Fact: Japanese people, particularly women, have beautiful skin. And their ageless look, which often causes strangers to undermine their actual age by a decade or more, can seem like pure witchcraft.
So, what’s their secret? Is it a magical potion, a sacrificial ritual, or just genetics? That’s what I tried to find out during my visit to Rouge de Porte Étoile in Toyosu, Koto City.
“I used to work at a famous amusement park,” Ms. Hamaguchi, the owner, told me once we had settled into her comfortable apartment. Located on the top floor of a chic high-rise building, the apartment also doubles as her workspace, with one room devoted to treating her customers. But first, she had a little backstory to share with me.
“This is me from…oh, thirty-five years ago?”
What? She hardly looks much different today! (This does not help to dispel my witchcraft theory, maybe with a dash of vampirism, but I digress.) As a hard-working professional, Ms. Hamaguchi could probably have continued to build a career for herself at the same company. However, a chance meeting with a revolutionary book by one Chizu Saeki—a pioneer in Japanese skincare and a household name—changed her life.
“Her first book had the tagline: “Stop Washing Your Face!” on it. Can you believe it?” Ms. Hamaguchi laughed. “It shocked everyone, including myself. I was fascinated, so I quit my job and signed up to enroll in Ms. Saeki’s school to become a facial esthetician. The waitlist was insane! Eventually, under her strict tutelage, I became the first certified “Saeki-style” skincare esthetician in Tokyo.”
This is where Ms. Hamaguchi works her magic.
According to Ms. Saeki and Ms. Hamaguchi, the secret to beautiful skin has less to do with using expensive cosmetics or how often you wash your face. Instead: “It comes down to feeding your body properly, listening to your skin’s needs, and once in a while, getting a little TLC from a pro. On that note, our tried and tested Saeki-style care can help anyone can become more beautiful, at any age.”
(Hmm…sounds hard to believe. Are you sure there are no bubbling cauldrons involved?)
To convince me properly, Ms. Hamaguchi offered to perform a short version of the skincare session offered at Rouge de Porte Étoile. So I got changed…
Lay down on the massage chair…
And then, a lot of things started happening!
The massage chair stretched out into a bed and a roller started working on my back, loosening my muscles, while a steamer warmed my face and neck. Meanwhile, Ms. Hamaguchi got to work on my face with a 7-step skincare programme.
“A lot of people get sleepy, which is totally normal and encouraged,” she told me as she began.
Well, I’d say I did fairly well, because I managed to stay awake until about step 4. But once she had finished cleansing and moisturizing my face to start the massage portion, I was a goner.
I mean, she basically has MAGIC HANDS.
And I’m not even joking this time. Ms. Hamaguchi uses what the Japanese call an “all-hand” technique. Years of experience has honed her skills so that her hands never leave your face while she massages the skin in gentle strokes, and it felt SO GOOD. It was like…I was being hugged in the face by a warm, fluffy white kitten whose fur is made up of silk and unicorn dust.
(I can’t properly express it in words, so here is an artistic interpretation of my experience.)
Completely floored by the massage, I was barely conscious for steps 5 through 7.
“So? How do you feel?” Ms. Hamaguchi finally asked me after our time was up. I blinked my eyes open, feeling as though I was coming out of a deep trance, to toddle over to the mirror in the room.
Since this was just a trial session, she only spent a little over 90 minutes on me (as opposed to her usual 150), but the results were dramatic. My skin was noticeably brighter and more evenly toned; the bags under my eyes were gone, and my eyes looked bigger because my facial muscles had relaxed into their optimal position. Honestly, I don’t know if my skin has looked this good since before my teenage years.
Afterwards, we chatted a little more over a cup of tea (an infusion with beautifying properties, of course). Rouge de Porte Etoile offers only one skincare course: it lasts 2.5 hours and costs 25,000 yen. Before today, I would have said it’s too pricey for me. Now, I understand the reason for the cost, and I think the service is well worth the money. It’s still too steep to make part of my monthly care (for now), but I’d love to come maybe once every 6 months or so, on special occasions, to give my skin some serious care.
Ms. Hamaguchi also treated me to a homemade green smoothie (so I wasn’t so far off the mark with the magical potion thing!). She firmly believes in the power of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies in helping to beautify a person from the inside out.
“You have to work on both. Expensive lotions and face masks won’t do much good if you’re not taking care of the inside. On the other hand, if you’re taking good care of yourself, then you’ll find that outside care doesn’t require Herculean effort. Cotton pads and toner is really all you need for a basic daily routine.”
Ms. Hamaguchi’s beloved pup, Noah, agrees. Noah eats homemade food and also drinks Ms. Hamaguchi’s green smoothies! You’d never guess she’s already fifteen-years-old given the shine in her coat!
So, if your skin is feeling tired, fussy, and stressed out, maybe a trip to Rouge de Porte Étoile is something to consider. Ms. Hamaguchi’s amazingly rejuvenating care will show you just how good your skin can be, and provide you with that spark to rethink your skincare routine! Just look for the giant red anchor to find your way to the right building.
P.S. It’s been two weeks since my visit, and my skin is continuing to fare far better than usual despite my busy schedule. It’ll be interesting to see how long the effect lasts!
Story and Illustration, Some photos by Xianru Shen（Koto City Office Coordinator for International Relations）