When Arinobu (Yushin) Fukuhara established Shiseido in 1872, he had the view to combine Eastern aesthetics with Western science and culture. Now, more than a century later, Fukuhara’s pioneering foundations continue to serve as the underlying philosophy of the company.
At the age of 23 Fukuhara established Shiseido, the first Western-style pharmacy in Japan. Fukuhara founded the company as a way to help improve the quality of medicine available in Japan at the time and to introduce a system that separated medicine dispensary and medical practice.
The name “Shiseido” was inspired by a verse in a classical Chinese poem: “Praise the virtues of the great Earth, which nurtures new life and brings forth new values.” The name also reflected Fukuhara’s desire to revitalise Japanese culture and he adopted the slogan “Oriental spirit, Western learning”.
Fukuhara’s strong interest in the fusion of Eastern and Western medicine began as a child, influenced by his grandfather, a traditional oriental practitioner, and continued when he later studied Western pharmaceuticals.
At the age of 18 Fukuhara’s interest was recognised by the head of Jun Matsumoto military hospital, where he gained permission to study at the Tokyo Medical School (now the faculty of Medicine at Tokyo University). Upon graduating, Fukuhara became head of pharmacy at a navy hospital.
In its early days Shiseido gained a broad reputation as a trustworthy, reliable pharmacy. Success, however, did not come easily as the company represented an entirely new kind of enterprise in Japan. From 1878 Shiseido manufactured, marketed and sold pharmaceutical products, introducing a hair-restoring product and breath fresheners in 1880 and, later in 1884, indigestion lozenges. Shiseido’s policy at the time to keep pharmacy and medical practice separate led to the pharmaceutical business treating patients at Tokyo Hospital. Patients tended to be from the upper classes, which served to strengthen the Shiseido name.
During the late 1880s, the Japanese Government was enthusiastically adopting various aspects of Western culture, particularly industrial practices, to promote modernisation in Japan. This radical change also saw Japanese women wearing clothes inspired by fashions in the US and Europe, including bustle skirts and chignon hairstyles.
From ancient times in Japan, white face powder had been traditionally used on women’s skin. Geisha were (and still are) known for their “porcelain white” skin, which is said to represent grace, beauty and high social status. However, once Japanese women began wearing Western-style clothing, the desire for Western make-up also grew.
To meet that desire and to create a more natural-looking skin tone, in 1906 Shiseido introduced two types of tinted face powder: yellow and beige tint. Later, in 1917, the Shiseido Rainbow Face Powder (which featured seven hues) was launched to offer the “stylish and outgoing woman” of the time a range of colours to suit her complexion.
These more modern and natural-looking powders are said to have become popular among the geisha of Shimbashi as a means of projecting an appealing image under harsh lighting.
Before Western fashion and make-up practices were adopted, Japanese women did not wash their hair frequently but instead used liberal amounts of hair oil. Not only were these hairstyles expensive and time-consuming, foreigners visiting the country also complained about the smell. Shiseido’s new and improved Hanakatsura hair oil was introduced in 1898 and was advertised as “the ideal hair oil for the new generation”. It was well suited to the Western-inspired chignon hairstyle and did not leave a bad-smelling, sticky film on the hair. As the main ingredient in Hanakatsura was pure camellia oil, Shiseido adopted the camellia design as its trademark.
Shiseido’s first toothpaste, Fukuhara Sanitary Toothpaste, was introduced to the Japanese market in 1888. It was sold as a hard cake and was applied by rubbing a toothbrush on the cake. The only other oral hygiene product at the time was a powder comprising burnt salt and processed limestone. The primitive crushing technology used to make the powder meant it was very coarse and often damaged the teeth. Shiseido’s smooth, safe formula provided a welcome alternative for the Japanese market.
As with its pharmaceuticals, Shiseido aimed to use scientific methods to develop high-quality cosmetic products. Eudermine, from the Greek word eu, or good, and derma, or skin, heralded the beginning of Shiseido’s cosmetics business in 1897. Using a vivid red wine colour, Eudermine skin lotion was packaged in a symmetrical glass bottle with a spherical stopper for application and a red ribbon around the neck. The product was a huge success, which led to its affectionate nickname, “Shiseido’s Red Water”. Eudermine, improved with scientific advances, is still available today.
As Fukuhara made more overseas trips, a stronger knowledge of Western cosmetics became apparent. Japanese perfumes had previously been imported from Paris or were made from floral imitations. Inspired by the US and Europe, Shiseido released a range of scents, including plum flower, wisteria, lily of the valley, violet, jasmine and heliotrope. Using scents from Japanese flowers, Shiseido fragrances were packaged in bottles with a high-quality cut-glass appearance and had the product’s name and flower design emblazoned in gold leaf. The stopper looked like an ornamental hairpin and was designed for applying the perfume.
WEALTH OF INFORMATION
Shiseido has long been a provider of cultural information as well as cosmetics. During the early 1900s the company worked to spread the latest fashion information beyond the streets of the Ginza district, holding lectures and demonstrations on new hairstyles and cosmetic application in major cities across Japan. In 1924, Makeup, a pamphlet containing 70 pages, featured beauty treatments and cosmetics and outlined how to use soap, lotion, cream, powder, a toothbrush, perfume and hair products.
Ladies’ Pocketbook, a compact 233-page book full of photographs and illustrations, was published in 1927 (and sold for 50 yen a copy). The book described Western life and culture, which were then unfamiliar to Japanese people. It covered a wide range of topics, from manners and customs in foreign countries to Western motion pictures.
In 1934, nine women made their debut as Miss Shiseido. These women conducted shopfront consultations and were the forerunners of today’s beauty consultants. The nine women were chosen from 240 women who responded to a newspaper advertisment for “women from respectable families”. The women underwent seven months’ training and studied beauty techniques, make-up science, dermatology, physiology, public speaking, fashion, singing and Western art.
The first engagement for the Miss Shiseido women was a stage play titled Theatre of Modern Beauty, which opened throughout Japan. The play was a success throughout regional Japan and was used by Shiseido as a way to show audiences the latest beauty methods and techniques. Once the curtain came down the Miss Shiseido women quickly changed into their uniforms and provided beauty counselling and written prescriptions.
Fast-forward to 1964 when all of Japan was in a state of excitement over the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and the economy was continuing to grow at an extremely rapid pace.
The average Japanese family aspired to own the “three Cs” – colour television, car and (air)conditioner – while the post-war baby boom generation began to attend university.
With oriental decor all the rage in the US and Europe, and with the Olympics being held in Tokyo, Shiseido introduced its Zen fragrance to develop its overseas markets.
Still heavily influenced by US fashion and culture, Shiseido made the eyes the focus of make-up trends in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Shiseido’s false eyelash kit, Accent on Lashes, was introduced in 1969.
The key to re-creating a foreign-looking face was to keep lip colour subtle while emphasising the eyes by applying false eyelashes to the upper and lower lash lines, outlining the crease of the eyelid with a double line of eyeliner and lining the eyelids themselves.
In 1971 Shiseido was launched in New Zealand. Following the overwhelming success of Moisture Mist sales, New Zealand is now the only market in the world that offers the product, which is specially formulated to suit the skin of New Zealand women, with all product testing completed in Auckland.
What started as a private Western-style pharmacy in Japan’s Ginza district has proven to be a success on all fronts. Today, Shiseido is in the business of cosmetics, salons, pharmaceuticals, toiletries and nutritional products. It has an international presence in 50 countries with about 25,000 outlets.
Despite facing a range of cultural boundaries for more than a century, Shiseido has continued to triumph in the cosmetics industry and is now the leading cosmetics company in Japan and one of the largest in the world.