Having discovered the geisha's breathtakingly beautiful skin, I was intrigued, and began researching the ingredients and preparations that comprised their elegant rituals. Time and time again, we found reference to a book called Miyakofuzoku kewaiden (“Capital Beauty and Style Handbook"). We learned that the ancient text, dating back to 1813, is widely regarded amongst scholars as the oldest beauty book written in Japan—and perhaps one of the oldest surviving beauty books in existence. This lost manuscript is said to hold the beauty secrets that form the foundation of Eastern skincare, passed down from one generation of geisha to the next by word of mouth alone. Our curiosity aroused, we began to search for a copy.

Eventually, and thanks to a relentless woman on my team named Nami Onodera, we uncovered original copies of this precious text. Within the three delicate, thread-bound volumes are seven chapters devoted to beauty and elegance in both appearance and spirit. The first chapter begins by listing many natural ingredients indigenous to Japan and its neighboring countries, advising on the manner of preparation for each. Modern science continues to study these very ingredients, which are capable of conveying powerful benefits to the skin. For example, the book highlights the use of rice bran (or komenuka) in cleansing, exfoliating and hydrating the skin. Today, we know that komenuka contains essential vitamins such as vitamins A, B1, and B2, as well as many fats and proteins that contribute to nourishing and moisturizing parched skin. Another example of Miyakofuzoku kewaiden’s wisdom is the use of sensual silk (or kinu) in skincare, an ingredient cited as originating in ancient China and used as a tool for smoothing and cleaning skin. It’s also understood that Himiko, the Queen of Wa, used silk in lieu of soap in her daily toilette. Contemporary scientific studies now show that the protein Sericin found in silk has wound-healing, moisturizing and anti-aging/anti-wrinkle properties.

While the author of Miyakofuzoku kewaiden did not have science at her disposal, she did have the wisdom of the generations that came before her. Only more recently have we come to understand just how powerful that was—and how timelessly valuable it continues to be. Unlike the intricate processes of many modern beauty regimens, the geisha’s ritual teaches us that simplicity is indeed the ultimate form of sophistication. And as we continue our journey to exquisite skin, we see that science can only echo what nature illuminated long ago.




Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published June 2012

Beauty Secrets, Geisha, Popular Posts
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Photo 1: Photo Credit: Kimio Takeyama

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