I first came across Kyushu-based niche beauty brand Satamisaki Organics in Japanese drugstore retailer Ainz & Tulpe’s Shinjuku East outlet this October (you can read my article about the company’s fabulous new Tokyo flagship store here!). Ainz & Tulpe has a special section on the first floor that is dedicated to local beauty brands from across Japan.
The brands are shelved according to prefecture; there are cosmetics from Kagoshima, Saga, Ehime, Okinawa, Kochi, Akita, Hokkaido, Niigata…..and with the exception of better-known labels like Makanai Cosmetics (popular with tourists!), the majority of brands featured in the store’s domestic beauty section are small and comparatively unknown, even in Japan.
What makes these beauty labels even more fascinating is the strong focus on regional and local ingredients. Each Japanese prefecture is known for certain products – it might be a particular variety of fruit, vegetable, spice or herb, a beverage, distilled spirit or a liquor, sweets or rice crackers, noodles, fish or seafood, a special kind of tea or coffee…the list goes on!
This concept of terroir (feel free to google the term for more information) often extends to cosmetics, at least where smaller brands are concerned: an Akita-based beauty brand, for example, might be built around rice or sake extract as a key ingredient (Akita is known for its sake breweries) while a brand from sub-tropical Okinawa will focus on camellia oil and a beauty label from Ehime (famous for tangerines!) might feature mandarin or citrus extracts in its cosmetics.
Satamisaki Organics is another good example. The brand is based in the Southern-most region of Kagoshima, a prefecture on the sub-tropical island of Kyushu. Kagoshima has a humid climate and volcanic soil so the native flora includes a large number of tropical and sub-tropical plants and fruits. And one of these plants is gettou , the main ingredient in Satamisaki Organics’ cosmetics. This perennial evergreen bush is also called “butterfly ginger” or “shell ginger” (the Latin name is alpinia zerumbet, if you want to look it up). Although it is primarily grown as an ornamental plant, gettou leaves are very popular in Japan: as an herbal infusion or to flavor noodles or mochi rice cakes.
Satamisaki Organics uses shell ginger water and shell ginger leaf oil in most of its products. The portfolio is small but offers all the essentials: the line-up includes Shell Ginger Cleansing Water and Shell Ginger Cleansing Oil, Shell Ginger Hydrating Lotion (a clear liquid), Shell Ginger Organic Emulsion (a light moisturizing milk), Shell Ginger & Hyaluronic Acid serum, Facial Oil, Shell Ginger Hand Cream and Shell Ginger Body Wash.
In addition there are various other skin and body care products, including the rather interesting-looking Tulsi Holy Basil Lotion. According to the brand’s website, the tulsi used in this lotion comes from a farm in Miyazaki prefecture which is also located on Kyushu. There are also several bar soaps and body oils and a Tsubaki Balm. Quite a few of the liquid products are available in refill pouch packs – what a great idea.
I couldn’t resist and bought the Shell Ginger Hydrating Lotion (it cost 1,944 Yen – around 15 Euro for 100 ml) and the Sakurajima Tsubaki Balm (1728 Yen – 13 Euro for 20 ml). For a Japanese organic beauty brand these prices are actually at the lower end of the price scale – organic cosmetics are definitely a luxury category in Japan.
The Hydrating Lotion is based on shell ginger water which is steam-distilled with water sourced from a local mountain stream. Other ingredients include shell ginger leaf oil, rosemary oil, bitter orange and tangerine fruit extracts, orange peel extracts, rosemary oil and glycerin. Here is a (Google Translated!) list of ingredients: Alpinia zerumbet leaf water*, glycerin, ethanol, water, alpinia zerumbet leaf oil, geranium essential oil, rosemary essential oil, mandarine orange fruit extract, bitter orange fruit extract, orange peel extract, phenethyl alcohol, citric acid (*organic)
The Sakurajima Tsubaki Balm is based on camellia oil, jojoba oil, beeswax and macadamia nut oil; here is a list of ingredients (again, this comes to you courtesy of Google Translate!): Camellia oil*, jojoba kernel oil, beeswax, macadamia nut oil*, patchouli essential oil, geranium essential oil, ylang-ylang essential oil, tocopherol (*organic)
I especially like the Tsubaki Balm (it has a great texture) but the Hydrating Lotion is also very pleasant: it has a slightly gel-like liquid texture and a very subtle herbal fragrance.
I don’t know how long Satamisaki Organics has been around but I’m willing to bet the company was launched within the last five years or so. Some of the brands in the domestic beauty section at Ainz & Tulpe are definitely more on the traditional side, but Satamisaki Organic looks and feels like a modern brand. The packaging is simple and stylish in a quiet kind of way – heavy glass bottles and jars with the brand logo; most the product information is listed on the outer packaging.
At the moment, the company still has a rather selective distribution. Besides the Ainz & Tulpe store in Shinjuku you can also buy the products in Shibuya’s Loft design store. Other POS include a number of regional Tokyu Hands stores; some outlets of the Makeup Solution chain (a shop-in-shop type of beauty retailer usually based in larger department stores) and the occasional concept store or perfumery. Interestingly enough most of the stores are located outside Tokyo and the Kanto area, at least according to the retailer list I found on the Satamisaki Organics website.
However, it looks like Satamisaki Organics is set on expanding its brand presence soon: the company will be a first-time exhibitor at Japan’s biggest beauty trade show, CosmeTokyo (20th-22nd January 2016 in Tokyo’s Big Sight exhibition centre). And I will definitely repurchase the Hydrating Lotion during my next trip to Tokyo in May 2016!