Beauty from Japan. From our world to yours.
Changing Faces: How Arinobu
Built A Beauty Empire
The beauty founder who revolutionized Japanese beauty and transcended boundaries
Story by Laura Brown
From the military to medicine
In 1872, 23-year-old Arinobu Fukuhara opened the doors of Japan’s first Western-style pharmacy in the heart of Ginza, Tokyo. The son of an Eastern herbal medicine doctor, Fukuhara was educated in Western medicine and had trained as a pharmacist, before working his way up in the Japanese Navy to Chief Pharmacist. This move was just his first in transcending the many boundaries within the beauty industry.
From the military to medicine
Though his military career was a successful one, he grew disillusioned with traditional medicine, and looked to pursue a pioneering new venture. Enlisting the help of some colleagues, Fukuhara focused on researching and developing Western-inspired pharmaceuticals. His mission was to “take everything and anything good in this world and use it to create new things”.
Introducing Apothecary Shiseido
The result was Apothecary Shiseido, combining the best of Western science with Eastern wisdom, aesthetics and hospitality. Fukuhara took the name from a passage in the ancient Chinese text Yi Jing (sometimes called the I Ching). Translated into English, Do means “house of”, and Shi Sei means “where everything is born”.
Building A Brand
The first product that made the pharmacy a household name was a humble one. In 1888, Fukuhara released a clever cake of toothpaste that put an end to messy, abrasive and unpleasant-tasting powders. Even at eight times the price of normal toothpaste, his innovation was convenient, better tasting and instantly popular.
A step into beauty
The toothpaste’s success paved the way for Fukuhara to develop new non-pharmaceutical products, namely cosmetics and skincare, all using cutting-edge science to improve quality and efficacy. His aim was “to take advantage of all the advances being made in contemporary pharmaceutical sciences to come up with homegrown products more tailored to the physiology and tastes of Japanese women.”
The SHISEIDO Mantra
In 1897, SHISEIDO’s first skincare product, Eudermine, hit the shelves. The prettily-designed bottle, ruby-red potion and excellent results set it apart from the medicinal products that women had been using until then. On his revolutionary new product, Fukuhara revealed: “Beauty is universal, thus the products which serve beauty should also be universal.” Those wise words have encapsulated SHISEIDO’s philosophy ever since.
How The East Met The West
Always striving for innovation, Fukuhara visited the US and Europe to explore their scientific and social breakthroughs. Though he transformed Japanese culture with his brand’s skincare, hair products and makeup – “When it came to cosmetics,” he once said, “Japan was still locked in the Edo Period” – his modern thinking didn’t stop at beauty.
Paving the way for change
He found that American drugstores had soda fountains behind their counters, so in 1902 he commissioned one for his own pharmacy and began serving ice cream sodas in imported dishes and glasses. New and exciting for Japan, people came from all over the country to sample his wares. From that single soda fountain arose the SHISEIDO Parlour chain, which today extends to restaurants, cafes, and food and beverage shops.
A lasting legacy
Arinobu Fukuhara wasn’t just a trailblazer in the world of beauty – he made daily life more fun, more delicious and more interesting for the residents of Tokyo and beyond. Today, more than 145 years later, his spirit lives on in bathroom cabinets, makeup bags and the indisputable results created by SHISEIDO products across the globe.