Category Archives: Japan Does It Better

Japan Does It Better 27

For the past few years, I’ve been trying to take my facial sunscreen more seriously. Usually, I would just slather on whatever body sunscreen we had on hand, along with a hat and called it a day. I was miserable the whole time because it was always thick and heavy and sticky. Finally, this is the first year I really started exploring Japanese sunscreens. Most really nice facial sunscreens at Ulta and Sephora are so expensive, like $30+ a tube, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that two out of three of my Japanese favorites are under $15!

The first one I tried was the Biore Aqua Rich. It was a game changer for me! I have oily skin, especially in the summer and all of the American sunscreens I have tried always left me feeling sticky and greasy. This one literally feels like water on the skin and it plays under makeup well. It contains royal jelly extract and hyaluronic acid to maintain the moisture in the skin without weighing it down. It is waterproof for eighty minutes and has no white cast.*

Next I tried the Nivea Super Water Gel because it seemed very similar to the Biore. I figured it would be nice to have a back-up option in case the Biore was ever out of stock. The Nivea is also SPF 50 and absorbs really nicely without any weight. It also has hyaluronic acid. The big difference between the two is that the Nivea is not waterproof.*

The Shiseido sunscreen stick is more of a splurge at $29, but I mostly use it for reapplication on days I’m outside a lot, so to me, it’s worth it. I am not going to claim the stick is perfect over makeup. If you press too hard or wipe too much, some of your makeup may rub off, especially if you don’t use a setting spray to set your makeup. But I feel like a little makeup lost is better than using an SPF spray or powder (the other two popular versions of sunscreen for reapplying throughout the day) and not having complete coverage. The Shiseido stick is definitely a little heavier than the Biore or Nivea, but it doesn’t feel greasy or leave a lot of shine. It’s waterproof for eighty minutes and reef-friendly (which the other two don’t mention.) The stick is so convenient–I carry it in my pencil case so I always have sunscreen with me.

I recently read this article in The Atlantic that explains why American sunscreens lag so far behind their Asian and European counterparts. (Spoiler alert–the FDA is holding things up!) I definitely suggest testing Korean and Japanese brands if you’re having trouble finding a good sunscreen for your face, because like many things…Japan Does It Better!

*Thanks to Naoto for translating the Japanese packaging.

P.S. To see more JDIB posts, click here.

P.P.S. The links are not affiliate links–I’m just sharing where I initially made the purchases of the three sunscreens.

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Japan Does It Better 26

Japan really knows how to bathe. Their bathtubs are so dreamy, deep enough to sit in and have the water come above your shoulders for a nice, hot soak. And they have tons of bathing accessories from little stools to sit on in the shower (hello, shaving!) to buckets for rinsing off specific places.

This body towel is one of my favorite shower accessories. It’s like one 3-foot long scrubbie. The body towels are made of nylon and unlike the “American” poufs, they can be hung to dry between showers without getting gross. They can also be washed and disinfected with your regular towels. There are different versions–this one produces extra lather without using a lot of soap, hence the name “bubble rich.”

The body towel is long–about three feet–so you can scrub all of those impossible-to-reach parts of your back. And they are so good for exfoliating. The Bubbrich is a gentle scrub, but Naoto uses a rugged body towel that is extra exfoliating. (I like this kind in the winter when I’m battling dry, itchy skin.)

Delightfully exfoliating body towels…just another example of how Japan Does It Better! (For the rest of them, go here!)

If you go to Japan, you can find all kinds of these towels in touristy areas, but I’d recommend shopping in regular drugstores for one. There is more variety and much cheaper prices.

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Japan Does It Better 25: Karaoke

In college, we took over a local bar every Tuesday night and sang bad karaoke songs and had a great time. Of course, I was young, drinking, and among friends, so it didn’t matter that I can’t carry a tune. I didn’t really care what the rest of the bar thought of me because I was a college kid out to have a good time. That’s the last time I enjoyed karaoke until I started going on our visits to Japan. Karaoke in Japan doesn’t happen in a dive bar among strangers; it happens in a tiny booth reserved for just you and your friends. Right upstairs from the train station by our hotel is a Big Echo, a karaoke chain in Japan. A couple years ago, we went karaokeing for the first time, just the two of us, which is kind of hilarious but also totally perfect.  Inside the Big Echo, you check in at the desk and tell them how many people are in your party and how long you’d like to sing. Then, they assign you a room based on your size. We’ve only ever gone with just the two of us, but even the smallest room is big enough for a cozy small crowd. Inside the booth, there’s a big screen, a couch, a table, microphones, menus, a device to run the karaoke, and a device for ordering food and drinks. The picture above it pretty much the room from the doorway…pretty small (as is everything in Japan) but big enough to sit and sing for awhile. Here’s Naoto, demonstrating the extensive sour menu. There’s also beer (obviously…it’s Japan) and non-alcoholic options. The food is mostly fried bar stuff, but there are healthier options too. We usually just go for late-night drinking snacks. Naoto loves singing old Japanese pop songs, so while I’m eating and drinking my sour, he warms up with a few of those. I have no idea what he’s singing about but the screen always has a fun little scene that may or may not go with the lyrics. It’s fun to see him getting all serious and nostalgic about the old music.  Once he warms up with Japanese songs, we perform duets of Cat Stevens, James Taylor, and Elvis. So, it’s pretty much like singing in our car on a road trip, except with a better sound system. There is a pretty extensive list of American pop music from all eras, so there’s never a shortage of songs. Once the time is almost up, the front desk calls to see if you want to add minutes. We usually add minutes because an hour goes so fast! I think by the time it’s all said and done, we usually end of paying ¥7000 ($65ish) for our food and experience. Not too bad for a late-night date.

As someone who doesn’t have great singing abilities, I love the private room so I can have fun with Naoto (or a bigger group of friends…someday we’d like to go with his sisters or our friends) without feeling self-conscious about picking a weird song or singing badly in front of strangers. So, to me, karaoke rooms are another example where Japan Does It Better! See how fun it is…

P.S. I haven’t done a JDIB post in so long! If you’d like to see more, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 24: Gari Gari Kun

garigarikun kiwi I do love a good Bomb Pop in the summer. Three distinct tasty flavors, the creamy consistency (only the Original Bomb Pop. Accept no imposters!)…a perfect summer treat. But, my love for the Bomb Pop has been eclipsed since I was introduced to Japan’s favorite popscicle, the GariGarikun. Naoto brought a box of original ramune flavor GariGarikun pops home from Mitsuwa last summer and I fell in love. garigarikun insideOn the outside, they look like regular ice pops, but once you bite into one, you see that the “regular” ice pop part is just a shell holding tiny slushie-like ice crystals on the inside. They are so tasty and so fun to eat! garigarikun insideOn our first night in Japan, we got to our hotel after 10PM and I was exhausted. But Naoto went downstairs to Lawson’s conbini (convenience store) and got himself a beer and brought me a Sicilian Lemon GariGarikun. I had no idea there were special and limited flavors of the treat so I was super-excited to try it. Sooooo tart and lemony!! I slept well after that midnight snack and the next day, I started my mission to pop into every conbini to check their supply of GariGarikun to see what other flavors I could try. (Doesn’t traveling with me sound like fun?!) garigarikun lycheeSo I tried lychee…garigarikun aceola …and acerola, which is like a cherry, but somehow more delicious. IMG_0833I tried Shiroi Sour, which is like Calpico, a Japanese soft drink.

And, pictured at the top, I also tried kiwi. I can’t tell you which one was the best because I loved each and every one at the moment I was eating it. They were all really refreshing, not too sweet, and packed with flavor.

Recently the makers of GariGarikun increased the price from ¥60 to ¥70 (~ $0.54 to $0.63). It’s the first price increase for the frozen treat in twenty-five years and also the second reason the GariGarikun is a JDIB. Where in the US can you find a summer treat at a convenience store for sixty-three cents??!! But even better, the company made a commercial apologizing for the unfortunate price increase. Can you imagine? (If you want to read more about this, go here.) You can (hopefully) watch the commercial below to see the sincerity in the apology. Oh Japan…you’re the best.

And GariGarikun, a summer treat where Japan Does It Better!


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Japan Does It Better 23: Line Drying Laundry

clothes drying outdoors in JapanIn Japan, it is common to see loads of laundry danging from balconies, billowing in the breeze. (Or in the winter, hanging stiff as a board.) It seems like everyone in Japan hangs out their laundry. It’s the complete opposite here in America. Hardly anyone hangs their clothes. Growing up, my mom had a giant clothesline that was always full in the summer. As a teenager, I would die of embarrassment at the thought of my underwear and bras on display in the back yard. But there really isn’t anything like putting on a shirt that’s been drying in the sun all day.

I know my mom is in the minority though, even in her small town that doesn’t scoff at “unsightly” clothing hanging in the backyard. Where I live, our condo association has rules against drying clothes on our balconies. (I’ve started breaking this rule a bit, putting small bits of laundry outside draped across a chair or on my drying rack. Unfortunately, I don’t have room to hang all of my laundry discreetly.) Most cities or associations have similar rules, making us slaves to our dryers. It’s sad for the environment, really. And I’m not really sure what’s so offensive about hanging laundry. clothes drying outdoors in JapanNaoto said his mom always preferred to hang out her laundry, especially the futon and other bedding, because the sun and cold air would kill the germs.

Because air drying the laundry is so common in Japan, they have the best little tools for doing it. From circular hangers for socks and lingerie, to heavy duty clamps for blankets and towels, and even cut cat-shaped pins, they have really perfected the art of laundry!

To see all of the Japan Does It Better (JDIB) series, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 22: Gifts of Friendship Stamps

Gifts of Friendship Stamps, US, Japan Have you seen the Gifts of Friendship stamps released in the U.S. and Japan? The stamps celebrate the exchange of flowering tree gifts between the US and Japan. In 1912, the US received a gift of over three thousand flowering cherry trees from Japan. In 1915, the U.S. returned the favor by sending fifty dogwood trees to Japan. These stamps celebrate the 100th anniversary of that gift.

Since I am a huge lover of cherry blossoms, I preordered loads of the U.S. version to use on my spring mail. I also asked my sister-in-law if she would buy a sheet of the Japanese version for my stamp collection. Lucky for me, a care package arrived from Japan this weekend (with lots of treats for Naoto and me!) and two sheets of the Japanese stamps were tucked inside. Gifts of Friendship Stamps, US, Japan I really love the U.S. version, even though they are reminiscent of the cherry blossom stamps issued a few years ago for the centennial of the 1912 cherry tree gifts. The US sheet contains ten of the US stamps and features two of the Japanese version (but for use in the U.S.). I think the colors on the U.S. version are perfectly springy with the pretty blue skies and pinks and corals and pale purples of the flowering trees. And the Japanese ones are lovely, featuring close-ups of the cherry blossoms and dogwood blooms with Japan’s Diet (Congress) and Constitutional Memorial Clocktower respectively in the backgrounds. Gifts of Friendship Stamps, US, Japan The Japanese sheet contains the US and Japanese versions as well as six other stamps that highlight the white dogwood, cherry, and red dogwood branches on a simple cream background. I love that Japan added this variety to their edition. DSC_0161Gifts of Friendship Stamps, US, JapanOn the US versions, the writing is very spare, just noting USA, 2015, and the “Forever” denomination on the stamps in plain black text. The Japanese versions are accented with gold text of the 82 yen denomination and “Japan-U.S. Flowering Dogwood Centennial” in both English and Japanese. The U.S. version is much more spare than the Japanese version, which seems to celebrate the exchange with both countries’ flags and the flowering trees decorating the sheet.

I do love both versions and it’s not often that two countries can go head-to-head in a sheet of stamps battle. But I do think, in this case, because of the variety and the gold details that this is another case of Japan Does It Better!

To see the rest of the Japan Does It Better posts, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 21: Gum Papers

Black Black Japanese gumNaoto is a big fan of BlackBlack gum, a Japanese gum that is infused with caffeine*. The taste is strong and minty, and apparently, caffeine is absorbed into the body faster with gum than drinking coffee or pop. Naoto usually buys the little packs of five sticks, but the last time we went to Mitsuwa he could only find the large size of the tablet gum. Black Black gum, includes papers for throwing gum away, Japanese gumIt’s hard to see in my picture (it’s DARK here in Chicagoland!), but inside the container is a slot with a little stack of papers for wrapping up your used gum before it’s discarded. Isn’t that genius? When I have a stick of gum, I keep the paper to spit it out in, but when I have the canisters of gum, I’m at the mercy of finding a nearby trash can. This tiny pad of paper solves that problem.Black Black gum, includes papers for throwing gum away, Japanese gum I’m sure BlackBlack isn’t the only gum that has the handy paper option…I’ll have to keep my eyes open for more options on our next trip.

Tidy ways to dispose of your gum…another example of how Japan Does It Better!

To see all of the other JDIB posts, go here.

*I don’t get it…in a world with coffee, why would I want to get my caffeine any other way?

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Japan Does It Better 20: Häagen Dazs Crispy Sandwich

JDIB, Häagen-Dazs Crispy SandwichOh Häagen-Dazs Cookies & Cream Crispy Sandwich…how I miss you! This is another one of those American-like snacks that is exclusive to Japan. (But if anyone wants to start a letter writing campaign with me so we can get them over here…I have my stamps ready!)

The Häagen-Dazs Crispy Sandwich is an ice cream sandwich made with ice cream (in this case cookies & cream which is, in my opinion, the best!) coated in a hard shell and sandwiched between two crispy wafers. The wafers taste kind of like an ice cream cone, but they are thinner. They add a nice crunch and texture, but not a ton of taste which allows you to focus on the yummy ice cream and coating. The Crispy Sandwich takes the ice cream sandwich to a whole new level…so good. So very good.

Crispy Sandwiches can be found at just about any convenience store, which makes them waaaaay too easy to eat every day. (Not that anyone is guilty of eating one every day during her two week trip or anything…) I tried the plain vanilla and the special spring sakura versions, but truthfully, cookies & cream wins. I’ve read about a green tea version and will make it my mission to find one during our next trip.

Tastier ice cream sandwiches…another reason Japan Does It Better!

For more JDIB posts, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 19: Anti-Itch Patches

makiron, anti-itch patchesI, like most people, hate feeling itchy. In the summers, I usually carry hydrocortisone cream around with me at all times because bug bites can be annoying and distracting. The cream is a fine solution, but it’s a little messy and I always like to wash my hands after using, which isn’t always possible right away. Our friends Billy and Angela happened upon these amazing anti-itch patches when they were traveling in Japan and we picked up a pack last summer. Now, I can’t imagine a better way to treat a bug bite. makiron, anti-itch patchesInside the box are these little medicated decals that peel off and go right over the bug bite. The patches are kind of like Band-Aids, except they are thinner and completely adhesive. The medicine almost immediately stops the itching and the decal protects the bug bite from your constant scratching. Once I put one of these on, I leave it on for a day or two. The patches stand up well to water (they stay on during showers!) and really cure any itches.

The package we bought has the Anpanman character on the patches, but there are also plain (boring) ones if characters aren’t your thing.

For a super portable and effective way to treat bug bites, Japan Does It Better!

For the rest of the JDIB posts, go here.

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Japan Does It Better 18: Toiletries That Tingle

Japan Does It Better, Japanese toiletries that cool your skinI’m a sucker for things that burn…well, technically for toiletries that cool. And Japan seems to have the market cornered when it comes to cooling your skin, eyes, lips and more with toiletries that include menthol. The menthol is invigorating!

Last summer, my love for all things cooling started with the Biore face wash and the Shiseido lip balm that refreshed my face and lips in the hot, humid Tokyo weather. When we went back in March, I was on the hunt for more of that lip balm and some other cooling products. Naoto found some cooling eye masks (which will be a future JDIB post) and I found the cooling powder sheets (featured in JDIB 15). Both provide the perfect relief on a steamy day. The powder sheets have been the best thing this week because I’ve been able to freshen up after my walk to work in the soupy humidity.

And the most interesting menthol toiletry of all is the cooling eye drops. They are crazy weird–the very second you feel the drops in your eyes, you feel a moment of regret because it burns and it’s scary, then right away that passes and it’s just cooling, invigorating relief. They really perk you up after a nap, or before an early morning coffee run.

Tingling toiletries…Japan Does It Better!!

To see all JDIB posts, go here.

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