Feel a Japanese Tradition on Your Skin

August 16, 2005

by Akiko Nakai and Mami Nishiyama

Feel a Japanese Tradition on Your Skin

~Cosmetics from Kyoto~

Kyoto, which was once capital of Japan, is rich in lively colors that are found in its four distinct seasons – spring, summer, autumn and winter (shunkashuto). In spite of a harsh environment (soggy summers and freezing winters), nature has enabled the inhabitants of Kyoto to find a variety of vivid colors in plants, such as flowers and trees, along with the transition of the four seasons. Surrounded by abundant nature, Kyoto has cultivated its own unique culture and arts such as kabuki, geiko (geisha), temples and shrines. These factors were all instrumental in helping to develop cosmetics, which have attracted many women in Japan since early times. Nowadays it is called Kyo-cosme (Kyoto cosmetics), and gradually it is gaining fans not only in Japan but also in foreign countries.

★Colors in Kyoto★

For aristocrats in the Heian period (794-1192 AD), it was regarded as the height of sophistication to express the beauty of nature through their clothes or poetry by using these colors as symbols of the seasons.Therefore, many new colors were created through the events held at the Imperial Palace. These colors have been passed down from generation to generation, and now you can find a variety of lively colors for rouge, eye shadow, and blush at a cosmetic company called Yojiya. There you can try on these colors, so how about strolling around Kyoto while becoming a Kyo-bijin (Kyoto beauty)?
For more information on Yojiya, please visit http://www.yojiya.co.jp/english/index.html 

↑Ninnaji in spring

↑Matsuo Taisha in summer

↑Daikakuji in Autumn

↑Kibune in Winter

If you try Kyoto makeup, would you like to ensure that the beautiful makeup stays on as long as possible? There is now a must-have item for young women wanting to keep their makeup on for a long time. It is called aburatorigami. If you were to look into young women’s purses, you would find aburatorigami most of the time.



“Abura-tori-gami” means “oil-blotting-paper.” As the words imply, it absorbs grease and takes the shine
from your face. If you use it before touching up your makeup, it helps the makeup stay on much longer.
Aburatorigami also works well to keep the balance of water and oil in your skin and prevents skin trouble
such as pimples.


The original aburatorigami was born about 1000 years ago as a by-product of making gold leaf in Kanazawa.
Originally, paper called hakuuchi-gami was used to support delicate gold when a craftsman hammered
the gold out into very thin leaf.

When Kyoto was the imperial capital (794-1192 AD), the demand was extremely high; gold was used
in decorating temples and in providing the emperor and the nobility with high-quality furnishings and
crafts. Thus, much hakuuchi-gami was taken to Kyoto as wrapping for delicate gold leaf.

Time went by, and a rumor “Hakuuchi-gami makes you feel just like you’ve taken a bath!” spread throughout Kyoto. People were surprised to see how much oil was absorbed by only a piece of thin paper, which was then thrown away. This was the moment when aburatorigami was born.

At the same time as the rumor, Minamiza, the first playhouse of Japan, was built in Kyoto.There weren’t, of course, any air conditioning systems at that time, so the kabuki actors were always struggling with the oil and sweat on their faces that ruined their thick makeup. Aburatorigami was the very product which the actors had longed for. It prevented their makeup from coming off, and reduced the time needed for touching up their makeup. The reputation of aburatorigami soon reached the pleasure district of Gion, and the paper became loved by many geisha, who also wore a thick white foundation and didn’t have much time to touch up their makeup. Thus, the culture of aburatorigami began to flourish here in Kyoto. (For more information on geisha, see Kazumi YONEO

http://kyoproin.joho.kufs.ac.jp/dp/dp01.nsf/Update/625FEECF6ED7148849256FA100174BA3/ ).

↑Minamiza (The first playhouse)

↑Kabuki actor

↑Maiko (geisha)

Aburatorigami Now

“Hey! Look at all of them! Gosh, I can’t choose only one!”
Nowadays, you can hear these high-pitched cries in many souvenir shops in Kyoto. Aburatorigami is now popular not only among stage actors and mature women but also among boys and girls with oily skin in junior high and high school. I actually used it often when I was a teenager, and it worked really well for preventing pimples. Indeed, aburatorigami is the No.1 souvenir among students visiting Kyoto for their school excursions. How about buying it for your children as a souvenir?

In this fashion, this special paper has been passed down from kabuki actors and geisha, and now its use has spread all over Japan. Furthermore, people have kept the spirit of protecting nature here in Kyoto,which is reflected in the Kyoto Protocol, together with the noble colors based on nature. When you visit Japan,why not feel a tradition on your skin with Kyoto colors and aburatorigami?

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