The 8 Standards Of Japanese Beauty

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One of the great things about being in Japan for as long as I have is that I’ve gotten to have some pretty fascinating discussions about Japan and why certain aspects of the culture are the way they are. A subject that’s been discussed and rehashed, time and time again, is the discussion on what makes a woman beautiful. Before you call me a chauvinist and put my head on a spike, please hear me out. I’ve had these conversations with more Japanese women than I have with Japanese men because it’s intriguing to hear how the conversation on good looks varies from person to person, and how the conversation varies from country to country. Beauty is a topic that pervades every culture and society.

Whenever I overhear, eavesdrop on, Japanese conversations bout aesthetics, my curiosity always gets the better of me. While minor things differ from conversation to conversation, some features, whether it was a man or a woman talking, are mentioned over and over again.

So here’s a list of the most common ones I hear, here list of the 8 Standards of Japanese Beauty:

1. LIGHT/WHITE SKIN

Ayase Haruka Smiling

Ayase Haruka is seen as one of the most beautiful actresses/models in Japan. She is known for having beautiful skin. I think I just drooled a bit…

While smooth, clear skin is considered a fairly universal standard of beauty, in Japan it seems the lighter the skin tone the more beautiful it is.

Where this popularity of lighter skin stems from in Japan is a mystery to me. Could it be historically linked to Japanese geisha? The 19th century, female entertainers who donned kimonos, white makeup and red lipstick accents; the former pinnacle of Japanese beauty and elegance.

Or maybe, in a bygone Japanese era, your skin symbolized they type of family you came from. Darker skin meant you were part of the lower, working class while lighter skin was characteristic of nobility? I am truly guessing here, but anyway…

Regardless of its origin, skin is a HUGE issue for women all over Japan* Pure, white, unblemished skin is extremely coveted here. Donald looks down at the skin on his typing hands… um well, maybe it’s different for guys…
*Not sure how much this standard affects the southernmost areas of Japan i.e.-Okinawa/Kyushu)

If you’ve been here in Japan during the summer, tell me if you can relate to this: You’re walking to the supermarket, it’s 10,000+ degrees outside, and you’re dripping sweat even in your your shorts and tank top. While you’re walking, a Granny Bike Ninja whizzes past you. A Granny Bike Ninja is a slightly older woman (late 40’s/ early 50’s perhaps) who has every piece of exposed skin covered during the summer. She’s wearing gloves that stop at the elbow, pants, sometimes a kerchief/scarf and a giant, black visor…

The reason you see woman so covered up on these hot summer days is primarily for skin protection. You know how tanning in America is considered cool? I don’t think it’s the goal for most women in Japan.

2. THE HIGH-BRIDGED NOSE

I remember having to get a CAT scan once at the Tsukuba University Hospital and as I was about the go in, one of the younger female nurses/trainees got super close to my face and told me “Sugoi! Hana ga takai.” She was admiring the bridge of my nose. I found this pretty interesting because in the U.S. I’ve gotten the occasional “big nose” comment, which I never really minded so much.

What makes a high bridge nose more desirable in Japan? If we just look at Western vs. Eastern cosmetic surgery patterns, we can get a bit of a hint. It’s always fascinating to find out what kind of cosmetic surgery people have done to make themselves more “beautiful.”

It seems that no matter where you go, people want a more “exotic” look. Some people take the word exotic to mean rare, but let’s change the word to “foreign” or “different” in this case. In the U.S. What to people usually have done to their noses? They get a skilled plastic surgeon to hack a their noses to make them smaller while fitting the natural contour of their faces.

In Japan, in Asia, it’s the opposite, and stronger, higher, slightly bigger nose bridge makes you unique, it makes you exotic. I’ve talked to women in Japan who have literally told me that they hate their noses because they’re too small! I guess every society has some type of physical appearance complex to deal with.

3. SMALL/SLIM FACE

After one particular Golden Week holiday (one of the important holidays in Japan), I remember asking a Japanese friend how his vacation was. He had taken a trip to Hokkaido and began to tell me about how good the food was and how beautiful the women were. Curious, I asked him why the women in Hokkaido were so beautiful? “They have beautiful, white skin and slim faces,” he replied. Though it wasn’t an incredibly in-depth discussion about what makes a women pretty here in Japan, I never forgot what said.

The slim/small face comment is one that I’ve heard countless times. So much so, that I would say it ranks as one of the top three beauty comments that I’ve heard.

I remember having a coworker once who I thought was gorgeous, but she was often down on herself because she was slightly heavier than the average Japanese women and had a round face. When anyone would tell her how pretty she was, she would kind of brush it off as something she couldn’t really believe.

4. THIN/PETITE

Do you know the expression “ぼんきゅぼん (Bon Kyu Bon)?” Well in Japanese it’s kind of like onomatopoeia but not exactly. This expression is used when talking about a woman’s body shape. The first “bon” symbolizes a large bust, “kyu” means having a small waist, and “bon” means having a large curve at hips. Bon kyu bon is the Japanese equivalent of an hourglass figure.

In Japan, I think the thin, slim, or petite woman is considered more beautiful the one with amazing curves. Of course there are exceptions and personal preferences, but I think in general this is the case.

This is probably the only standard on this list that’s a bit of a toss-up. I had this conversation with Japanese men and women and it seems that no two people will have the same answer. I recently asked a Japanese friend (woman) “Which is more popular? The hourglass figure? Or the slim/petite one? She said the hourglass figure.

When asking a male Japanese friend the same question, he insisted on the slim/petite physique. It’s kind of hard to tell which is generally more popular.




5. CURLY EYELASHES

Eyelash curler, metal

Every time I see one of these I cringe. I can’t be the only one who thinks it looks like a torture device.

How do we know curly eyelashes are a standard of beauty in Japan? Here’s how. One of these days when you’re on the train you may come across a young lady who decides to have a full-blown makeup session on the train ride to work. When she finishes putting on powder, she may pull out a contraption that looks a lot like a torture device. This “device” was made to curl eyelashes into submission.Another thing that I’ve seen (not really a fan, though) is the women wearing the OBVIOUSLY fake eyelashes. Generally it’s younger women who wear them, or who sit on the train and glue them on, but if they look fake, doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose?

Again some aesthetic features are universal and eyelashes ( are one of them. It’s why women here, women in the U.S., Europe and countless other countries use mascara to make thicker, fuller, curlier lashes.

6. THE DOUBLE EYELID

Since we’re in the eye area, we have to mention pink elephant in the room, probably one of the biggest ones on this entire list, the double eyelid! In Japanese they say “Futae (二重 – ふたえ) or Futae Mabuta (二重まぶた – ふたえまぶた)” and it’s another one of the big ones on this list. “

Why is the double eyelid a biggie? Well I’ve asked about this one, and the best answer I’ve heard was that having a double eyelid make the eye look bigger. I assume bigger eyes are more beautiful here in Japan.

Japanese women go to great lengths to get double eyelids. Many years ago a student of mine told me that she used to poke her eyelids with a spoon! A frickin’ kitchen spoon! There is also tape and double eyelid glue they sell in Japanese stores. And of course the double eyelid surgery is probably one of the more common procedures that Japanese women (Asian women) will have done.

The eyelid thing is one I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand. Personally, I’ve never looked at a woman and been like “Eww! Dude, she’s not cute at all because only has a single eyelid! There’s no way I’m dating her.” Just sounds kind of crazy to me.

7. LONG LEGS

Have you have snuck a peek a Japanese woman standing on train with a pair of amazing legs (it’s okay you can admit it, I won’t tell anybody. Women you can admit it, too). Well I think this is one Japanese women’s best assets. There are Japanese women with great legs!

The way I know great legs are important is because of how many women show them off regardless of the season. I’ve been sitting down, shivering, on the train in the winter and I’ve seen mini skirts short enough to almost show a bit of stockinged butt cheek. Sorry, but you’re not gonna hear me complain about that…not even a little bit :)

8. A POLITE PERSONALITY

They say beauty is only skin deep, but I disagree. A woman with a gorgeous exterior and a rotten core, or an abrasive personality kind of takes her down a few pegs on the ole attractiveness meter.

In Japanese culture, from the outside looking in, it seems as though personality and mannerism play a big role in how “beautiful” you are. An extremely poised/polite/elegant woman (think kimonos, hair pinned up, seiza (sitting on your heels), hands in the lap) is considered to be be more beautiful than say a wild and crazy, or brash one (think party girl, loud, drunk, or even rude).

While these are some of the typical characteristics I’ve heard here in Japan, beauty is relative. What’s attractive to me might not be attractive to you. What’s attractive to you may not be attractive to someone else. How “beautiful” someone is will be a debate that rages on until the end of time.

Do You Agree With This List?

Have Any You Want To Add? Please share in the comments section below

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

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  • Chrisak4298

    I agree whole-hardheartedly with this post. Another recent trending standard of beauty is snaggle teeth. Where Americans are very particular about straight, white teeth, Japanese people- especially girls- are getting surgeries done to purposely have snaggle teeth. I personally dont find it cute. But hey, to each his own.

    Also, I think having thin to no eyebrows is a long standing standard of beauty in Japan. You see it in old art both -painted and performance- and many young people today still shave down their eyebrows, even men!

    • thejapanguy

      OOOH! Nice! Yaeba culture, huh? I’ve heard about women getting surgery to make their teeth crooked because it’s considered cute. Can’t say I really like it either. But somebody does! Otherwise people wouldn’t be having those kinds of procedures done. I feel you on the eyebrows, too.

      Good stuff, Chris!! :D

  • Hiro

    Great article dude.
    I think that’s true in many Asian countries (Korea, Vietnam…). Keep a very clear skin color is important for women. Here in Vietnam it’s the same, they use a face mask and gloves to protect themselves from the sun.
    For the length of the legs it is also the same, and many young women are being operated (cut legs) to gain 10 cm !!!
    All the best ;)

    • thejapanguy

      Thanks, Hiro! And thank you for sharing. Yeah, I’ve heard about the leg-lengthening surgery and heard it can be pretty painful as you’re dealing with bones and all. OH MY GOSH! The lengths people go to in order to be “good-looking.”

  • Alex21

    Hi there !

    Nice article indeed !
    I had a request to push forward the beauty consideration in Japan.
    Could you tell us, according to your conversations with Japanese woman, what are the main features that western men do possess and Japanese don’t, that make the difference for Japanese women ?
    Thanks, and sorry about the clumsy way I put my question, I’m not a native ;)

    cheers

    • thejapanguy

      Great question, Alex21.

      I was thinking about that as I was writing, too. Funny enough, some of the very same standards hold for men, except I think there’s a whole lot more leeway on many of the factors depending on the dating/relationship dynamic. I think if someone is dating for marriage in Japan, you can throw so many of these out of the window if a man is a reliable guy with a steady income.

      But just talking raw attractiveness, a lot of the same things apply high bridge, big eyes, sometimes white skin. As far as bodies go, I think it some many ways it can go. Some women like muscles, some women don’t, some women like a bit of pudge, some don’t. Please stay tuned, because I know I’m going to have to do a follow-up on post on this very subject! :)

  • kurt

    During my trips throughout Asia I was offered explanations of why Asian women like milky white skin, and the recurring bit was darker, tanned skin indicated lower class and working outside. For the same reason ladies would exercise but go to great lengths not to get ‘lumpy’….muscular…in any way. That too meant you spent time in the fields, laboring. Now the good news! A man with a bit of a paunch is looked upon as well to do, because he has others doing the manual labor for him. A Japanese lady named Narita (we called her Airport-san) poked at my boss’s rather ample belly once and squealed ‘You must be verrry happy!’ Yay!

    • thejapanguy

      Always good to hear from you, Kurt! I remember reading something similar in the book “Shogun.” The entire concept is just so interesting to me. I didn’t really know about he “ample belly,” though. Thanks for some new insights. Good stuff, bro!

  • http://www.sumofit.com SumoFit

    I’m new to this blog and would just like to say how much I’m enjoying reading your posts. You are a talented writer and story-teller. I hope one of these days you will turn the best Japan Guy posts into a book.
    Here’s my two cents’ worth:

    1. light/white skin – Yes, Japanese women go to great lengths to protect their skin from the sun. You can always tell if someone is from the countryside – their skin is tanned and crinkly from working in the fields, even though women from the country also try to cover up with hats, scarves, gloves, etc. Japanese also tend to develop large age-spots on their skin, so covering up helps minimise those, as well.
    2. high-bridged nose – A small, narrow, high-bridged nose is considered to be a characteristic of the upper classes (as opposed to, say, commoners or peasants).
    3. small/slim face – Yes, for the same reason as #2. Japanese (and Native American) babies have the biggest cheeks in the world, so it’s funny that the small, slender face is so admired when they grow up.
    4. thin/petite – the slender, petite figure is considered more graceful. Also, the curvy, hourglass figure would not look good in kimono, which are cut in straight lines and so do not accommodate curves. The Japanese figure (both male and female) is broad from the front, usually with wide, angular shoulders and wide ribcage, but narrow when viewed from the side. Again, this figure looks best in kimono and karate-gi, etc. I read that standard sizing of Japanese judo-gi is such that the jacket is one size larger than the pants. Apparently, this is a problem for Westerners, who prefer the two garments to be the same size. I can only guess that the Japanese size them the way they do to accommodate their wide shoulders and ribcages. If you can find any information about this, please let us know (more random trivia with which to impress your friends).
    5. curly eyelashes – I don’t know about this one, but I would hazard a guess that most Japanese have straight eyelashes. Mixed- race Japanese often have gorgeous, long, even curl, eyelashes.
    6. double eyelid – It’s sad that they go to the extreme of having eyelid surgery. And in the West, those “cat eyes” are considered exotic and attractive!
    7. long legs—Most Japanese don’t have long legs, and they often bow out at the knees. Some people would argue that it’s because they squat a lot, others would argue that the trait developed to allow them to squat easily. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? There is also the question of “thigh gap” that has been making the rounds in US media. For most Japanese, thigh gap is a given; it’s a genetic trait, and if you don’t have it, you don’t have it.
    8. polite personality—Perhaps a better word would be “gracious”, which encompasses much more than mere politeness, which is, of course, a necessary part of graciousness. An abrasive, harsh, loud personality is definitely considered unattractive.

    I would add the following two traits that we were taught to cultivate:
    1. high-pitched voice – the gravelly Lauren Bacall voice is not considered attractive, and Japanese women make an effort to raise their voices to a higher pitch, especially when they are speaking with someone in a position of authority or of a higher social standing.
    2. grace – physical awkwardness, clumsiness, and any movement or mannerism that looks remotely masculine is frowned upon, for instance, a woman should never move anything with her foot, even if her arms are full. We were always told growing up to not be “heta-heta”. The thin, petite figure comes across as more graceful, assuming, of course, that she is not a complete klutz.

  • AndyC

    I just found your blog. I taught English in France, Korea, and Vietnam. Japan would have been cool to try. Another thing with the skin is prevention of wrinkles. I think pretty much all races will get wrinkles faster if they stay out in the sun a lot. When I was in Vietnam I made sure to cover up with a mask and hood whenever I went out on my motorcycle. Nice blog.

    How is teaching in Japan? I was at a bad school in Korea. Are schools honest in Japan? Or does it just depend on the school sometimes?

  • TokyoNightOwl

    There’s also the umbrella girls in summer. A clear sunny day and…an umbrella. Gotta keep that skin as white as the teeth!

    Also- one more to add: voice tone (pitch). The higher the octave, the hotter the girl. Japanese Fact.

  • Ella

    What if you have light skin and freckles? On a girl.

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