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Goin’ Japanesque!

“Museum of Beni” in Tokyo; Understanding the History of Japan’s Cosmetics Culture

Cosmetics, an art that can change the impression of the facial appearance and can trigger positive feelings. There is a deep rooted custom of beautifying in Japan as well, giving birth to world famous cosmetic brands such as Shiseido.

This time we would like to introduce a place where visitors can see a glimpse of such Japanese cosmetic culture. It is the “Museum of Beni”, presented by the Isehan-Honten the last seller of “beni” or colored pigments used for cosmetics, that has a continued history from the Edo Period.

Take the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hanzomon Line, or Chiyoda Line to the “Omotesando Station”. Exit B1 and walk 12 minutes to the museum.
The external appearance of the museum looks as if it can be mistaken for a store in the Aoyama area.

Writer’s Photo

Once inside, there is a display of cosmetic tools in a vivid red color display. The Museum of Beni is a space where visitors can experience the modern culture of beni in a multifaceted way. Visitors can view historical artifacts and can also test the beni that has been passed down to modern times.


Beni Differs in Coloration Depending on the Wearer

Beni refers to the red color pigments that are in the safflower. The “Komachi-Beni” that is displayed in the salon of the museum is a traditional Japanese lip color that is made from this rare beni. They are made by first removing the petals of the safflower, which are hand-washed with some pressure to remove the yellow pigments, then fermented.

I took the opportunity to try on some of the beni.

Writer’s Photo

Can you tell the edges of the container are colored bright? It is an iridescent color at first but when it is applied with a brush moistened with water, the color turns to a vivid red as in the photo.

According to the staff, “the coloring differs by person. The color can come out orange or bright pink depending on the wearer”. For me, the color turned a vivid orange as I applied it on my lips.

Nowadays there are types of cosmetics like lip tints that color the lips. The beni may be somewhat close to such cosmetics in how it feels when applied. It does not wear off with time, and is absorbed well in the lips. Yet, it does not feel dry; the surface of the lips remains soft. You understand why it remains a trusted product since the Edo period.

Writer’s Photo

The beni meant for being carried around is placed in a beautiful case as in the picture. The contents can be refilled which make it good for a gift.


Beni Represents Color Which Have Brightened the Lives of Japanese

Further into the museum is a room of records that introduces the historical background and phases of the beni. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the section but there were displays that showed ukiyo-e paintings and cosmetic tools of the Edo Period, along with a historical exhibit of how cosmetic culture took root in the current Japanese society.

Traditional Japanese Wedding, Photo by flickr

In Japanese history, the color “red” has been traditionally regarded as a sacred color to ward off evil. It is said that in the past, when new born babies were taken outside for the first time, there was a tradition of placing dots of the beni placed on the forehead, or some color placed on the lips or cheeks to ward off evil.

Red, being a color associated with blood, the sun, and flames of fire; having had a bit of beni applied on my lips, I felt a bit empowered going out as I felt a sense of the history that had been passed down the centuries.

Admission is free. Why not stop by if you have a chance to visit Omotesando. Having gotten in touch with the history of the Japanese attire focused on the beni may make your shopping experience that follows much more interesting.

<Isehan-Honten Museum of Beni> MapOfficial Website
HOURS: 10:00 to 18:00 (Entry admitted until 17:30)
CLOSED: Mondays every week 

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About the author

After having worked in a PR firm, I have started working as a writer. I hope to introduce unique places, people and culture of Japan and for it to become the reason for you to enjoy Japan on a deeper level. My hobbies are travelling, reading and pole dancing.

View all articles by Nanakaba