Beauty, Skincare, Organics, and Starting a Business in Japan [Interview]

Today I'm happy to introduce Elana of Tokyo-based Elana Jade Organic Beauty Salon. Elana is originally from Australia and after starting her beauty business there, she later ended up coming to Japan and re-started Elana Jade. Her salon provides several services including waxing, massage, and facials.

I previously interviewed her for Expat Women over a year ago, which you can read here, but wanted to feature her here on SiJ with a more Japan-specific focus. She shares with us about starting a business in Japan, the organic beauty market here, and even takes on some of our readers' questions. Enjoy!

Ashley: First of all, would you tell us a little about who you are, what you do, and how long you’ve been in Japan?

Elana Gilbert of Elana Jade Organic Beauty Salon
Elana: My name is Elana Gilbert and I have been living in Japan for four years. I am a beauty therapist and personal fitness trainer. I believe a holistic approach to health creates optimal well-being. I have owned my organic beauty salon in Azabu Juban for three years now and I'm loving it!

Ashley: What led you to start a business in Japan? 

Elana: After visiting my brother, Nathan, in Japan in 2007 I really fell in love with the country and quickly I decided to move here. The original plan was to come to Japan and start a health and beauty facility with Nathan (who was already working in Japan for four years as a personal trainer). Unfortunately, the timing proved to be wrong with the beginning of the financial crisis. We both decided it would have been too risky to open a place so large at that volatile time. Fortunately I was able to convince Nathan that it was viable to open a beauty salon as a great business model on its own and in 2009 the Elana Jade Organic Beauty Salon was born.

Ashley: What was the most difficult aspect of starting your business here and were you able to find a solution(s)?

Elana: The language was a major obstacle. Fortunately, teaming up with my brother, who had already set up a fitness company in Tokyo, was a major help as he could speak Japanese. More importantly, he had contacts that specialize in foreign company start-ups as well as local realtors.

The second major obstacle as a new and foreign-owned company was obtaining a building lease. Many Japanese landlords are very strict in regards to who they lease to. We overcame this by shopping around until we found a landlord who was willing to give us a go. Having properly set up a joint-stock company with paid-in capital also helped.

Ashley: Your salon focuses specifically on providing treatments and care with organic products -- how do you source your products? 

Elana: I usually try to go back to what I know best and look at products from Australia, primarily because I know and trust the law of organics there. I have found a fantastic organic product line called ‘Jasmin Organics’ which is made in Australia and has a distributor in Japan. This product line is 100% natural and over 95% organic and has numerous studies to prove optimal results. They have also developed a baby range called ‘Koala Baby” that is unlike any another infant product on the market. I have brought both of these lines into the salon not only because they are organic and have recyclable packaging, but, because they deliver great results for my clients!

We also carry organic nutritional supplements from Japan. One of the products, Veggie Power Plus, is made from dehydrated vegetables from land and sea. I have not used a nutritional product that is so pure and I highly recommend it to all my clients and readers.

Ashley: What is your take on the organic/natural market in Japan in terms of cosmetics and body care? In your experience, do you think it has changed much since setting up Elana Jade?

Elana: Unfortunately, the organic beauty industry in Japan isn’t very strong yet; however. I am seeing some positive signs that the industry will take it more seriously soon. There are more and more organic product lines being introduced into the Japanese market, but I believe there needs to be more transparency in the actual percentage of organic ingredients in the products. Some organic products being introduced still contain potentially harmful ingredients.

Ashley: Do you also focus on eating organic or have any special type of diet that you follow for health/personal reasons? If so, how do you manage this here in Japan, where it can be difficult and/or expensive at times? 

Elana: Yes, I definitely try to eat as much organic food as possible in my diet. If not organic (because sometimes it is hard to find and also expensive) I eat foods as whole and natural as possible. I really avoid processed foods, especially those that are white (sugar, bread, pasta etc). The organic food industry has definitely come a long way since I arrived in Japan four years ago and it is now much easier to get access to good chemical-free food -- hopefully the beauty industry will follow suit!

Ashley: Finally, what are your top three tips for expats living in Japan?


1) Ask people for recommendations. There are many unknowns in Japan so it is best to ask friends, neighbors, and colleagues for their recommendations on services, places to go, things to see etc.

2) Don’t get too sucked into the Japanese diet. Although the traditional Japanese diet is very healthy, there are definitely foods that should be avoided (such as fried foods and too much rice & noodles!).

3) Socialize! Moving to a new country where you don’t know many people can be a huge challenge and at times lonely. Make time to meet new people and see others on a regular basis to help you feel more at home- don't wait until its time to leave to appreciate the wonderful social events here in Japan!

Ashley: Elana also kindly took the time to answer some of our readers' questions:

a) I just moved to Japan a month ago and my friends say it might have something to do with the humidity: I hate the pimples and spots that cover my forehead. Do you have any advice for how to deal with this?

Elana: Always keep your skin clean and protected. Not only is the Japanese summer very humid, other aspects relating to moving to a new country can cause breakouts, such as stress, different water and new foods. So please make sure you discover the root of the problem first.

Topically, I would recommend cleansing with a foaming cleanser, lightly exfoliating every morning, always using a toner (it brings back your skins PH level after cleansing) and applying a protective moisturizer to help stop toxins and bacteria from entering into the skin.

Internally, I would try and eliminate any food or beverages that make your blood sugar increase and decrease at a rapid rate, for example coffee, soda, cake and white rice as this can cause your skin to breakout. And of course drink plenty of water and make sure you keep exercising!

b) Why isn’t waxing common in Japan?

Elana: I believe that waxing hasn't been common here as Japan has a laser and razor hair removal culture. Many Japanese women don’t like the hair to ever be seen on their arms, legs, etc. so they shave it before anyone notices. I am seeing a change this year, however, as our salon's Japanese clientele has increased to approximately 60% of our total client base; and 90% of our Japanese clients are waxing clients (mainly Brazilian wax). Thanks to pop-culture references from such shows as ‘Sex in the City’, many Japanese women now see waxing as a trend that they want to be a part of.

c) How can I get rid of sunspots naturally?

Elana: This is a very tricky question to answer. With this skin condition, it is much easier to prevent sunspots from emerging than to get rid of them. So always use sunscreen, I know this one is well known but it is the most important step in protecting and improving your skin from pigmentation when exposed to UV.

Although I believe it’s impossible to completely erase sunspots, I do know some tricks that can help reduce the appearance of them:

1. Don’t be afraid of exfoliation! Exfoliating every morning helps to speed up the skin cell-regeneration which then can gently lighten the pigment in your skin.

2. Eat foods that are high in antioxidants, such as acai.

3. Use a serum that is high in antioxidants every night to neutralize the free-radical damage in your skin and to also prevent any further damage.

Ashley: Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions, Elana! Best wishes to you and your salon!


I haven't yet been to Elana Jade, but I'm hoping the next time I'm in Tokyo (which isn't often), I'll be able to check the place out. If you're in the area, or just visiting, it might be a great way to relax! 

For more information about the Elana Jade Organic Beauty Salon, including the services they provide, products they sell and where to find them, please check out their website.

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