Japanese men are in a crisis of identity. The country that gave us Yojimbo is being overrun with guys who tweeze their eyebrows.
Tweeze. Their. Eyebrows.
But do not be sad, o reader, because there remains a stalwart bastion of masculinity in every drug store in Japan: The aftershave aisle. For reasons that I can’t really explain, old scents from days gone by still sit patiently in their classic glass bottles, iterated in a full range of grooming tinctures from Hair Tonics to Eau de Toilettes, from skin creams to pomades. And here I am, to show you what bounty awaits you if you were to venture near.
Let’s start with the one so manly, it’s right in the name… Mandom. (Click here to Purchase)
Ed. note: Amazon links are affiliate.
Charles Bronson used it in a commercial in the 70s. What more needs to be said? OK, ok. So it smells like someone poured a shot of cough medicine into a bottle of Pinaud Clubman, and it burns like the very blazes. So what? CHARLES BRONSON! Ahem, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about some truly classic scents.
Valcan (Click here to purchase)
My personal favorite of the traditional Japanese drugstore scents is “Valcan” by Kanebo. Valcan is billed as a “Spicy Fougere,” and I think that actually sums it up quite nicely. It has the herbal touches of the more traditional fougeres (Penhaligon’s “English Fern,” for example) with notes of cedar and jasmine and a hint of tonka bean, but a very strong musky drydown that really hits the nostalgia buttons.
In addition to the EdT, I am a big fan of the Aftershave Milk (a thick balm that is superbly soothing and moisturizing) and the Skin Cream for heavy winter moisturizing and protecting. I also dash on the occasional splash of hair tonic to keep the scent active a bit longer than the EdT.
Eroica (Click to purchase)
Kanebo’s “Eroica” is a cousin to Valcan, but it is a bit closer to Shulton’s “Old Spice” to my nose. Perhaps a bit lighter, with more citrus. But overall, a very nice fragrance and the kind of thing you can easily picture your Japanese grandpa putting on before he went out to fight a giant robot. Or something.
The skin milk is a very thick cream, not what I’d call a milk, but very soothing and another good use one for winter moisturizing use. The splash is similarly high quality, with a nice alcohol zing of course.
This one falls lower on my list of favorites, namely because it reminds me so much of Brut for Men, and Brut for Men is not a scent I recall with a lot of fondness…lots of overbearing aunts with weak Christmas gift ideas in that baggage. So, yeah, I think it smells like Brut, so it’s not for me any more.
Lucido (Click here to purchase)
Lucido is an oddball on this list, both because it’s a fairly recent product (all of the others here were introduced in the 1970s, this one is a child of the 2000s) and because it’s unscented. Unscented balm, unscented splash, unscented everything. But very, very good on the skin.
Of all of these, the Lucido Balm might be the all around nicest for daily use. It absorbs qulickly and leaves smooth, well-nourished skin behind. My only problem is it contains a touch of menthol, and my face is super-sensitive to menthol so I can’t use much of it. That, and I find unscented aftershaves kind of boring…but if you get the chance it is certainly worth a try, and a couple of Essential Oils added might spruce it up for you.
And that ends this very brief look at Japanese aftershaves. There are many more–Bravas, Button Down Club, the list goes on. In general, the quality (in terms of skin care, etc.) is very high in this field of players, so if you are considering trying a Japanese skin product, scent is really the way to choose.