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Japan enters the 'makeup boy' age with surge in cosmetics for men

A customer gets a free makeover at a Fiveism x Three popup store at JR Nagoya Station Takashimaya Department Store in Nagoya's Nakamura Ward on May 29, 2019. (Mainichi/Koki Mikami)

NAGOYA -- Foundation, colored lip balm, eyebrow pencils; these are just a few of the items on the shopping lists of a growing number of men in Japan. And this is no young people's fad; customers range from their 20s to their 60s.

Men who take care of their skin with skin care products have already been dubbed "biyo danshi," or "beauty boys." But the idea that makeup is for women appears to be melting away as men become more beauty conscious and genderless identity grows more widespread. Has the age of "make danshi," or "makeup boys" arrived?

Some of Japan's biggest brands seem to think so. Acro Inc., a subsidiary of makeup giant Pola Orbis Holdings Inc., is marketing at least 100 makeup products oriented to a male audience under the brand name "Fiveism x Three," including foundation sticks, concealer and nail colors. Acro launched the brand in September, with most items priced in the 2,000 to 6,000 yen range (about $18.00-$55.00), and there are now a total of four Fiveism x Three shops in Tokyo and Osaka.

"There's been a lot more attention (on makeup for men) since the start of the year," said Acro President Akira Gogo. And the products have been doing well, with sales in April triple what they were in their debut month. The company is planning popup stores in big cities like Nagoya and Sapporo as it moves to expand its market in urban centers.

However, foreign firms are also in on the action. French fashion house Chanel has its "Boy de Chanel" makeup line, and has four new shops in Tokyo and Yokohama starting this year.

Fiveism x Three foundation sticks for men are seen at JR Nagoya Station Takashimaya Department Store in Nagoya's Nakamura Ward on May 29, 2019. (Mainichi/Koki Mikami)

"Foundation is selling much better than expected," said a company official in charge of Boy de Chanel in Japan. That foundation rings in at 8,640 yen, by the way.

Shiseido Japan Co., meanwhile, put out a skin cream for men that doubles as beauty essence and foundation in March.

So why is makeup for men booming now?

"A lot more emphasis is being placed on personal appearance with the spread of social networking systems," suggested professor Kaori Ishida of Komazawa Women's University. "Also, men in their 30s and 40s already accustomed to skin care are interested in taking the next step, while at the same time there are many more female managers in the workplace. There are a lot of reasons working together."

Cosmetics for men have popped up several times in Japanese pop culture since the 1980s, such as when prominent sports figures added them to their fashion repertoire. However, this has usually gone no further than skin care, observed Ishida.

Acro's Gogo commented, "Genderless fashion is gaining steam, and the idea that 'makeup is for women' is fading at the same time."

Some men are not waiting around for a cosmetics shop just for them to show up in their town. Male customers have been an increasingly common sight at the women's cosmetics counter at Takashimaya Department Store at JR Nagoya Station since last year. Many of them are apparently looking for "natural makeup" to help them make a good visual first impression while job hunting or at work. One 44-year-old local man told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I first tried (makeup) to cover the dark circles under my eyes, and I got hooked."

An industry figure commented that men's cosmetics sales "are definitely on the rise compared to the past." But can it last?

Professor Ishida observed, "There is a tendency for male and female beauty ideals to come to resemble each other over prolonged periods of peace. We are not far away from an era when the majority of men wear makeup."

(Japanese original by Koki Mikami, Nagoya News Center)

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