Sake brewery and skincare haul all at the same time?
Yep. Totally possible if you live in Japan.
Sake based skincare has been around for a long time, even since before SK-II patented their Pitera.
And in recent years there has been a virtual explosion of sake-inspired, sake-infused, sake-blended, and sake-based cosmetics. At least in Japan.
Why? Because sake is virtually everywhere here, sake by-products are full of vitamins and anti-ageing compounds, and fermented products are probably one of the oldest beauty treatments known to man.
Kuramoto Bijin rice oil and sake serum (the red one) has been my friend since last year. I loved it so much that I began to spread the joy to my friends in foreign lands.
A few weeks ago I was finally getting ready to write about it (and as always, the review is still pending) and had the mother of all eureka moments.
Tonoike Sake Brewery that makes the product is literally down the street from my house. It's located in Mashiko in Tochigi prefecture.
A quick look at the company's website revealed that the brewery is very visitor friendly.
You didn't have to tell me that twice.
And so last Monday I hopped in the car and zoomed over to Mashiko.
Mashiko is famous in its own right - it's one of the main pottery centers in Japan. It holds two pottery festivals a year and if you're into expensive tableware and pretty things, you should definitely consider visiting.
I don't drink alcohol. I dip my tongue in sake only during official ceremonies when it absolutely, positively can't be avoided. I am no sake expert. I only know what wikipedia tells me.
But what I do know is that sake kasu (a.k.a. sake lees) makes for a wonderful face pack.
With that in mind, I had no idea what I could expect during my visit to Tonoike Shuzouten in Mashiko.
As it turned out, I worried needlessly. A visit to a sake brewery is great fun even for a non-drinker and a sake noob like me.
I was met by Mr Shigeki Tonoike, the boss himself, who kindly volunteered to be my guide.
The Tonoike family has been making sake in Tochigi prefecture since 1829 and the brewery in Mashiko was established by Mr Tonoike's (the current boss's) grandfather in 1937.
And apparently, as evidenced by numerous domestic and international sake competition awards, the Tonoike family really knows their stuff.
My tour started with a video explaining the sake making process.
After that I donned special slippers, a white smock and a hat and went to see the fermenting rice up close and personal.
What makes sake special is how the rice is polished. The more of the outer layer you remove, the fancier the sake later on.
When polished and washed, the grains don't look like rice anymore. They resemble tiny white pearls. And are just as shiny.
And here you can see it fermenting in huge vats:
There's your sake being made. And cosmetics :-)
Actually Tonoike Shuzouten doesn't manufacture beauty products in-house. Instead they send their raw materials to proper, licensed plants that do the work for them. They also work with cosmetic chemists and scientists to make sure that their products are up to the highest standards.
Mr Tonoike explained that the cosmetic side of things started 10 years ago with soap.
Sake bottles are heavy, and while they make great gifts and souvenirs, they are big and hard to transport. And not everyone is a drinker.
Sake based soap seemed like a perfect solution. It was small, light and something that everyone uses.
Then came sake-infused hand cream. And let me tell you, it really does smell like sake. If you're a drinker you might end up licking your hands. A lot.
But what about those who are not fans of the sake smell?
The answer was very simple - tochiotome strawberries - Tochigi's most famous crop.
And that's how the strawberry infused cream was born. And let me tell you, it really does smell like strawberries. I wanted to lick my hands. A lot.
Then came sake and strawberry infused bath salts. If you ever wanted to bathe in a sake smelling soup, this one's for you. I used to plop a chunk of sake kasu into my hot bath, now I can use proper bath salts. Saves a lot of work when scrubbing the bathtub later on.
Kuramoto Bijin Hakumai Ferment Lotion was new to me. I can't wait to try it.
Kuramoto Bijin Hakumai Ferment Milk was made famous by Ratzilla's best pick feature.
I am on my second bottle and it has become my winter dry skin savior.
Ratzilla also wrote about Kuramoto Bijin Komeyu Rice Oil.
I have been using it on my eczema patches and works better than any other facial oil I have tried. Eat your heart out tsubaki!
The three rice grain ladies (yep, they are shaped like rice) signify women in their 20s, 30s and 40s. In other words - Kuramoto Bijin Komeyu is skincare for everyone.
Tonoike Sake Brewery is working on additional beauty products - face cream, sheet masks and a face pack (which means no more do it yourself sake kasu!). A premium line is also in the works.
And the best news is that the company is working on an English-language internet store with worldwide shipping. How awesome is that?
Many Japanese companies are totally oblivious to the popularity of Japanese skincare overseas, they don't care and can't be bothered.
So it was so refreshing and inspiring to see a Japanese company that understands the importance of making life easy for its foreign customers.
This is my entire Tonoike Shuzouten Kuramoto Bijin haul.
Kuramoto Bijin Komeyu Rice Oil and Kuramoto Bijin Komeyu Rice Oil Serum:
Kuramoto Bijin Hakumai Ferment Lotion and Kuramoto Bijin Hakumai Ferment Milk:
Kuramoto Bijin Hakumai Ferment Soap:
Tochiotome hand cream and bath salts:
Nameraka hand cream and sake bath salts:
And... sake kasu pound cake!
It was delicious!
I seem to have missed the strawberry body lotion, but that's ok. I have an excuse to visit again!
Thank you so much Mr Tonoike and Ms Sato for making me feel so welcome!
Isn't it awesome to realize that your favorite skincare brand was born literally in your own back yard?
I will be reviewing the products in the coming weeks. So stay tuned. Because a Kuramoto Bijin giveaway is coming too. I hauled lots and I'm happy to share!
If you're interested in any of these products, but can't purchase them easily online (I know they can be hard to find!), please let me know. I'll be happy to help. Because, hey, Tochigi pride! Represent! :-)