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Beauty Survival 101: It Gets Hairy at Matsumoto Kiyoshi

By 3 min read 1

Hey Girl, confused about what to buy in the beauty aisle? Yeah I was too.

For those of us new to Japan, something as simple as buying hair spray is a confusing experience.  Even if you studied Japanese back home, understanding which product does what specifically, and to where, is overwhelming.

Japan loves its beauty business. When I first arrived, I went to Matsumoto Kiyoshi to get the usual suspects for my lid and was assaulted by a wall of bottles, refill packets and unknowable packaging that made my brain hurt. The corner store carried a selection that rivaled a full-on beauty supply shop back home. I was frozen with indecision- which is understandable if you’re making a major decision, like surgery or accepting a marriage proposal. But effing hair spray? I was annoyed at myself.

Here’s a list of some of the top terms you’ll find on beauty product packaging, and some MK basics to get any newbie through the experience. Ladies—feel free to chime in under the comments. If you have a product you love, I want to hear about it.

Liese Airy Style Water


This was one of my happy mistakes. From the picture on the bottle,  I thought I was buying a de-tangler, but it’s actually a blowout product. Spray it all over towel-dried hair and blow yourself out. Hair is shiny (for reals) and straight. I still use a straightener but this stuff cuts back heat damage in a big way. Love.

Shiseido Tsubaki Hair Mask


As a rule, I pretty much love anything by Shiseido, and you see a lot of products with Tsubaki in them on the shelves here. I had never heard of it before so I turned to Sephora. Here’s what they say:

Tsubaki (Camellia) oil has been an essential part of Japanese beauty rituals for centuries. Japanese women, well-known for their flawless skin, would traditionally nourish and protect their skin with native Tsubaki oil, which is naturally fast-absorbing, hypoallergenic, and always non-comedogenic. In addition to its potent skincare benefits, Camellia oil is responsible for the iconic smoothness of the geisha and samurai hairstyles of the past.

M’kay, so there’s that. Bottom line: this mask is super effective. Maybe too effective if you have fine white girl hair like me. I use it for about half the recommended time (about ten minutes instead of twenty) and my hair feels like silk. Makes your hands soft too. Double love.

Kao Essentials Shampoo and Conditioner


Kao is ubiquitous. The commercials on the trains, the shelves are stocked with it. If you have fine or limp hair be careful with the cream rinse. Leave in on too long and you’ll wind up looking like a cat in the rain, but otherwise- this stuff is inexpensive and it rocks. I also like that most of the drugstore lines have refills to cut back on plastic waste. I wish we did that in the States.

Here’s a list of wording to look for when you’re deciphering on the shelves.

  • Hair 髪
  • Smooth スムーズ
  • Straight ストレート
  • Curly カーリー
  • Oily オイリー
  • Dry ドライ
  • Damaged ダメージ
  • For colored hair 染め髪用
  • Deep conditioner トリートメント
  • Hair mask ヘアマスク
  • Highlights ハイライト
  • Shiny 艶やか
  • Strong (hairspray) 強め
  • Light (hairspray) 軽め
  • Medium (hairspray) 中くらい
  • Styling cream ヘアスタイリングクリーム
  • Straightening cream ストレートヘアクリーム
  • Shine serum シャイニースプレイ

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  • Cynthia Popper says:

    Awesome lady thank you. We’re always looking for product pointers so if you think of others, let us know! 🙂