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NIPPONIA No.30 September 15, 2004

In Japan Today
A Kyoto Invention for People Who
Want to Look Their Best
Written by Sakagami Yasuko, Photos by Takeda Norihisa

Image Image  
Left: Lightly pat your face with an oil-absorbing facial paper to remove excess oil.
Works surprisingly well.
Above: A package of 20 sheets of the paper made by Yoji-ya, a Kyoto enterprise with roots going back many years, costs 340 yen.
English-language website: http://www.yojiya.co.jp/english/index.html

Thin sheets of paper for removing excess oil from the skin are becoming more and more popular in Japan, especially among young women, who find them ideal for absorbing oily secretions without smudging makeup. The oil-blotting facial sheets are about the size of the palm of your hand, and almost square in shape. The paper was first developed about 90 years ago by Yoji-ya, a shop in Kyoto that sells cosmetics and beauty accessories.
Kaito Tadahiko of Yoji-ya explains, "Our oil-absorbing facial papers go back three generations, to a time when stage actors and actresses painted their faces with grease for extra dramatic effect. Natural oil from their skin would break through the grease and make blotches, so some of them came and asked for advice. That's when our shop began supplying them with the paper."
In those days, that type of Japanese paper had a different use: it was placed above and below thin sheets of gold, before beating the metal into gold leaf. The gold leaf was used to decorate temples and shrines, which were numerous in Kyoto, so demand for both gold leaf and the special paper was high. The paper fibers were thinner than cloth fiber, making the paper very absorbent, ideal for removing just the natural oils from the skin.
At first, the sheets of paper were big enough to cover the entire face, and just about the only people using them were stage performers. That changed in 1921, when the shop began cutting the sheets to pocketbook size and selling them as portable facial papers. The new size proved popular among women working in the entertainment district, especially young maiko dancers and geisha. The papers were improved further, and finally became the convenient size they are today.
Even so, only a few people used them regularly until the early 1990s, when magazines and TV programs began featuring them. At that point, the trend spread like wildfire, probably because around that time young people were becoming keen on having a smooth, clean complexion. Excess fatty secretions on the face can cause pimples, things the young beauty-conscious crowd was eager to avoid. The solution was to use these oil-blotting facial papers.
The unexpected popularity brought more than 10 times the number of customers to Yoji-ya, the shop where the papers were first developed. They were also snapped up as souvenirs of Kyoto. Major cosmetic manufactures got in on the action, and today there are special blotting papers for men, as well.
The oil-absorbing facial papers arrived on the market at the right time for Japanese keen on having blemish-free skin. For these people, the papers are more than a fad—they are an important part of contemporary life.

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