Brave new face of gold leaf
By Miho Yoshikawa
THE delicate sheets of gold used to decorate Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion Temple, first built in Japan’s ancient capital over 600 years ago, have found a new application for modern Japanese women – as facials.
Apart from temples, “kinpaku” gold leaf is also used to decorate lacquerware and other crafts but its primary application has been on religious items, which have been hit by sinking sales.
Annual production of kinpaku in Kanazawa, on the Japan Sea coast where about 98 per cent of Japan’s gold leaf is produced, has fallen to around $24.44 million, industry sources say.
Akira Noguchi, at Kanazawa’s kinpaku co-operative, said output has fallen to about a fifth of what it was during Japan’s financial bubble of the 1980s when gold was a favoured metal.
Not happy to see an old tradition die, Hakuichi Co began using the gold leaf in lotions and cream as well as in facials a few years ago to try to stimulate new consumption.
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“I wanted to develop new ways to apply the skill that we had,” Hakuichi president Kuniko Asano said.
She said that while gold’s benefits had not been clinically tested, it has traditionally been thought to improve circulation as well as provide disinfectant qualities.
Whatever its skin-enhancing properties, those who have had the treatment – which uses gold leaf that is almost pure gold and can even be consumed – says it makes them feel good.
Kaoru Takahashi, 50, who recently tried Hakuichi’s gold facial for the first time, said her skin felt softer and more supple after the leaf had been massaged into her skin.
She had a picture of herself taken with her own mobile phone as she reclined, wrapped in a soft beige bathrobe, her hair in a turban and her face a mask of shimmering gold.
The close-up would be sent to her friends, who had expressed an interest in the massage, which is usually included in a 60-90 minute session costing about $200.
“You hardly feel it, it’s so light,” said Takahashi, a mother of three children.
Although similar gold leaf can be found in other parts of the world, Japan’s kinpaku is considered among the finest.
A piece of gold about the size of a small coin is beaten to a thickness of about 0.0001 mm.
Asano said she is aiming for eventual annual sales of about $2.93 million from the company’s cosmetics division.
Total annual sales at Hakuichi, which makes the kinpaku as well as applies it in various products, are about $15.64 million.