If you ever find yourself walking around Shin-Takashima station in Yokohama, you will probably notice a tall building with a delicate “Shiseido” sign. Shiseido ( 資生堂 ) is the biggest cosmetics brand in Japan, with a powerful presence worldwide. Its products radiate Japanese aesthetic, vibrate classiness, while boasting the most high-quality ingredients. Well, it turns out one can experience Shiseido’s approach towards creating cosmetics, following all the stages of product design, from substance chemistry to packaging texture at the S/Park Museum in Shiseido Global Innovation Center. Thankfully, they provide explanations of all exhibits in Japanese and English, interactive and hands-on experiences and -most importantly- entrance is free.
Let’s get a glimpse of the S/Park Museum. At the reception, the benches take the form of packs of oil blotting paper, a popular product of Shiseido.
Upon entering the 2nd floor, you notice a circular structure, dedicated to perfumes. There you can smell different aromas and observe Shiseido’s veteran perfume “Eudermine” created in the far far away year 1897. Apart from the fragrance itself, emphasis is given on bottles and the overall design of a perfume; e.g. the importance of selecting just the right material for the bottle cap in order for the product to be marketed successfully.
Elegance is one factor towards buying cosmetics. However, it certainly is not the sole one. Different series express different emotions such as sensitivity, power, vibrancy or characteristics like sophistication, eloquence, creativity. Colors are important; patterns as well. Shapes? No doubt. A variety of different series were created throughout the years in order to cater to different needs.
Some of the exhibits were remarkably old. A flat powder designed in order to fit inside the Obi belt of a kimono and assist Japanese ladies in 1920s. Almond milk and cleaning powder conflate the standards of western cosmetics in the 1930s with the traditionally used beauty ingredients in Japan.
A section was called “The origin of aroma” and showcased many samples of famous fragrances and the objects from which they were extracted. For some reason, I expected all of them to originate from trees or flowers. Alas, apart from greasy moss, there were also animal parts, usually glands. Some popular extracts have weird origins, for example musk (from Himalayan deers), civet musk (from civet genitalia) and castoreum (from Canadian castors). Some others, such as ambergris obtained from the intestines of sperm whales, are even illegal today, as it ought to be long ago. If you are concerned about substances originating from animals, check the ingredient label of your favourite perfume more carefully next time.
Science plays a big part of cosmetic creation. Beauty companies are able to measure the quality of your skin, observe the effect of UV rays and aging, develop materials able to repel water and mix just the right amount of essential oils. Shiseido has even researched what percentage of smiling matches a face with make-up versus a face without makeup.
Evolution continues, with Shiseido introducing the concept of personalized skin care using internet-of-things for on the spot decision of the beauty routine according to weather conditions. Furthermore, it is worth noting that while the Shiseido brand may be popular in terms of beauty products, it has expanded to the confectionery market since the beginning of the 20th century (Note to self: check out the shiseido parlour in Ginza).
As all proper museums do, the S/Park museum has a small, cute shop. I got myself an imabari face towel (imabari is number 1 in terms of towel quality in japan) and a mini vase for my desk shaped as a testing tube. The building also offers a Beauty bar, where the staff designs personalised cosmetics depending on your requirements (for a fee around JPY12000). Otherwise, you can simply try out Shiseido products for free. Finally, you can sweat it off with one of exercise programs in the “Studio” or enjoy a beverage and healthy snack at the cafe.
Next time you end up in Yokohama with no plans, skip China Town for once. Consider visiting Shiseido’s S/Park instead.