In her book "Kobido - Soins de beauté et autres rituels secrets des Japonaises" [Kobido - Beauty treatments and other secret rituals of Japanese women], French facialist Elisabeth Alimi introduces us to a traditional art that seems more relevant these days than ever. Say goodbye to multiple layers of creams, serums, and other products with long ingredient lists. The beauty rituals of the Land of the Rising Sun favor prevention over repair, authenticity, and above all, total harmony between body and mind. The author tells us more about this practice that holds benefits for women of all cultures.
What led you to become interested in Japanese beauty rituals?
I had previously worked as a portrait photographer -- faces have always fascinated me. Beyond the perfection of features, I have always sought to reflect the beauty or inner light that makes you unique. These days, working as a facialist, this idea has never left me. The art of Kobido was a revelation to me. It is a Japanese beauty ritual that has the ability to magnify a natural face without ever distorting it. Japanese culture is known for its refinement and elegance; the Japanese know better than anyone how to combine tradition and modernity. Paradoxically, their beauty rituals based in traditional origins are very of the moment in their desire to preserve the skin as well as possible by using natural, ethical processes; this approach corresponds perfectly to my philosophy.
What is Kobido?
Much more than a classic facial massage, authentic Kobido is a traditional holistic art with numerous benefits that has its origins in the 15th century. It literally means 'the ancient way of beauty.' This art comes from a lineage wherein Shogo Mochizuki is the master of the 26th Kobido generation. I learned the method from him a few years ago. Kobido is a kind of natural, traditional face-lift characterized by a set of manual techniques of great sophistication. These include kneading, percussion, and a set of precise and desynchronized gestures that require experience and great mastery. A whole choreography of artistic movements is performed on the face, from the neckline to the hairline, combined with drainage and acupressure. Traces of fatigue are erased, the facial contour is redesigned, the harmony of features is enhanced, pores are tightened, the skin is redensified, the complexion is illuminated and the face is impressively rejuvenated.
Can you provide more detail about its benefits for the body and mind?
It is important to understand that stress is one of the main factors of aging. It generates free radicals that attack the skin. In addition to helping maintain beautiful skin by boosting blood microcirculation and collagen, Kobido remains a sensory experience: it circulates the ki, the vital energy, through the manual stimulation of acupuncture points connected to the body's organs. It relieves stress, releases happy hormones and gives a deep sense of well-being. One comes out of a Kobido session regenerated and revitalized.
Are there any contraindications?
Skin that suffers from severe irritation, severe acne or very pronounced rosacea cannot benefit from a Kobido massage, as it may heat up too quickly. There must be awareness on the part of the recipient of a Kobido massage. The positioning, the required expertise and the complexity of the gestures means that it needs to be practiced by another person, who is experienced and trained in authentic Kobido. However it's also essential to take care of one's skin on a daily basis, which is where my book comes in -- in order to maintain beautiful, youthful skin like that of Japanese women for a long time, in particular through Japanese principles and rituals. You will find all the beauty advice adapted to your skin type, as well as a complete series of self-massages for the face plus the errors to avoid in order to have a radiant face every day.
We've been applying creams for decades to get rid of wrinkles, in vain it seems. Is this holistic approach to beauty the key to fighting the signs of aging?
The aging of the skin with gravity's pull is unavoidable. On average, the skin regenerates every 28 days and the older we get, the longer this period of time for cell renewal gets. Good hydration of the skin is one of the keys to try to slow down the signs of time. This comes essentially from what we drink and ingest. Trained in natural dermocosmetics, I have always been a fan of natural and organic vegetable oils, which have the advantage of containing 100% active ingredients and being free of preservatives, unlike so-called conventional creams. These oils naturally enrich the skin's hydrolipidic film and retain subcutaneous water for lasting hydration. A good facial massage accompanied by an oil adapted to your skin type is one of the winning combinations to try to slow down the march of time.
These Japanese rituals show us that beauty and health are intrinsically linked. What can affect the 'beauty' of the skin?
Healthy skin, much more than a flawless face, is a criterion of beauty par excellence in the Land of the Rising Sun. Many factors can alter the quality of the skin, including stress, pollution, alcohol, tobacco, overexposure to the sun, etc. In Japan, one of the criteria of being beautiful is to have white skin without spots. It is not uncommon to see Japanese women walking around with an umbrella in hand to protect themselves from the sun, aware of the damage it can cause if they are not careful.
Are there other preventive behaviors to adopt to protect one's skin?
Prevention is the key word. It is essential to take care of your skin at a very early stage, as I explain in my book. You must know how to identify your skin type and adopt the right gestures accordingly, but also how to clean your skin well and make your beauty ritual a ceremony, like the tea ceremony, making it a pleasurable time for oneself, a moment of Zen that has great benefits for you. Ritual means regularity. A healthy lifestyle, just like a healthy diet, contributes to the health of the skin and to health in general.
You talk about two rival schools of beauty rituals in Japan: layering and soboku-biyo . This second approach corresponds to the phiiosophy that many have been enthusiastically embracing since the beginning of the health crisis. How do you explain this need to return to the authentic, to the essential?
Indeed, soboku-biyo literally means simple beauty, it is a minimalist Japanese concept. We are looking for restraint when it comes to the choice and number of products -- ethical and natural but also of high quality -- as well as in the way we apply them with simple gestures by hand or with a brush. We also use lukewarm water. We limit the number of actions taken on the skin to preserve the hydrolipidic barrier that protects it from external aggressions. I am completely in phase with this approach and it is the one that I recommend. It is important to let the skin breathe so that it can do its self-protective work, not to overload it to avoid making it addicted to creams at the risk of seeing it dry out very quickly. Furthermore, I think that there is increasing responsibility felt towards our planet. There is a real awareness of the need to respect nature and protect the environment, and for this reason we go straight to what's essential and get rid of what is superfluous.
This approach is defined by another ritual, the kinubiyou facial®. What does that consist of?
I imported this concept from Japan. I was introduced to this beautiful natural skin care method, which takes advantage of the properties of silk. We essentially use silk brushes that are made ethically and traditionally with the utmost delicacy. The contact of the brush with warm water releases sericin, a natural substance that protects the skin microbiome. This extremely gentle treatment improves the quality of the skin. It acts as a cleanser, natural peel and moisturizer. The skin is healthy and beautiful again without any additional products. I use it regularly with a Kobido.
Finally, what are the elements of Japanese beauty rituals that Westerners should look to for inspiration?
Westerners are more focused on repair than prevention. Taking care of one's beauty in Japan is in no way an egocentric act, it is, on the contrary, a duty, a way to take care of one's health, and it starts at a very young age. All the refinement of Japanese culture that I evoke in my book is a great source of inspiration: the way of making or consuming a meal, of taking care of one's skin in a conscious, Zen way, etc. find a resonance in synergy with the scientific recommendations, like an echo that has preceded them for centuries. The centenarians of Okinawa are the perfect illustration of this. Through these cultural and philosophical precepts, body and mind are in perfect communion for better health and greater serenity.
This interview has been translated from French.
* "Kobido - Soins de beauté et autres rituels secrets des Japonaises" by Elisabeth Alimi published in French by Editions Leduc .