Makeup for many women is a vital component of their appearance and one they take great pains to apply, even to the point of dolling themselves up during the crowded morning commute, working through the routine starting with a foundation, then eyebrows, mascara and finally lip gloss.
But cosmetics is not just relegated to the world of women.
An increasing number of men are applying makeup to their skin, pruning their eyebrows and more, and cosmetics makers are targeting this market segment.
Following are questions and answers about the history of and trends in makeup in Japan:
What aspects of makeup were the most historically eye-catching?
“Ohaguro” and “hikimayu” would arguably be the top two.
Ohaguro was the practice of women, and some noblemen, dying their teeth black by blending “fushiko” powder and acetic acid with iron. This was common from ancient times until the Edo Period, which ended in 1868.
According to the Japan Society of Aesthetic Dentistry, ohaguro had the effect of protecting teeth from cavities and periodontitis.
Hikimayu means to shave or pluck eyebrows and draw crescent-shaped ones on the upper forehead with black ink.
In the Nara and Heian periods between the eighth and 12th centuries, middle-class women practiced both ohaguro and hikimayu.
But in the Edo Period, middle-class women also dyed their teeth when they married and shaved their eyebrows after they gave birth.
Face powder made from white lead was also common. Women first dissolved it with water and then used a brush to apply it to the face, neck and chest.
Only wealthy women could afford rouge at that time because only a little amount was extracted from rouge flowers, according to the book “Edo 300-nen Josei-bi” (“Women’s Beauty in 300 years of the Edo Period”).
What happened to ohaguro?
In 1870, the government banned the practice among aristocrats as part of modernization, and other upper-class people gradually followed.
What makeup became popular in the modern era?
The Meiji and Taisho eras of modernization saw little innovation. Eye shadow was already around in the 1920s but was more like eyeliner and not for daily use.
The book “Kindai Josei no Bi” (“Beauty of Modern Women”) quoted a women’s magazine in 1925 as saying: “Eye shadow is for night use. We recommend not to use it during daytime.”
Still, young women called “moga” (modern girls) who followed Hollywood fashions, applied eye shadow both above and under the eyes.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that eye shadow became more common among women, according to “Nihon no Kesho Bunka” (“Makeup Culture in Japan”) compiled by cosmetics firm Shiseido Co.
Fake eyelashes also became all the rage then as the tall, thin British model Twiggy with her long lashes gained popularity, the book said.
Has the white, or porcelain, skin look been historically favored?
Not always. According to the book “Okesho Shinai wa Furyo no Hajimari” (“You’ll Become Bad if You Don’t Wear Makeup”), tanned skin became popular with young people briefly in the 1950s, 1970s, and late 1990s, when the economy was sour. The most recent dark-skin fad, coined “ganguro,” caught on with high school girls hanging out in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in the mid- to late 1990s.
How do Japanese women maintain white skin?
Many resort to sun screen or a UV-block umbrella. Some also wear long gloves to cover their arms.
In addition, skin whiteners that contain an ingredient to prevent melanin are widely used.
Where do women glean their makeup tips?
Fashion and cosmetics magazines serve as the key guidebooks, offering step-by-step makeup methods with a lot of detailed pictures.
Currently, there are five monthly cosmetic magazines — Biteki, Voce, bea’s up, Bi-story and Maquia — focusing on the latest products and trends.
They boast a combined circulation of 558,518, according to the 2010 survey by Japan Magazine Association.
Are thin eyebrows popular on men?
Not so much as before. According to Shiseido, more men are going for “natural eyebrows,” therefore they prefer using special scissors and a comb to cut their eyebrows instead of a razor.
A spokesman for Kai Corp., a major manufacturer of cutlery and cutting tools, said sales of eyebrow trimming kits targeting men between the ages of 15 and 30 have increased four times compared with 2000, when the products debuted.
According to Kai, many young women began thinning their eyebrows around 1995 as part of the look of pop singer Namie Amuro.
The trend spread to young men in the late 1990s. The company claims the reason young men trim their eyebrows is partly because the boundaries in appearance between men and women are blurring.
Thinly shaved eyebrows became popular with high school baseball players, but in 2004 the Japan High School Baseball Federation announced a ban on shaving the eyebrows too thin because of school regulations.
What makeup is particularly unique to Japan?
That would be what kabuki actors don.
The bright colors, established in the Edo Period, emphasize blood vessels and facial muscles. The method is called “kumadori,” and the colors and patterns differ depending on an actor’s role.
Red is used for heroic roles, and black and blue are used to portray villains or ghosts. In general, a kabuki actor draws a black liner along the eyes and applies red makeup around them.