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Why, Japan, Why? SEPTEMBER 2020

Japan beauty goals: Tall noses, small faces & big feet

“Your nose is so tall!”

No foreigner lives in Japan for long without encountering this strangest of comments, delivered with an inexplicable tone of admiration. But having a big nose is not the only Japanese compliment that sounds like anything but. Here are five Japanese beauty standards that will have you checking to make sure it’s not Opposite Day.

1 – Nose Tallness

Woodblock print of foreigners on horseback
My, grandma, what a big nose you’ve got!

Those of us who have spent the better part of our Instagram years trying to find ways to minimize the dominance of our schnozzes might be delighted to learn that we could be living our best lives in Japan, where nose size is a feature, not a bug. Sadly, what they’re actually hankering after is a well-defined nose bridge and narrower flanges, rather than overall beak magnificence, but they’ll go to amazing lengths to get it.

Numerous products like this—which are basically variations on glorified clothespins—promise to “train” your nose into a fashionably taller shape (with more elegant nostrils!) if you just wear it faithfully every night

Surgical alteration isn’t popular in Japan because permanently altering your looks with cosmetic surgery or tattoos is frowned upon because it’s seen as an insult to your parents, who gave you your body at birth. But if you don’t want to wear a facial torture device every night, there are countless makeup tutorials for both men and women, giving step-by-step how-tos for faking it by using contouring techniques.

Japanese makeup tips for face countouring
Most advise highlighting a stripe down the middle and shading the sides

2 – The Neverending Quest for a Smaller Face

Face smallness was the most puzzling compliment I encountered, until someone finally explained that it doesn’t have much to do with faces at all.

Japanese people generally agree that the ideal body proportion is for the head to be 1/8 of total height.

DaVinci man diagram showing head height is one eighth of body height
I don’t know if this particular “perfect proportion” was imported from the classic DaVinci treatise or sprang up independently inside Japan…
Typical Japanese man diagram showing head height is one seventh of body height
…but average Japanese men and women’s heads are roughly 1/7th of their height, not 1/8th, making their faces larger in proportion to their bodies

That unalterable fact doesn’t, however, keep the beauty industry from trying to cash in on a burning desire for a diminutive visage.

Korean facial treatment that supposedly makes your face look smaller
From spa treatments that promise 30 minutes of head shrinking…
Masks for shrinking face size on display at Tokyu Hands
…to “face training” masks that turn you into the bride of Freddie Krueger, wishful thinking is as big a business in Japan as in the rest of the world

3 – Big Feet

You know how in the West, shoe stores display the smallest size of women’s shoes, to foster the illusion that all of us have feet of Cinderella-like daintiness? Well, in Japan, it’s just the opposite. Both men and women tend to have short, wide feet, but they aspire to feet that are long and thin. So much so, that many Japanese shoes are designed with acres of real estate beyond where their toes actually end!

Woman's shoe with cat face
The display model for women’s shoes is always a 24.5 (7.5 in American sizes), which is the biggest size they make. Many feature a pointy-toed design that extends the apparent foot length by an inch to an inch and a half beyond the wearer’s toes
Japanese men's shoes with long pointy toes
Men’s shoes are even more outlandish. Their shoes can go on for several inches beyond the end of their actual feet

Pale Skin

May is when increasingly bronzed models start appearing in Western ads, but in Japan it’s the season when everyone ramps up their purchases of whitening creams. Countless Japanese products—from cosmetics to UV-rated umbrellas—are snapped up every year to protect people from getting an unsightly tan.

Japanese skin whitening cream
Aisles and aisles of skin creams promising paler skin appear in the spring, like this one that features the Japanese cosmetic industry’s favorite beauty ingredient, PLACENTA
Japanese sun protection hat and face veil
And entire departments fill with protective gear, like UV-rated umbrellas, long gloves to wear with short sleeves, and these ultimate face shielding togs (in colors to match every outfit!)
Japanese bicycle with frilly hand protectors on handlebars
Avoiding the sun isn’t just a goal, it’s a lifestyle. Bikes kitted out with hand frills to protect them from getting tanned while riding are A Thing

Hair Removal…for MEN

From stinky depilatory creams to Brazilian waxing, women all over the world are used to being pitched products and services that promise to make our faces and bodies a shrine to babylike baldness, but in Japan, men don’t escape the tyranny of fur management either!

Men's eyebrow stencil guide
Scraggly eyebrows? Sport them at your dating peril. For those who are better at paint by numbers than freehand tweezerwork, Tokyu Hands offers this useful shaping guide
NoNo men's hair removal device
More schadenfreud-y (on the part of women, who have had to endure waxing for lo these many years), men’s body hair is also deemed repulsive by many Japanese women. Products like this exceedingly painful-looking device (which can be used on <shudder> any offensively hairy part of the male anatomy) promise that once you’ve pulled out all those little offenders by the roots, you’ll be sure to win the five o’clock shadow wars in the boardroom and the admiration of all the office ladies at the company drinking party later. If you’re not crippled with pain, that is
Ketsuke razor for removing butt hair
Stores even offer hair management solutions for problems that are utterly unique to Japan. There are not many places in the world where men have to fear the annual summertime parade around the neighborhood, where the wearing of garments that bare all their butt fur secrets is mandatory

And if you’re craving a little escapist reading…

Advance praise for The Last Tea Bowl Thief:

“A fascinating mix of history and mystery.” —Booklist

Two women, with nothing in common. Except both their futures depend on finding a missing masterpiece that disappeared before they were born…read more

Read a sample

Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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