The secrets behind Japanese beauty


I now realize why the Japanese often don’t smile for photos: They’re hiding their wrinkles. And it works. I’ve even figured out that if I went around never smiling, I’d look 10 years younger. Unfortunately I can’t, so I’ll have to continue to look like the happy old hag that I am.

But you never realize how many wrinkles you have until you see a photo of yourself and think, “I never knew I had a triple chin!” And, “Look at those crevasses around my eyes? That’s dangerous! Someone could fall into one of those.” Soon they’ll be so deep I’ll have to have little red flags around my eyes to caution those who walk too close to me. For extra protection, I might even put up a little sign that says, “Watch your step!”

I once made the mistake of sending a head shot of myself, smiling, to use on a flier to advertise a speech I was giving at some local government hall. I sent my passport size photo to the venue, where they decided it was too small, so enlarged it 1,000 times on a copy machine. They then churned out hundreds of A-4 size copies.

By now my crow’s feet had become the size of American Bald Eagle talons. I could be an official emblem of the United States. Put an American flag behind me and I’d blend right in.

Remember the yellow smiley face icon of the 1960s? It didn’t have any wrinkles. I wonder why Harvey Ball never made an Asian version of his smiley face. Instead, Japan imported the Western, impossibly young, no-wrinkles version.

One of the great things about the Internet is that no one knows your age. And the smiley faces in e-mails have no wrinkles.

I admire Japanese women who maintain their beauty into middle age and who consciously keep off the pounds. They should be role models for people from my country, who often don’t put much effort into personal grooming. In Japan, looking good is a source of pride.

The Japanese are the first ones to diet if they think they are even one kilogram overweight. In my country, we start thinking about dieting when we’re 20 kilos overweight, and even then, we just think about it. Not in Japan. A few flakes of dry skin weighing you down? Diet! Need to shed an eyelash to reach that optimum weight? Diet!

Japanese women also use interesting beauty products. One I saw in the store the other day advertised in English: “Be a Cleopatra’s nose.” Apparently, after you apply this stuff, whatever it is, in 21 hours, you will have “Beautiful new look of nose.” For those who want to take weight off their face, there is a product called “Slim face” and it works by sticking plastic pieces on your face for 10 minutes a day for two weeks. Or, for ¥2,000, you can spring for the “Small face” mask which should get you a smaller face by the end of your bath. Now that’s dedication to beauty!

If it’s fitness your face is lacking, try “Facial fitness,” a slimming mouth piece for the lips. This product encourages you to “Let’s make a nice face!” This seems almost plausible as Keizo Miura, a well-known Japanese centenarian who died at 102, says he kept himself looking young by doing mouth exercises to train his muscles and prevent bagginess around his mouth. I wonder if extreme smiling would do the same.

The Japanese do have other tactics for looking young. One technique I have learned is to instruct people with cameras to not come too close to your face. This is accomplished by saying firmly, “Up shinai de!” (Don’t get too close!). The Japanese use the English word “up” to describe closeup camera shots. Almost every Japanese cameraman you come across will want the closest photo he can get. I’m not sure why. Perhaps he is doing in-depth research on human crevasses. Here is a rule of thumb to use with cameramen: Every meter further away takes 10 years off your age.

But one thing is for sure. You know that triple chin? It will double into six chins on the camera. And don’t presume the cameraman will throw out a pose just because it’s no good. I was filmed for TV once and when the episode aired I was surprised to see that the entire segment had been filmed with a big piece white lint stuck to my back.

If you’ve tried all the above techniques and at 80 years old you’re still not looking young, and you still are not a Cleopatra’s nose, try one last Japanese beauty secret on your face: Uguisu no fun, also known as nightingale droppings.