, most non-intrusive products. Now, forty years later, any discussion of Japanese minimalism almost always precludes a discussion of Muji. Konmari may be riding on her big wave at the moment, but Muji had been on the beach long before she was decluttering the ocean.
But as the hotel room shows, Muji has perhaps, gone a bit overboard. They had always walked the fine line between selling their ideals and selling their products but with the opening of the hotel, it seems that boundary has been obliterated. Muji has merged the product with the ideal, and the whole package comes with a price tag.
Consequently, the last thing you’d want to do in this space is to indulge in carnal pleasures, though to be fair, the hotel does encourage it. (Muji Prophylactics are sold on the third floor.) But since I was alone, what else was there to do but open my laptop to work at the Muji desk, lit by a Muji lamp, wearing Muji slippers after taking a shower in the Muji bathroom? Maybe I’ll even follow Muji’s suggestion and look up at the night sky for a few twinkling stars–and then fall into a dreamless Muji sleep.
Note: In a homage to Muji style, none of the photos in this article have been captioned.
Journey beyond Roppongi (old), Shibuya (teenyboppers) to XEX Nihonbashi this Sunday starting at 6:30 for dance, music, entertainment and booze. It’s DME NIGHT
3 hours of music, dance, DJs and drinks. Also featuring special guests, The Dream Team, with a singer alleged to be the second-coming of Whitney Houston. Features live performances by Jai, Zenon, Miku, and a dance showcase (starting at 8pm) featuring our favorite cosplayer/peformer Fenix (“Storm) and others.
There’s speculation that The Dream Team might include Tokyo’s favorite siren, Zoe. But you’ll have to go to know.
In high school, the girls around me had one wish–to have a different nationality, preferably American, and to trash our drab school uniforms for the outfits in “Beverly Hills 90210.” Being Japanese was just no fun, though it did seem better than hailing from other Asian countries. After all, this was the 1980s and the Japanese economy was gearing up to enter the bubble era. The Equal Employment Law for women kicked in. Chiaki Mukai was training to be Japan’s first woman astronaut. Takako Doi was rumored to become the future Prime Minister. Things were happening here, albeit minus the fun, sophistication and glamour we so coveted.
Little did we know that one day, Singapore and China would trump (pun intended) the US in many things regarding money, or that Asian women would come to rank among the richest in the world. These women would book first class flights on the five-starred Singapore Airlines to chill in the gaze of the Mer-Lion, and immerse themselves in gossip, shopping and spas with unlimited supplies of yuzu-scented sheet masks.
For that’s what the ladies in the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” do. On the occasions that they haul themselves off the mani-pedi bed or tear themselves away from the mahjong table, they reach for their phones to tap a few keys and murmur a few instructions, to put extra padding on their already bursting bank accounts. After that, they’re off to dinner parties where a billion orchid petals pave the paths and splendid fireworks explode in the background. Who do these people think they are, clones of Daisy Buchanan from “The Great Gatsby”?
Speaking of which, “Crazy Rich Asians” is the kind of insular, extravagant love story that would have made Scott Fitzgerald weep with envy. Director Jon M. Chu, who hails from Palo Alto and attended USC, has been working in films and TV since 2002 and this time, he literally hit the jackpot. Somehow the man knew that the world needed the sight of well-heeled Asians with perfect teeth, flinging their cash around at the same time they’re being swooningly romantic.
Chu dares to tread where no Hollywood movie about Asia ever has. There is no poverty or war. No samurai conflict. No appearance of Matt Damon (The Great Wall) or any white saviors to save the day. No immigration issues. Most importantly, there are no mothers crying about the sacrifices they made, to give their children a bright future in America. The mother in “Crazy Rich…” (played by a gorgeously frosty Michelle Yeoh) is the type who, when running up against a racist manager at a London hotel, calmly takes out her phone and makes arrangements to buy the hotel then and there. Minutes later she strides away, leaving the manager to get down on his knees and scrub the mud off the carpet from her son’s shoes.
When Hollywood does Asia, it goes for the jugular, like “Joy Luck Club” and “Sayuri” and “The Last Samurai.” Hollywood executives hear the word ‘Asians’ and immediately conjure an image of sweating maidens in rice paddies, or yakuza with swords in Shinjuku, or maidens and yakuza hooking up in Shinjuku, or all of the above. But in “Crazy Rich..,” Asians get to do what white people in movies have been doing for centuries. It’s about time.
In the US, “Crazy Rich Asians” was the movie sensation of the summer and it’s easy to see why. Apart from the endlessly entertaining antics of the Asian one percent “Crazy Rich…” knows how to entice an American audience. The characters have American names like Nick (Henry Golding), Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), Rachel (Constance Wu). They speak perfect English and hold engrossing conversations about love and family. They take their entitlement completely for granted. And they’re never weird. If they are, they’re weird in ways that Americans understand. Like in one scene, a bunch of catty woman put a dead fish in a girl’s bed as a bullying tactic, and it’s straight our of “Desperate Housewives.” Or if you want to be authentic about it, “The Godfather.”
Meanwhile, over here in the Land of the Rising Sun, people’s names are adamantly Japanese. Women are told to shut up and bear children, or shut up and work until 50 after which they must quit to care for elderly parents. Prime Minister Abe, now firmly ensconced in his third term, has promised the nation’s women that “things are going to change.” Seriously? They ain’t changing fast enough. All over Asia, Asian women are liberating themselves from tradition and antiquated family values to get a lot richer a lot faster than the Japanese ever did. Japan had its five minutes in the economic spotlight in the late 1980s but the 20-plus year recession combined with the notion of “seihin （清貧・clean poverty)” just about did us in. Evidence to that is seen in the way “Crazy Rich Asians” completely ignores Japan. China, Taiwan, Hong Kong – these places all get mentioned but Japan? Nada. True, Japan-born actress Sonoya Mizuno is in the cast but she plays a filthy rich Chinese woman. Go figure.
We’re a tad miffed, to be honest. But that really shouldn’t stop Japan from savoring every single frame of “Crazy Rich Asians.” From the sleek, precision make-up on the women to the bared torsos of the males (firm, slender and hairless – God’s gift to Asia) to the decor and wardrobe to the food and cocktails, “Crazy Rich…” is one huge, glittering monstrosity of a sweet, sweet treat. No wonder that for an increasing number of Japanese who will never be crazy rich, Singapore has come to represent the unattainable Japanese dream.
It was the summer of 2004, a blistering humid day in August when we touched down in Kansai Airport in Osaka, Japan. I was 12 and it was my first time in a foreign country, accompanied by my twin sister and father. Exhausted from the thirteen hour flight but elated that we had finally arrived, we waited excitedly in the sterile white paneled baggage claim area to collect our luggage and see this land of the rising sun for ourselves.
Bags came out of the shoot. A lopsided one, a pink one, those hard cases which Americans haven’t caught onto and only seem to be owned by East Asian travelers. One after another they came toppling out and then finally, a diminutive black suitcase dropped out with a small thud. The belt continued to move for a few more moments whirring until coming to a sudden complete and final stop. A lot of suitcases and bags. None of them appeared to be ours.
“Where are our bags?”
I turned to my father, perplexed and not quite understanding what this meant.
“I”m not sure let’s go check with the United customer service,” he replied with a hint of worry, gathering our carry-on baggage and belongings.
But the bags never came that day.
They hadn’t made the connecting flight and were still in Los Angeles. “They will be on the next flight from LA, “ the United staff said. “You should receive them sometime tomorrow.”
They handed us the yen equivalent of aboutt $300 US dollars to buy clothes in the meantime.
With only our carry-ons we clamored onto the shuttle bus which would take us from Kansai airport to Downtown Osaka.
What’s the first thing you do with apology money?
Go shopping of course! It was amazing wandering around the mall. It seemed familiar in many ways but still reverberated with that mystique which everything in Japan seems to be coated with in the eyes of a western foreigner.
We passed by one unfamiliar Japanese brand after another and there it was. A humble but sturdy bold sign that read Onitsuka Tiger. Surrounded by an array of familiar brands like Nike, Puma, and Adidas there stood out this very Japanese sounding brand with a fierce tiger as its logo. The shoes were flashy and bold but elegant at the same time.
“Pick whichever one you want!” my Dad said.
That day a pair of Onitsuka Tigers became my first and most useful souvenir from Japan.
What was it about these shoes that fascinated not only the 12-year-old bespectacled me but my 48-year-old father?
For the past 50 years Onitsuka Tiger has been a worldwide powerhouse promoting athleticism from its inception. Arguably the most popular and recognizable Japanese shoe brand, Onitsuka Tiger, and the parent company ASICS, traces its roots back to 1949. WWII had recently ended and Japan was in a state of rebirth. Former military officer Kihachiro Onitsuka took that mindset and ran with it creating a shoe he hoped would raise spirits and promote youth health through athletics.
The brand quickly grew in popularity through strategic athlete partnerships. In 1955, it partnered with 500 sports shops in Japan, with its first US sales occurring in 1963. The great ASICS stripe made its debut in 1966 at the pre-Olympic trials for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico – this was to be the start of their most famous line, Mexico 66. Today the once small Japanese athletics shoe company reports 428 billion yen (approximately 4 billion dollars) in net sales for 2015 (reports for 2016 will be released in the coming months), growing year after year into a mecca for “Intelligent Sports Technology” and “highly functional products developed with human-centric science” (ASICS).
ONITSUKA POPULARITY DECONSTRUCTED
The brand has the incredible ability of evoking reminiscence and at the same time a refreshing modernity.
What is the Onitsuka secret? How has this brand remained popular and hip in Japan while so many have fallen? Asahi Shimbun Digital back in 2015 published an article identifying four major secrets behind the Onitsuka success.
#1 Modern Retro Design Born from Performance
Onitsuka started with athleticism in mind and has kept that a core of its business. With its narrow long nose silhouette, thin sole, and striking color combinations, the Onitsuka retro design is instantly recognizable. It’s a unique and understated recognizability that remains classic.
#2 Limit Sales Channels to Maintain an Expensive Brand Image
Think about it. You’ve just put on your fresh straight out of the box Onitsukas and slipped into your freshly purchased and pressed outfit (that you paid a bit too much for). You step out of your apartment, it’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining and you look amazing. You’re strolling head held up high with a knowing smirk, people are looking and suddenly out the corner of your eye you spot it. The end of your moment. The shock of an older gentleman completely lacking in any fashion sense, wearing the exact same pair of your beautiful shoes. Now that is a fashion tragedy. A tragedy that Onitsuka has strategically strived to avoid. It’s incredibly difficult to get your hands on a pair of Ontisuka Tiger shoes within Japan in today’s discount stores. They aren’t sold in outlets or warehouses. As soon as a shoe enters the discount world its brand image is immediately at risk of degradation. Onitsuka’s bold and daring strategy heralded by President Oyama in 1999 to avoid the tempting wholesale market ensured that Onitsuka Tiger would become a high-end brand. In addition to limiting sales channels, the heightened brand image would start from the construction of their products, putting high quality materials at the forefront. That’s an image to be proud of.
#3 Establish Reasonable Pricing
Onitsuka Tiger manages to deliver high quality with the NIPPON MADE label at pretty economical prices. You can attain a heightened NIPPON MADE sensibility without the crazy price tag. Mostly all of the shoe models sell for less than 13,000 yen. The Serano which uses natural leathers is priced at 8,640 yen, the all natural leather upper Mexico 66 you can get your hands on for 12,960 yen.
#4 Surprise of A Mysterious Brand Name To Remember
From the name “Onitsuka” to the roaring tiger image the brand screams Japan to even those with the faintest familiarity with the country. It’s a striking brand image and this has definitely played in Onitsuka’s favor. You look at it and think this is a Japanese brand. And that is enticing for the overseas consumer because along with it come all of the positive adjectives characteristics you would attach to a Japan-made product – quality, cutting edge, reliable, built to last, different. This is the “Cool Japan” that the Japanese government doesn’t get.
THE FUTURE OF ONITSUKA
This past year Onitsuka Tiger celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Mexico 66, arguably the flagship and best-selling shoe from the storied Japanese brand — The company touts it as a fine footwear “discovered on the track, and later on, worn on the streets” . It has sought some of the most exclusive collaborations reaching and securing even the most obscure underground influencers and artists. Pop culture phenom homages, independent Japanese labels and exclusives marketing deals with high end shops like Barney’s New York.
The legend continues to thrive as they expand more and more, recently pushing for raising their presence in rugby. With a Vegan line, it’s riding the wave of eco-friendly animal-friendly fashion consumerism as well. (Editor’s note: The vegan line of shoes are not designed to be edible. Consume at your own risk)
They’ve reorganized the company to support globalization as well as acquiring technology company FitnessKeeper, Inc, and entering into the world of smart apparel and wearables.
Onitsuka has recently announced its introduction of shoes which are a step away from its iconic stripes but with the same motto paying homage to the past with a vintage feel and performance in mind.
The new line are Inspired by the Japanese “furoshiki” or the art of cloth packaging – The CHIYO. Available online and instore, it’s a refreshing take enabling the wearer to customize and create their own idea of beauty. The upper consists of soft cloth, like packaging cradling the top of the foot. The lucky owners can knot and style the shoe however they wish according to the look they’re rocking that day. The line comes in 3 colors- blue, black, and pink priced at 7,000 yen.
Onitsuka continues to take innovation and trends and instill them with a retro twist. It stays true to the spirit of a Japanese brand with refreshing relevance and distinction.
As you know, last year marked the 50th Anniversary of its iconic stripes logo and it’s looking like Onitsuka is here to stay.
The company that owns the line, still known as ASICS “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” or “A Healthy Soul in a Healthy Body.”, continually pushes the envelope looking for opportunities for constant growth. Can we call it world domination with retro class? I think so. However, the best way to appreciate Onitsuka shoes isn’t looking at them—it’s wearing them. Put on a pair and go for a run, you’ll catch on to what I’m saying.
Japan is a country where saving face is paramount—even if that means covering it with snake venom, bee toxin, horse oil, or snail slime. One company in Japan has been tremendously successful by catering to the Japanese love for looking good, thus saving face, and exotic ingredients. Their array of face masks, which are applied to the skin as shown in the photos, are almost all reasonably priced at 100 yen and are always exciting to find in the local pharmacy. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy the tingly sensation and fresh skin feeling you get from spreading cobra venom on your face?
Headquartered in central Tokyo’s glitzy Roppongi district, Sun Smile was founded in 1997. The company, which sells everything from cosmetics to bags, has seen their sales rise in the last 6 years. In 2009 they made 3 billion 997 million yen and in 2014 they posted sales of 8 billion 673 million yen. They produced over 100,000,000 masks since they went into business. Their biggest seller is the essence of pearl mask but it’s the other “natural” items that raise eyebrows (and lift lines).
They’re known best for their cosmetics line, Pure Smile. Pure Smile makes facial masks in every flavor imaginable—and some that are unimaginable. Their Essence Mask series features types as tame as lemon, rose, and pomegranate, but if you want something a bit more “wild” you can try their biodiversity series, which includes snake venom, snail slime, and sea cucumber. If you have no qualms, you can even lather your face with a horse oil mask, which, although smells slightly leathery, leaves your skin feeling as silky as a horse’s mane. (The horse is not as popular as the snail, according to the firm’s representatives). The popularity of these exotic ingredients started in South Korea and soon moved across the sea to Japan, where women have the image that Korean cosmetics are of good quality, in addition to being cheap, which has allowed Japanese women, who would tend to be grossed out by the idea of putting snake venom on their faces, to more easily accept these weird ingredients.
There are, however, some who even question the effectiveness of slathering exotic ingredients on your faces and whether it would have a noticeable, if any effect on your skin.
Wacky discount chain store, Don Quixote, even sold a special line of their facial masks that come in types such as blueberry cheesecake, cacao, and crème brûlée that smell good enough to eat.
There’s even an Amazonian series of facial masks made with the extracts of fruits only found in the rainforest such as guarana and camucamu.
The best are the Oedo Art Masks printed with the rosebud mouths, slanted eyes and pinched faces of ukioe paintings. The mask will most definitely make people think Halloween came early but the age-defying collagen, hyaluronic acid, and Vitamin-E in the mask will leave your face feeling smooth and supple.
The company also makes masks to hydrate your dry elbows, knees, and lips. The lip masks, make you look like a clown when you put them on, but leave your lips feeling moist. According to the packaging, a suggested application (and definitely one of the strangest) is to put the lip masks on your nipples to remove any blackheads that may appear. It seems Pure Smile has literally thought of everything.
Most of the masks are made in South Korea, with the exception of the high-end whitening masks that bleach your skin. In Japan, where Snow White-like skin is favored over a glowing tan, there’s a huge market for creams and serums that bleach your skin white. Kanebo, one of Japan’s most well-known cosmetics companies, was forced to recall its skin whitening products in 2013 after several women were left with permanently unsightly white blotches on their skin. (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/09/16/editorials/kanebos-costly-scandal/#.VNcguN7ufww)
I tried a few of the face packs myself and this is what I noticed.
I decided to go down the line in descending order of scariness. I wanted to get the snake venom one out of the way, deciding that nothing is as intimidating as cobra venom.
First Impression: As soon as I put the mask on I felt a strong cooling sensation. The essence of the mask is fairly thick, but not sticky. It definitely made me feel confident that the mask was doing something positive. This combined with the extreme moisture of the essence was pretty soothing.
What does snake venom essence smell like? I can’t quite pinpoint the smell but it’s light, like cucumbers and water.
In 3 minutes, I started to feel a bit of stinging above my lips and more intense cooling sensation on my forehead and chin. I felt one with the snake who sacrificed their venom essence. Ssss. (Technically it’s just the amino acids found in the venom but you get the idea!). Towards the last five minutes I felt more of a slight stinging around the bottom half of my face. The stinging was somewhat pleasant actually. I have high hopes for this venom.
The majority of the cooling sensation was on my chin, T zone, maybe it’s doing its venomous magic? After 15 min I peeled off the mask. My skin felt very refreshed, moisturized, and dare I say plump! I can see why this would be good to apply before makeup as my face felt pore-less and clean.
Verdict: If the stinging wasn’t there I would buy again for daily use. Overall it was relaxing so maybe those with less sensitive skin might have more luck. Still, this would be a great mask to wear before makeup on a shoot!
Next, I decided to pair my facial with a lip pack. I was feeling adventurous and decided to go with the fruit type since it was daytime and NYC needs some happy color, to encourage spring weather to come.
I’ve never heard of a lip spa and as someone who diligently moisturizes her lips, I never even thought that this existed or was necessary. Well here we go.
First Impression: The mask has a very strange texture, like that of silly putty. 2 min in I started getting a burning sensation.
Also, the smell was a lot more subtle than I expected, like a fruity lipgloss.
It works as advertised since I definitely felt the needles on my lips. Although very fun to touch, the pricking was too uncomfortable and I took off the mask the 8 min mark.
I guess they felt softer than before so it’s a nice addition if you have nothing on however, I will still probably reach for a chapstick over a Choosy pack. which I won’t need to leave on my face for so long.
Verdict: Skip. I wouldn’t purchase this. I am still not sure of its effectiveness. Looking forward to trying the honey and seeing if it has a more dramatic effect.
What I love about these face masks in general is that the scents are always fairly subtle which in our world of extremes is very pleasant and relaxing.
I waited 2 hours to apply another mask just to give my skin a break.
My skin still felt refreshed after almost 2 hours. The snake venom is definitely great for photoshoot prep!
I washed my face and was confronted with a lovely mix of honey flowers upon opening the Bee Toxin mask. This had to be the most pleasant bee poison in the world.
First Impression: I immediately noticed that the essence consistency was more thin, watery, and sticky than the snake mask.
It wasn’t as prickly as the snake venom but had a much more greater cooling sensation, especially on my forehead. It felt a lot like a gentle, lovely smelling version of Icy Hot.
It’s very moisturizing but my skin didn’t feel as tight as it did with the previous mask.
Verdict: It was very refreshing. Would definitely try again!
The smell is similar to the bee toxin mask but stronger, a bit too strong. My lips became very tingly 2 min in, like pins and needles. Again, I’m not a huge fan of these.
After removing the mask, my lips felt sticky. The huge size of the mask is a little unsettling as the stickiness covered below my nose to my chin.
Verdict: Skip. Yes, your lips are soft but there’s nothing drastic.
I took a break from my all-day pampering to attend a friend’s birthday party. I chose to end my late night with a nice snail essence mask since I figured it would be the most soothing of the exotic choices.
First Impression: When I opened the pack the comforting smell of dew entered the air. In my exhausted state the cooling effects of the mask were incredibly relaxing. The serum in this pack has a fairly thick consistency and I felt the majority of the cold on my chin. I felt no stinging whatsoever which was a nice surprise.
The mask left my face feeling moisturized but slightly tight. I expected to feel a larger difference in my skin and the effect was less noticeable than the others.
Verdict: It’s a gentle soothing mask that is nice to wear after a long day. In terms of effectiveness for skin I’d say my favorite is still the Bee Venom.
I decided to treat myself with Royal Jelly the following morning. Royal jelly is a bee secretion used to nourish larvae and the Queen Bee in a hive. This was a great name choice on Sun Smile’s part. Here’s to hoping it will start the day off right!
It gave off a soft flowery smell. Upon application it felt warmer than the other masks, and gave a nice calm sensation This was definitely a good choice for a chilly morning as it gently wakes you up.
Verdict: Would use again! My face feels so nice!!
So there you have it. The masks are definitely worth trying, they aren’t magical but they will give you a mini-spa experience in your home. They are super affordable so really why wouldn’t you want to lather your face in the essences of snake and bee toxins? And even if you would rather not, they are great cheap gifts to bring back from Japan. Because if you know anything about Japan, going on a trip and not bringing back a souvenir might bring some shame. But spend a few hundred yen on these and everyone saves face—including you. (If you pack some for yourself, double face savings!)
Ian Anderson, who’s “micro art” style often involves intricate mazes and patterns painstakingly drawn by hand, evoking Op Art, Keith Haring, Escher and more is holding an art-show at the Wieden Kennedy Tokyo art gallery until October 30th. It’s worth visiting.
According the artist’s website, “Ian Anderson was born in 1991 and grew up in Antipolo, Philippines. He moved to Los Angeles in 2001 with his mother and step father. Out of high school, Ian worked as a teacher of animation and video game design for 5 years at Exceptional Minds Studio. Having no formal art training, Ian was almost entirely self taught. His signature “micro art” style was developed at an early age.
‘I’m fascinated by the energy that something handmade gives. Sure, it would be more convenient to go on a computer and create a tile of my patterns, or to make the spacing and line quality absolutely perfect. But I like things a little wrong. Everybody knows what “Right” is supposed to look like, “wrong” is more interesting to me.”
The opening reception party for the show “Make Up Your Mind” was held on October 21st, featuring a live painting performance with guest artist, dominatrix and fashion designer Lehysl. Using ropes (縛り), paint, and a cooperative model and a body stocking, the three worked together to create a living painting. There were points before, during, and after the performance that all three seemed to blend into the canvas, stepping in and out of the 2nd dimension and back into the 3rd dimension.
Lehysl and Anderson bonded over their love of lines—his are hand-drawn, hers are made out out silk or other materials and take shape as ropes. Lehysl said, “It was an honor and great fun to make temporary art from a different art, shibari, the art of rope tying. It was a liberating performance.”
There won’t be any models hanging upside down for the last few days of the exhibit but stroll by while you can. The gallery is located close to Naka-Meguro station and you can unwind at the Tsutaya Book Cafe close-by and further your study of art via some good book over decent coffee.
Our favorite idol (アイドル） in Japan, Amina Du Jean, has new EP out. It’s called “Seppuku”.
Ritual disembowling (hara-kiri) has never been cuter or had a better melody. Mishima would have danced to this.
For more on the song and Amina Du Jean, checkout out her Bandcamp website.
This is the best angry girlfriend song in recent memory. The lyrics are calling for a sincere apology—and in Japan that can only be one thing. Just ask the 49 Ronin. 😉 Here is a rough translation of one stanza.