By  on August 14, 2009

Capital: Tokyo
Largest city:
Official language:
Area Total:
145,883 square miles
Time zone:
JST (UTC +9)
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Beauty and appearance play a huge role in Japanese society, and consumers here are the world’s biggest beauty spenders per capita.

Second only in size to the U.S., the Japanese beauty market is estimated by market research firm Fuji-Keizai USA Inc. to be valued at around 3 trillion yen, or $30 billion. Euromonitor International puts this number closer to $35 billion for the cosmetics and toiletries market, with skin care accounting for 42 percent, followed by color cosmetics at 41 percent.

Clear, smooth, light-colored skin is the oldest and most steadfast ideal of beauty in Japan, dating back to the time when geishas would paint their faces white using rice flour or a leadbased powder mixed with water. These days, whitening is more of a skin care trend. An emphasis on convenience means products are becoming increasingly multifunctional, such as Kanebo’s Akai Bihaku Whitening Conclusion, which offers both antiaging and whitening benefits. Sun care products are also benefitting from the whitening craze. Women here are so adverse to the sun it’s not uncommon to see them slathered in SPF cream despite wearing long sleeves and carrying parasols. Asia is the world’s biggest region for skin care overall, fueled largely by the Japanese obsession with youthful-looking skin. According to Euromonitor, Japan accounts for roughly half of all skin care sales in Asia, and Japanese consumers are the trend leaders, helping the popularity of premium brands spread to other Asian countries.

Domestic brands dominate the market. Shiseido has long been the market leader, but with Kao Corp.’s acquisition of Kanebo in 2006, the number-one place is now up for grabs, creating strong competition between the two manufacturers. According to Euromonitor, Kao owns the top two premium cosmetics brands of 2008, Kanebo and Sofina. These are followed by Kosé, Shiseido and SK-II, a Proctor & Gamble Co. brand.

Despite its size, the market for beauty products is mature and almost completely saturated, meaning manufacturers are having to become even more inventive in order to maintain market share. “After many years of flat growth, the value of the total market in 2009 will likely decline by about one percent versus 2008,” says Avon Japan’s marketing director, Nigel Brown. Euromonitor predicts a stagnant 2010, with slight growth not expected to return until 2011.

Luxury brands are starting to falter, too, and are expected to lose market share over the coming fuel years. “In recent years more somewhat premium products have become available in drugstores, and younger people and those with less money have shifted a great amount of spending to them. Some midlevel products are now even widely available in convenience stores,” says Shirai.

This trading down to masstige and mass brands can be seen across nearly all segments, but that doesn’t mean consumers are willing to settle for less. “Women still expect high quality in product packaging and aesthetics, even if the price they are prepared to pay is somewhat less,” says Brown.

MAC is considered one of the leading midtier brands here. Sold in Japan’s top department stores, including Takashimaya and Tokyu, its prices are 10 to 50 percent less than similar products from other brands.

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