Beatiful beni on your lips : Beni Museum

Beatiful beni on your lips : Beni Museum

What a beautiful red! I was impressed at the natural but vivid color.

That color is BENI.

Beni is a traditional Japanese lip color. It was used to decorate women’s lips in the old days. Still its beautiful red color has been fascinated people since ancient times. Today “maiko” uses it. There is a close relationship between beni and kimono.

Beni Museum in Aoyama Tokyo is run by Isehan which is a long established cosmetics maker about 200 years. Here we can try beni on in various ways and know about beni deeply.

What’s beni made from?

Beni is a kind of materials of dyeing made from safflowers. The flower has tiny amount of red pigment. It is just 1 percent of all, so it is valuable. The other is yellow. That accounts for 99%.


Since ancient times, safflower has been used as a cosmetic for lipsticks and blushers, as a coloring agent for cooking oils and foods, and as a medicine. Another name, “Suetsumuhana,” is known for its Genji story and is often written in Japanese poems.

As you know safflower oil for cooking is familiar as healthy food to smooth the blood and improve blood circulation.

The taste of golden tea is light and the viscosity is negligible. There is no distinct taste at first, but lastly it tastes like moloheiya tea.

Kimono and Beni

Beni is used to dye yarns and fabrics. The most famous one is “tumugi” made in Yamagata prefecture in northern Japan. Soft pink gradation is extremely beautiful. The other is “momi”, vivid red silk lining.

“Momi” literally means red silk or “beni-kinu” written in kanji.

Why “momi”?

When extracting the pigment, people knead and squeeze safflowers, which action is “momi” in Japanese.

Both are pronounced “momi”.

Kimono in old times had a lining of “momi”. This was dyed in bright red with turmeric and safflower. Usually fabric is dyed about 8 times to become bright red like the photo below.

Kimono made in the early Showa period.

Kimono lovers especially young women today really like antique kimonos in ’20s and ’30s. They have a lining of “momi”.

Try Beni

At Beni Museum, I tried beni putting on my lips. I was a bit excited with the first experience. The color on my lips changed into natural red. Interestingly the color changes depend on a person. my friend’s lips became orangish pink!

The more you apply beni to your lips, the darker the color. A rich woman in the Edo period put a lot of beni on her lips and her lips were shiny green called “sasa beni”. It was fashionable and a symbol of the rich.

Make an accessory with Beni silk

 I took part in a new experience there. It was “tsumami zaiku”, making a flower accessory with “shioze” silk dyed with beni. You can try another type.


Isehan was established in the 19th century. That was in the Edo period when all people wore kimono. The exhibits there tell you about the history of Japanese cosmetics and the transition of Japanese women’s makeup.

I was interested in makeup in the Edo period. Let’s look at the second picture. It tells about three types of makeup, red, white, and black. Red makeup with red lips, cheeks and edges of eyes are beautiful. On a day I wear kimono, I sometimes draw brownish red short lines at the edge of eyes. That is effective and looked nice. White makeup is understandable for me because inside rooms were dim. Speaking of black makeup, women draw eyebrows like Kabuki actors. Young women and upper class women used to draw their eyebrows. In the old days it was customary that women dyed their teeth black after marriage and shaved eyebrows after giving a birth. – Dyeing teeth black looks strange for us, but it is said that it was really good for the prevention from teeth troubles.

Lovely retro bottles in the 5th photo attracted me. Japanese girls surrounded by flowers are so pretty. That reminds me of works of Mucha. I like those products reflecting the ages.

This museum is in Aoyama district where fashionable people like. There are so many retailers and makers of clothes. Also art museums are there. It’s a town of creativity.

I recommend you to go around from Harajuku via Omotesando to Aoyama. I’ll guide you to many types of kimono shops if you like.