The Violet Files’ favorite spas, makeup counters, and more essential stops in the land of the rising sun.
Written By Jess Basser Sanders
Beniya Mukayu | Lessons on Japanese Beauty | The Violet Files | @violetgrey


Tokyo, and Japan in general, is a thoroughly futuristic place, but with the most classic of underpinnings. A country of flashing neon lights, Michelin-starred avant-garde cuisine, and every gadget imaginable (and unimaginable), it is also filled with hundred-year-old buildings, eateries that make the best soba of your life (and nothing else), and ancient customs that are honored every day.
Japanese beauty is a microcosm of Japanese culture—steeped in centuries of tradition, but also on the vanguard of innovation. On every corner is a drugstore stocked with the latest cosmetic technology, but you can also find sento bathhouses, where communal bathing has been practiced for the past 400 years. Here, The Violet Files takes a deep dive into the world of Japanese beauty, with an extra assist from Troy Surratt, whose Surratt Beauty line has been inspired by more than 13 years of travel to the land of the rising sun.
Japanese cosmetics can be as overwhelming as they are cutting edge, especially with very little English labeling and sometimes perplexing packaging. @cosme store, the brick-and-mortar incarnation of a local online beauty forum, is a good entry point. You can often find an English-speaking staff member at one of the five outlets in Tokyo, and the store’s products and displays are constantly changing based on the site’s reviews. There is also a helpful aisle where the store’s picks of the best cleansers, scrubs, blushes, beauty tools, and more are presented in ranked order—a good place to discover gems like Cure Natural Aqua Gel, a wildly popular water-based exfoliator that flies off shelves worldwide at the rate of one bottle every 12 seconds.
This Harajuku one-stop shop is Surratt Beauty founder Troy Surratt’s favorite beauty store in Tokyo, akin to a Japanese Sephora. “When I’m there, I stock up on fake eyelashes, Q-tips of all shapes and sizes, and cool tools and implements,” he says. 
A trip to Japan cannot be considered complete without a visit to a sento (public bathhouse) or an onsen (hot spring). Consider venturing out of the capital for the full experience, perhaps to Beniya Mukayu, just south of Kanazawa on the main island. This quiet ryokan (Japanese bed and breakfast) in the woods offers all that makes the experience special—tatami mat floors, 12-course kaiseki dinners, and yukata-clad guests—with a modern touch. The hot spring is the main event, but make sure you follow the correct onsen protocol: Head down to the gender-segregated bathing area, strip down completely, and rinse with the handheld showers before immersing yourself in the perfectly warm waters. Just be sure to cover your tattoos, as you won’t be allowed to enter if any are visible. If you’re feeling more modest, all rooms in the ryokan come with their own private, open-air baths.
Beniya Mukayu | Lessons on Japanese Beauty | The Violet Files | @violetgrey
Tokyo’s tony department store Isetan, in Shinjuku, has an impressive beauty ground-floor beauty department with counters from local and international names. Surratt’s pick? The Gankin deep tissue massage facial offered by Japanese brand Suqqu. “It’s sort of like facial chiropractics,” he says. “Traditionally the Japanese are so gentle and their touch is soft and subtle, but this facial is quite deep. It’s used for lymphatic drainage and to reshape the contours of the face subtly through deep massage.” When you’re done, head downstairs to pick up a bento box to savor on the store’s garden rooftop.
In the residential neighborhood of Azabu-Jūban lies the flagship spa of Japanese skincare and cosmetics monolith Koh Gen Do. Founded by Japanese actress Ai Saotome in the 1980s, the brand is dedicated to creating perfect, camera-ready skin. Originally a skincare line, Koh Gen Do became known in the United States in recent years for its HD-proof foundations, which Hollywood makeup artists favor for their flawlessness on-screen. As one might expect, the Koh Gen Do spa is equally appealing. It is well worth visiting for its sleek design and attentive service alone, but personalized facials are the main event. Heavily focused on massage, these luxurious treatments rely on the skill of the highly trained aestheticians rather than trendy technology. The brand’s sumptuous sheet masks and essences also make appearances, so prepare to exit the session with skin glowing like never before.
If your significant other isn’t enthused about spending hours on end testing out Japanese makeup, consider dropping him off at Surratt’s go-to barber in Aoyama. “I love to have a classic shave there with hot towels and the works,” he says. “The seats fully recline into a bed when they do the shave, and it’s a really high level of service and pampering when you’re feeling too lazy to shave your own face.”
These distinctive blue-and-yellow stores are all over Tokyo, touting a democratic selection of products that ranges from high- to low-priced, and are a cultural experience in themselves. Inside, you’ll be met with organized chaos, as shelves are stacked high (and may greet you via speaker as you walk past), aisles are bustling, and packaging is as perplexing to the non-Japanese-speaker as it is cute. (Getting the most out of your Japanese drugstore experience might require a little Internet research, given that not many products are labeled in English.) A few highlights? Lu Lu Lun sheet masks, DHC Cleansing Oil, refillable Shiseido eyeliners, and more false lashes and mascara than you can shake a (lip)stick at.


In polite society, no trip to Tokyo is complete without SUSHI, spas, and six rounds of KARAOKE.
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