Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Beauty: Creating a Japanese Race

In 1997, the face-whitening cosmetic industry in Japan was valued at ¥160 billion yen (Ashikari, 74). Advertisements are seen on TV, in magazines, in the subway station, and etc. to convince Japanese citizens that white skin is desirable (Ibid. 74). In her article, “Cultivating Japanese Whiteness,” Mikiko Ashikari states that some scholars argue that the face-whitening industry in Japan is driven by the desire to resemble Caucasians:
Globalization seems to be spreading an image of universal beauty based on an idealized image of Anglo-Saxons; western institutions, such as the Hollywood film industry and the European/American big brand companies, contribute to this history of celebrating whiteness. As the appearance of Caucasian beauties in the Japanese adverts for various cosmetics shows, the representation of the ideal image of Japanese women cannot be free from this standard, which is all-pervasive in contemporary Japanese society. (87)
Ashikari’s interviews with Japanese women reveal that the desire for fair skin “is a domestic matter and it has nothing to do with haku-jin (Caucasians),” (Ibid. 82). According to Japanese anthropologist Hiroshi Wagatsuma, the notion of ‘white/beautiful versus black/ugly’ does not come from westernized ideas about race, but from traditional Japanese aesthetic values (Ibid. 75). Simply, Japanese preference for “white” skin over “black” skin is based on beauty and not based “on a sense of racial identity” (Ibid. 76).  Furthermore, “the decoration of the face” communicates that the wearers are part of a larger whole (Ibid. 74). Thus, the Japanese skin-whitening industry supports the theory that “contemporary Japanese people see themselves as a distinct ‘racial’ group” (Ibid. 79).  White skin is one of many physical features that contribute to a citizens “Japaneseness” and the recognition of that of an individual by the society as a whole. Consequently, hafus with Japanese features feel more comfortable in their “Japaneseness” because they are able to “pass” or “blend in” (Burke, 229). Additionally, characteristics, such as an individual's name can have implications on an individual's ability to "fit in". In interviews, the parent’s of hafu children have admitted to worrying about their children’s foreign names because of the pressure for hafus to assimilate into Japanese society (Ibid. 229). Subsequently, giving a hafu child a traditional Japanese name carries power and helps to protect them from being ostracized. Thus, a combination of “white” skin, prominent Japanese features, and a traditional Japanese name makes a hafu’s performance of a “pure” Japanese citizen believable. This performance is deemed necessary to protect the nation's unique identity through the "us" and "them" dichotomy.

Works Cited:
Ashikari, M. "Cultivating Japanese Whiteness: The "Whitening" Cosmetics Boom and the Japanese Identity (Vol 10, Pg. 73, 2005)." Journal of material culture 10.2 (07) Web. 

Burke, Rachael S. "Embodying A Multicultural Society?: Mixed-Race (Hafu) Children in Japanese Early Childhood Education." Embodiment and Cultural Differences. Eds.
Bianca Maria Pirani and Thomas Spence Smith. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016. 221. Web. 

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