Items like high-tech steamers, massage devices touted to stimulate collagen production, and even scopes and sensors that rate your skin's moisture level and tone (the better to monitor the effectiveness of your latest million dollar skin cream) have long passed from curiosity to commonplace.
"We like having the latest things and have a keen interest in beauty," said Manami Okamoto, a PR rep for Panasonic Electric Works Co. Ltd., as a way of explaining why such products are a hit with women in Japan.
According to Okamoto the appeal of these products lies in their multi-tasking ability: they work while the busy women who own them do something else, like sleep, take a bath, or watch TV.
Despite their beautifying claims, such gadgets are not peddled along with cosmetics and creams at swish department store counters. Rather, they grace electronics store shelves along with such plebeian household goods as blenders and handheld vacuum cleaners-hardly a pampering experience and not a free sample in sight.
To remedy this, Panasonic Electric opened the Salon de Esthe Jeune in the Panasonic Living Center-a public showroom in a glistening glass downtown shopping and dining complex. Here would-be customers get to try out the brand's latest gadgets, an experience that is part tutorial part facial treatment. The personal assistance and instruction helps make the mysterious, and potential intimidating, contraptions seem less so. In fact such showrooms abound in Japan (everyone from Sony to Toto the toilet manufacturer has one), which might help account for the general national comfort level with the latest technology.
According to Okamoto, visitors are most excited about the Ion Steamer, arguably the most advanced facial steamer on the market. It alternatively baths the face in minute particles of soft, cloud-like steam and cooling mist and, at about $320, is the most expensive in the Panasonic line. However there are also more unconventional devices, like a rolling massager that mimics the gentle slapping massage routinely practiced by estheticians in Japan (designed to produce a lifting effect) and an ultrasonic pore-cleaning device complete with conductive gel (same stuff used in an ultrasound). Much to my surprise, the massager, when applied for three minutes to one side of my face, did indeed create a leaner, more acutely sloping cheek -- but unfortunately for me, the effect lasted only lasted for the day.
A full 90-minute counseling session at the salon (which costs $15) begins with a microscopic complexion analysis -- one of those panic-inducing ultra close-ups that reveal emerging wrinkles, irregular texture, and embarrassing facial hair.
Also revealed is a bittersweet vision of skin care to come, as the double-edged sword that is technology simultaneously reveals unseen problems while it offers to fix them.
Read about the newest American spa trend coming out of Japan.