We just returned from one of our favorite places, ever. After spending some time with my husband’s family in Taiwan and enjoying some wedding festivities, we enjoyed a stopover with Japan Airlines and spent 10 days in Japan. It was our first time there, and we left playfully chatting about what we need to do in order to move to Tokyo. We spent our time in Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo, plus we took a trip to Koyasan to spend a night in a temple.
I’d love to share some photos and experiences from Japan, and further down in the post I’ll share the beauty purchases I made while I was there.
We were mostly very lucky with the weather, and during our time in Kyoto we enjoyed sunny skies and beautiful autumn leaves. If I’ve counted right, we ended up visiting 14 sites in Kyoto, including temples, shrines, gardens, and other special sites. One of our first was Kinkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. It’s gorgeous and centrally located, but it’s also very crowded with tourists. My little tip is that I personally preferred Ginkaku-ji, or the Temple of the Silver Pavilion, which was further out but quieter, and also had prettier grounds (I thought). We bought a little pack of incense from the temple that they use around the grounds, and it smells amazing. Ginkaku-ji was also sitting adjacent to 2 other quiet sites, Honen-in and the Soho Tokutomi gravesite.
Honen-in and the Soho Tokutomi gravesite were almost completely devoid of other tourists, and were very beautiful.
I definitely enjoyed the temples and shrines, but I personally have a soft spot for gardens and the fall time is such an awesome time to visit them. The Arashiyama district of Kyoto had gorgeous gardens as well as an impressive bamboo grove. The Tenryu-ji temple gardens were a highlight for me.
You may recognize the prayer knots at Heian shrine from a scene in Lost in Translation. Although it isn’t exactly the grandest site in Kyoto, Heian was actually one of my favorites. On a Sunday when many of the big sites were completely flooded with tourists (like Kiyomizu-dera, pictured above, was), Heian was actually very quiet, and many of the people who were there were participating in a ceremony or there to pray. It was extremely peaceful.
Walking through the winding torii gates of the Fushimi Inari shrine was really remarkable. If they don’t feel like a maze during the day, they certainly do at night. And there were only a few other people there after dark, which gave it a sort of eerie vibe.
We made a day trip to Nara to see Todaiji Temple and the sacred deer. You can feed them crackers that vendors sell outside, and the deer are very tuned in to the whole thing. They stand back until they see you make the purchase, and the moment you step away from the cart with crackers in hand they swarm you. There were some big ones by the front of the park that were very pushy and will totally bite you (I got a nip on my leg and then ran away, haha), but the smaller, more relaxed deer further into the park can be incredibly sweet. Some of them will sort of dance for a cracker, bowing their head up and down or picking up their feet.
Ok so I’ve gone on and on about Kyoto. We made it to Tokyo and had a great time seeing things like the Omiya bonsai village, two animal cafes, and beautiful cityscapes, though ultimately we spent most of our time shopping, and of course we ate a lot of fantastic food. I’m in love with the food. We ate delicious and affordable ramen, soba, tonkatsu, tempura, gyoza, sushi, mochi, and green tea flavored everything. In Osaka, we had also enjoyed takoyaki, udon, all kinds of tofu preparations, matcha, cream puffs, and red bean treats.
Spicy ramen is a particular weakness of mine. You can get good ramen in NYC, but it costs double what it does in Tokyo. I was just so taken with how easy it was to get fabulous, inexpensive meals. The fact that the yen is down helps with all of that, too.
The owl cafe we visited in Akihabara was a memorable one. I was initially apprehensive about the concept of subjecting owls to obnoxious humans like this, but these owls seemed pretty well adjusted to the whole thing and were surprisingly social. Some of them seemed to enjoy being pet, and one of them sat and watched Spirited Away which they had playing on a tv in the background.
On our last evening in Tokyo, we went to the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar, which is where Bob and Charlotte spent a lot of time in Lost in Translation. The 52nd floor where the bar is located has a spectacular view of the city.
Stuff I bought:
Ok! So when it came to picking up beauty products, I toned down my ambitions when I saw a few price tags. A lot of people online had gone on about how affordable and high quality cosmetics can be in Japan, but the truth is I think that we Americans are quite spoiled when it comes to how affordable beauty products can be. In a lot of other places, especially Europe, things just cost more. I will say I trust that Japanese products will be of good quality, I think as a culture they just seem to have higher standards than others in so many aspects. At the same time, there definitely still is some low-investment stuff to try.
In addition to beauty products, we also enjoyed shopping for Christmas gifts (got most of ’em done!), and I found myself a nice Japanese-made weekend bag. We walked around electronics stores, otaku department stores, paper goods store (Itoya in Ginza is amazing), sweets stores, tea shops, kitchen and knife stores, and clothing stores.
The places in which we shopped for beauty and personal care items included department stores like Mitsukoshi, Tokyu Hands, and Loft, as Japanese department stores are awesome. I also found some good stuff in different drugstores as well as Muji.
One of the things I knew I wanted to walk away with were some Japanese mascaras, which have a fantastic reputation. I’ve never tried any before because of their price point in America, which is usually around $18 if purchased in a physical store. In the Japanese drugstore I found a lot of mascaras around 1,000-1,5000 yen ($8-12), which is definitely comparable to American drugstore mascaras. I decided to try mascaras by the brands Integrate, Dolly Wink, and Kate.
I had been interested in buying some candy colored blushes, lip colors, and highlighters, but ended up holding back. Most of the drugstore blushes and lip colors seemed to hang around the $20 mark, and the highlighters and blushes often had quite a lot of glitter in them. If I was feeling a little freer with money I may have tried some things out, but not this time around. Next time.
The Cure Natural Aqua Gel is also one of the most famous beauty products of Japan. It’s a gentle exfoliator that seems to work by pilling up when massaged on the face and picking up dirt and dead skin along with it. Or it just loosens dead skin so that you can rinse it off. Something like that. I hesitated when I saw the price (I think I paid around $25, but can’t remember exactly), but threw it in the basket when we made a group of tax-free purchases at Tokyu Hands.
One of the things I was actually in need of was a moisturizer, since I ran out of mine during the trip. It was hard to know where to start since I couldn’t read labels but when a Tokyu Hands sales associate started trying to show me a whole skincare line called Re’au that focused on natural botanicals and a lifting/firming effect, I took the opportunity. I frankly liked every product I sampled – essence, serum, gel cream, and cream. I purchased the richer cream and the associate gave me a little handful of sample bundles of the other products, as well.
Re’au seems to be geared toward someone like me who’s looking for some hydration and protection against aging, plus they don’t use added dyes and fragrances and that kind of thing. I paid around $25 for the cream, and I think it was the most expensive product in the line, so it’s a fairly affordable brand, as well.
This was an impromptu purchase, but when we were in the flagship Muji store in Ginza, Tokyo, I spotted a very large beauty section. I have a Muji not too far from where I live in NYC, but they definitely don’t carry as many products (though I couldn’t say offhand which products they do and don’t carry). The product names are very generic and there are a few different bottle colors indicating different targeted lines, but I really don’t know much about them. I decided to pick up the Seaweed Hand Cream, Cream Cleanser, All-in-One Essence (brown bottle version), Whitening Toning Water (high moisture version), and Oil Cleanser.
When reading up on Japanese skincare, I saw a lot of people talk about the LuLuLun sheet masks. They’re really affordable and so I picked up a box of them in a drugstore. There are 3 different colors, and I believe this dark blue packaging means “high moisture”.
Also while in a drugstore, I spotted a few boxes of My Beauty Diary masks which are Taiwanese. I’ve tried their hyaluronic acid masks before and loved them. MBD are very affordable and even pretty common in Asian skincare stores in America, but the drugstore had this little 2-pack of Black Pearl masks (whitening + nourishing) with a little “bestseller” sticker on them so I just went for it. They were very inexpensive.
Here’s another little purchase, a pack of oil absorbing sheets. They had a pretty extensive selection of them at Tokyu Hands, with absolutely no way for me to know the difference between them, so I just grabbed this cute little pack because it was inexpensive and about the size of a credit card. I think I paid 350 yen ($2.84).
I also spent some time browsing the Japanese bath powder products, as stores like Tokyo Hands and Loft would have like 2 whole aisles dedicated to them. I no longer have a bath tub in my apartment, but this 4-pack of Onsen-style powders will make an attractive (and very affordable) gift. I paid 400 yen ($3.25).
A personal care purchase my husband decided to make was a pair of nail clippers. Apparently high quality Japanese nail clippers are the souvenir of choice for all of the Chinese tourists, so I guess we had to see what that was all about. He chose a pair by the brand Kiya that cost 1800 yen ($14.62) – on the affordable side compared to some of the other options. And, they’re very good at what they do! We purchased those at Tokyu Hands, too.
I also noticed that Tokyu Hands also carried a collection of fancy metal nail files in the $12-30 range, as well as similar little sets of nice personal care tools. I eyed the nail files and told myself I already had my glass OPI file and didn’t need a new one, but the funny thing is that I find myself kind of wishing I had jumped and tried one. Next time!
Ok well I’ve gone on long enough. I’d love to hear about your experiences if you’ve visited Japan, tried any of these products, or if you have other brands or products you’d recommend to me in the future. Japan’s an incredible place and know that we will definitely do what it takes to spend some more time there in the future.