Extreme Beauty Report: Japan

Face-shrinking masks, skin-munching fish, 100-degree baths: We test some of the most outrageous beauty treatments in Tokyo.
Go here for Ning's guide to Tokyo

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Japanese Beauty Extremes

My feet are dangling above an outdoor kiddie pool/koi pond hybrid. Hundreds of tiny, black eellike "doctor fish" are swarming below, waiting for me to dip my toes in so they can suck away my dry skin with their toothless jaws. When I volunteered to test-drive Tokyo's fabled beauty treatments, I imagined authentic shiatsu massage with a Zen garden view, not guppies-gone-wild pedicures. But here I am at Oedo-Onsen Monogatari, a spa-themed amusement park next to Tokyo Disneyland that doubles as a date destination (it's open all night). My desire? A complete Japanese beauty overhaul.
Eric Rechsteiner/Panos

Japanese Beauty Extremes

BODY BY DASHI
Walking around Tokyo, I'm struck with sudden urges to crash-diet. Petite waifs are the dominant body type, and because I'm 5'9" and weigh over 100 pounds, I feel supersize. So far, my Japanese-only diet is making me bloated. Perhaps tempura and beer weren't the best choice after a 14-hour flight?

"The average Japanese person eats roughly 2700 calories per day, versus 3700 for an American," estimates Naomi Moriyama (no relation to Naho), author of Japanese Women Don't Get Old and Fat. Portion size is much smaller here, but everything is placed on miniature plates for the illusion of abundance. And despite the lure of Big Macs, most young Japanese women still eat a traditional diet with one star ingredient: dashi.

A stock made from boiled kombu kelp or dried fish, dashi is the backbone of many dishes, from soups to simmered vegetables. Full of umami, a savory flavor usually associated with meat or fat, dashi gives foods richness without the calories. MC's Moriyama informs me that every meal, even breakfast is fortified with dashi-based miso soup. And after downing bowls of this wonder broth, I see why. Made from fermented soybeans and packed with probiotics, miso naturally helps with digestion.
Ning Chao

Japanese Beauty Extremes

BLOOD BATH
Boosting metabolism, not surprisingly, is a popular pastime. MC's Moriyama takes 100-plus-degree baths every night to relax and rev up calorie burning: "On weekends, I'll spend three hours in the tub reading a magazine. I love it." Traditionally, hot-spring soaks are recommended to warm the body and increase circulation. To maintain warmth, dieters avoid cold salads. "We'll eat steamed vegetables instead," says Moriyama.
Jeffrey Westbrook

Japanese Beauty Extremes

LITTLE WOMEN
For Japanese women, the pressure to be petite extends from head to toe. I book an appointment with Kazuhito Nagasaka, who created the unique J-Body resculpting massage technique that supposedly shifts bones into a smaller shape, and who is best known for training Olympic marathon runner Yoko Shibui. MC's Moriyama has been seeing him for two months, hoping to shrink for her upcoming wedding. The treatment feels like pleasantly painful kneading, similar to when you rub a sore spot. I'm not sure about the permanent effects (Nagasaka claims that regular treatments will make my waist look as tiny as if I'd had a rib removed), but I do leave the studio relieved of my chronic knee pain, and with a lifted butt and better posture.

Japanese women also focus on shrinking other parts of their bodies, even their faces, with this face mask in the drugstore's body-shrinking section.
Eric Rechsteiner/Panos

Japanese Beauty Extremes

SKIN SO SOFT
The Japanese approach to skincare is the opposite of American antiaging, where we try to peel our way back to the past. "We think our skin is very delicate," says MC's Moriyama. Here, stripping toner is replaced with a "softener." "Removing too much of the top layer of the skin gets rid of all its protective-barrier functions, including the inhibition of water loss," explains Dr. Chita Katagiri, a research scientist for Shiseido. The Japanese beauty giant's latest skincare line, Future Solution LX, has an Extra Rich Cleansing Foam, Concentrated Balancing Softener, and Total Regenerating Cream, all designed to keep the skin's surface in peak condition. According to Katagiri, a healthy outer layer prevents problems like dryness, environmental damage, inflammation, wrinkles, and other signs of aging. To maintain perfection, Japanese women religiously wear sunscreen and foundation every day. Smudge-, sweat-, and humidity-proof, the formulas here are heavy duty, but the payoff is flawlessness.
Jeffrey Westbrook

Japanese Beauty Extremes

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
Over the past 10 years, lash, hair, and gel nail extensions have become increasingly popular in Japan. "Lash extensions typically cost about [$100], but people get them because they look so 'wow,'" says Kurata. My own set, from Yuuki Takahashi at Twiggy salon in Harajuku, gives me seductive cat eyes and lasts twice as long as any service I've tried in New York.
Eric Rechsteiner/Panos

Japanese Beauty Extremes

Another Japanese beauty tool: Crease-creating Eye Putti.
Jeffrey Westbrook

Japanese Beauty Extremes

HEAD CASE
My final transformation also takes place at Twiggy salon, where master stylist Miho Matsuura chopped model Tao Okamoto's tresses into the bowl-shaped bob that inspired 3.1 Phillip Lim's fall '09 runway looks. After my shiatsu shampoo, Matsuura fluffs my hair to full frizziness (so she can see its natural texture) with a blowdryer on low. I morph from Yoko Ono in the Love-In days to Japanese pop star as huge chunks of hair are cut out and each layer is shaped into shiny waves. For easy upkeep, Matsuura suggests a chemical treatment. Not all Japanese women have naturally straight hair, but silky styles are the norm.
Eric Rechsteiner/Panos

Japanese Beauty Extremes

MANI MAKEOVER
I try Tomoyuki "Crystal Devil" Oshiro, an airbrush artist known for his Swarovski-stone designs. He suggests a twist on the French manicure—a nude base that gradually deepens to rose gold at the tips with a crisscrossing of white on top. After layering a clear gel on my real nails, Oshiro custom-blends acrylic paint, then airbrushes it on. The result resembles polished stained glass and takes about half an hour—no drying time needed.
Jeffrey Westbrook

Japanese Beauty Extremes

STRICT BEAUTY RULES are what really set Japan apart from America. When it's time for me to return home a week later, I borrow the best from both worlds to shape my own beauty routine: I don't wake up two hours early to sculpt my hair, but I do religiously apply my Shiseido skin softener, sunscreen, and foundation. And I can't give up the miso soup—every sip is like a trip back to Tokyo.
Eric Rechsteiner/Panos
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