from Japan

Embracing, Not Erasing: How Kinaka Sato Discovered Self-Love Through Her Make-up

Kinaka Sato Beauty buyer


Kinaka Sato

Born in 1979, Kinaka Sato is a buyer for the cosmetics department at Isetan Shinjuku, the largest department store in Tokyo. After starting her career seventeen years ago in the store’s lingerie department, she shifted to the cosmetics division, eventually becoming in charge of managing project renewals and expansions. Additionally, Sato oversaw the launch of a new site-specific fragrance corner, hair care salon, and a Japanese beauty corner with products exclusively made in Japan. She currently serves as a marketing director for International Relations and Expansions at Isetan Department Group.  In her free time, she loves watching rugby games.


Finding Power in Products

Yoshikawa Yasuo(YY)   We met when you were buying for Isetan and I was working for Chicca. We had a long conversation about the changing states of Japanese cosmetic brands. What are you up to now?

Kinaka Sato(KS)   My job is to introduce buyers to the world of cosmetics. I’m constantly hunting for that new, groundbreaking product to present to my customers. At the moment, I’m focused on marketing in Asia, with my most recent project concentrating on the Philippines. The people there are so eager to try Japanese brands. I want our global customers to appreciate both Isetan’s traditional values and its uniqueness in design and product lines. 

YY   I understand that, but doesn’t every department store carry quite similar brands?

KS   Beauty, health, and gourmet foods are all very popular categories. For instance, many people are interested in Japanese food. As a consumer, food is much easier to understand, because in most cases, you know right away whether you like it or not. But cosmetics and skincare can be a challenge because they often take time to show results. So, I try to come up with clever and clear ways to show what specific products can do. I demonstrate the individual brand philosophies of products by coming up with finished looks and results for people to review when deciding on their purchases.  

YY   You mean you want to highlight the value of a product.

KS   Yes, we try to figure out what makes specific products so alluring.


What Make-up Has Taught Me

YY   What’s your philosophy on beauty and cosmetics? 

KS   My views toward makeup have changed over the years. I was very insecure when I was young and frequently compared myself to others. In my 20’s I used lots of heavy makeup, and now when I look back on photographs from that time period, I recognize how clueless I was. 

It was not a good look for me. I now gravitate to much more genuine and natural makeup looks. 

My need to fit in also affected my personal relationships—I was such a people pleaser. I believed that love was self-sacrificing, and that it was best to suppress my own needs and fully give myself to others, no matter the personal costs that it came with. 

YY   I think codependent is the word for that.

KS   I know. I now realize that a relationship must be made up of two equals. Interdependence is key.

YY   Changing old patterns can be hard. How did you finally learn to express your needs?

KS   Well, I couldn’t keep suppressing them. There was a period where I began reading self-help books for guidance. It was during that time that I learned your philosophy of using makeup as an enhancer of natural beauty and not as a concealer. It was completely different than anything I had ever heard of before, and it shocked me. It totally clashed against my ideas that makeup should be used to change and hide myself.

YY   You wanted to discover your true self. 

KS   Exactly. It really had a tremendous impact on me.  

YY   That’s because at that point in your life, you were ready for change and self-acceptance. 

KS   How you present yourself and how you live your life are absolutely connected. Staying true to yourself allows you to be more present in the world. 


Why Japanese Brands?

KS   Many Japanese brands are not internationally known, and I want the world to become more familiar with their uniqueness.

YY   A lot of international beauty companies promote such products with things like cliché images of Geisha girls. I frequently have to explain to people that those notions are quite old and not representative whatsoever of contemporary Japan.

KS   I agree that those depictions are so dated. There are so many great Japanese brands with such original ingredients and style that so many international people don’t ever hear about. 

Figuring out how to introduce and sell them online can be challenging. For a larger retailer, people might buy a trending product online without ever having physically seen it, but makeup and skincare is a different story because people wonder how it will work with their skin tone, eye color, the list goes on.  

YY   Yes, it’s true that people often want to see and feel physical products. But it’s amazing how the Internet is kind of shaking things up when it comes to testing beforehand. 

KS   People do buy a lot of things online now, but they still want to go shopping and receive in person validation for their style, even if it’s something they bought online. I think the need for physical retail stores still exists because of the ways that people want to be publicly noticed.

YY   As a buyer, I’m sure you’re constantly thinking about what others need or want. How do you focus on your needs?  What do you do for self-care?

KS   I love taking long baths with scented bath salts. My current favorite are the Rose Dive scent from SHIGETA Paris.  I’ll even read or take notes while I’m relaxing in it!

YY   Saltwater is so good for the skin because of its softening and revitalizing properties.

KS   I’ve always been interested in fragrances, and really like this Japanese brand TOBALI in particular. Their fragrances contain traces of traditional Japanese smells, and they’re so subtle and well designed. My top three are Iron Wind, White Storage, and Cypress Mask

YY   I agree. The bottles also have such beautiful packaging, they feel like a piece of art.

KS   The scents are so modern and beautiful—I really feel as though they embody Japanese minimalism.

Lastly, I love CHICCA’s Flawless Glow Solid Foundation.  It completely altered my perception of makeup. I’m sad it won’t be available anymore, especially after how much the brand has transformed my personal journey! 


Photos :  Yasuo Yoshikawa

Interview / Text: Yasuo Yoshikawa