Japan embraces luxury cosmetics despite tough times
Sunday, 24 August 2008

Tokyo (Reuters Life!) - What recession? Japan's economy may be slowing down but cosmetics firms are reveling in the glow of newly rich women keen to slather on face creams that can cost up to thousands of dollars a dollop.

Although their numbers are small, the women, dubbed the "winners group" by media, have boosted the sales of expensive creams, despite tough times in the world's second-biggest economy that have slowed down sales of more modest potions.
"There has been an increase in the number of affluent consumers compared to before," said Tatsuyoshi Endo, a spokesman for Japan's top cosmetics maker Shiseido.
Sales of the company's cosmetics priced 20,000 yen ($184) or more each have jumped by a quarter in the past three years, while sales of regular skincare products rose only 3 percent.
Next month, Shiseido will launch its most expensive skin-whitening face cream, Synergique, at 126,000 yen ($1,160) for 40 grams (1.4 ounces).
"We target the new rich who have enough money to keep using the cream at this price on a long term basis," Endo said.
As more Japanese women opt to work and build careers of their own, they have amassed more purchasing power.
Takayo Yamamoto from the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, a think-tank attached to an advertising agency, estimates there are about 5 million Japanese women in their 30s and 40s with high disposable income.
"They would like to invest in themselves... in something invisible to stand apart from others," she said.
"Japanese women are the world's longest-living, and as woman they spend money on staying beautiful for as long as they can."
Shiseido is not alone in eyeing these women.
Cosmetics firm Noevir has a luxurious line, "Speciale", that includes a face cream priced at 100,000 yen ($921) for 50 grams (1.8 ounces).
It has sold 150,000 pots of the cream, which it bills as the ultimate skin care product using nanotechnology, since its launch five years ago.
Yuko Terao, a "Speciale" user, said the price tag had initially put her off but, after dipping her fingers into the cream six months ago and getting positive comments from friends, she has not looked back.
"They said I look younger. Making an effort leads to a good result. The same goes for skin care products," Terao said.
However, the hefty prices of these creams make them out of reach for most ordinary Japanese.
"I don't think I will buy one. It is too expensive," said a 43-year-old housewife, Yuko Kitagawa.
"I personally don't see a value in spending so much money on things like cosmetics."

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