A while ago I got an e-mail from Elise in which she asked if she could do Freelancing work for BeautyLab. Elise (20) is a journalism student and was giving the assignment to work for an (online) magazine or newspaper for the time span of three months. I'm always open to such requests and so we decided to meet up over a cup of tea in order to brainstorm about possible article subjects. We decided that Elie will post an article every two weeks the coming months. Together we picked out the subjects that will be discussed. They will be related to traveling, something Elise loves to do.
Today she wrote an article about beauty in Japan that I was looking forward to a lot myself. Underneath here she reports about the bizarre differences that she came across during her journey through the land of the rising sun.
Serena described the difference in beauty ideals between Singapore and The Netherlands a few months ago. Women there walk around with umbrella's to protect themselves against the sun, having a sharp oval face is extremely popular and the drugstores are filled with whitening products. I've been a month in Japan and I can honestly say that they go even a little bit further there.
The sunnier the weather, the more umbrella's you'll come across on the streets and the longer the sleeves and pants become. On a clouded day you might see some young girls wearing hot pants, but as soon as one little stray of sunlight pokes through the clouds the jeans will be taken out of the dresser. The Japanese ladies didn't seem bothered by they're warm clothes, while I on the other hand was sweating like crazy in the hot and humid Japanese summer weather.
But it doesn't stop with long pants and umbrella's. Even arm length gloves were thrown into the battle against UV-light. I was told that it's ok to have your shoulders a little tanned but that having tanned arms really is a no-go.
All those umbrella's weren't too practical in the busy shopping streets. As a Dutch your most likely half a head taller then the average Japanese, most umbrella's therefore are being held at the ideal eye-poking-height.
In many countries in South-East-Asia white skin is associated with the higher class. Having white skin shows that your not working in the rice fields all day right? Personally I think that striving for white skin has nothing to do with status anymore. Nowadays it's just a beauty ideal. Just like we in the West like to be tanned. It's actually a lot healthier to stay a little bit out of the sun, although I doubt if all those whitening products are good for you.
Whenever your not blessed with a row of straight teeth here in the Netherlands around your twelfth you all run to the orthodontist. I myself am even walking with braces on, can you imagine, although luckily I'll get them out in a few months. In Japan they don't like iron in their mouth, crooked teeth are found cute over there. Especially fangs that stick out a little bit over your lip are popular. On the internet you can find stories of girls who had their straight teeth made crooked by affixing plastic fronts to their real teeth. We pay thousands of euro's to have our teeth straightened while in Japan people put money down to make their teeth crooked.
My boyfriend was doing his thesis in Japan and because he knew I would come and visit he had already prepared his classmates for it. When I walked into his office there was a big silence, after which lots of things were shouted in Japanese. I suspected all the commotion to be about my height, I mean 5ft11 girls are rare in Japan. It turned out that all the commotion was because of the size of my head!
"OMG such a small face, very beautiful!", said my boyfriends clasmates. "Say whut..?" I knew I don't have a very large head, but is that a compliment? It is. Having a small face is seen as an important beauty ideal in Japan and other Asian countries.
For most Western people the head makes up about 1/8 of their total length. Apperantly the head-body-ratio in Japan is slightly off with a proportional bigger head. For that reason having a small face is being seen as something great. On the internet thousands of pictures circulate of Asian celebrities blessed with a small head comparing their face to for example an American cookie.
In the stores you can buy thousands of products which promise to give you a smaller and slimmer face. It ranges from cremes to headbands which you have to wear at night. You think of it and they got it. In extreme cases girls even go as far as having their jaw shaved down through surgery. Although I think this happens less in Japan then it does in South-Korea.
Another thing I noticed in Japan is the fashion. And then I mean the daily worn fashion. Lot's of pastels and cute prints, but also black and punk is available. I love Japanese fashion. I think there is something for everyone. Except if your bigger then a European size M. Of course you've got stores like Mango and Forever21 in Japan, but the authentic Japanese brands don't go bigger then size M.
The most famous mall in Japan is Shibuya 109, a ten floor department store in Tokyo. You can find around four stores on every floor. One by one with their own style. A funny thing is that the salesladies are all dressed from head to toe in the style they're promoting. For example all the ladies at the ultra cute brand Liza Lisa (think flower prints, lace and lot's of pink) sport a Victorian hairstyle and a porcelain white skin.
Finding shoes as a Dutch in Japan is even more difficult then in Singapore. Serena wrote that with a size 39 you can still find something there. In Japan you can almost forget about it already with size 38. The largest size they have is called LL and can be compared to 37/38. Most stores only go up to L.
Western brands like Topshop and H&M do sell larger sizes. The good thing about all those small feet in Japan is that those stores hardly lose their size 39 to 40. And that means discount! Not a little bit, no, don't look strange when you see 75% discount on a pair of heels. My suitcase was pretty stuffed already so I had to leave the heels in the store. Definitely something to, if I may come back to Japan, make space for!
So do you have a small, pale head with crooked teeth? Bring a visit to Japan, because they will be at your feet.
See you in two weeks! (On BeautyLab)
Here is a list of sources that I've used for some of the pictures: