by Yuta Kobayashi
Shoujo Manga has existed in Japan since the early 1900s. Consisting of sensitive artwork and a storyline aimed for young girls, these visual novels have been a part of the lives of many Japanese women since childhood. Although the original target audience of these Shoujo Manga was the young female population in Japan, the release of animations and live action dramas of these mangas in recent years have broadened the target audience towards a much larger population. For this reason, Shoujo Manga can be currently considered to be a widely accepted genre within the Japanese society.
Shoujo Manga is generally known for their sensitive artwork and their dramatic storyline. In most cases, the audience understands that the stories and characters involved are purely constructed from the imaginations of the authors and realize that these visual novels do not necessarily portray reality. However, at the same time, it can be considered true that these visual novels have the potential to influence the lives and the behaviors of the audience in reality.
In “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference,” Terry Kawashima (2002) suggests how in Japan, the modern ideal image of beauty consists of a mix of both traditional Japanese and White values. She introduces the fact that some of the features of the modern Japanese concept of beauty, for instance, large eyes, small hook like noses, small mouths, and a round face, are represented on the characters illustrated in Shoujo Manga. In Japanese society, women tend to value beauty very highly. As suggested by Kawashima (2002), what is considered as ideal and beautiful within the Japanese society will be performed and “imitated.” In essence, young women who read these Shoujo Manga will unconsciously attempt to imitate the beautiful looking role models in the novels.
Kawashima (2002) introduces the idea that the modern concept of beauty in Japan can be considered a cheap imitation of Western beauty. To an extent, this can be considered true. In Japan, hair coloring and the usage of Bihaku, or skin lightening, products as a means to enhance looks, especially among women, are common. This artificial form of beauty, in essence, can be obtained through the consumption and usage of cosmetic products. In this manner, it can be assumed and accepted that the modern concept of Japanese beauty is heavily influenced by various aspects of Western beauty.
Kawashima (2002) suggests that Japanese beauty is “oppressed” by Western values. For some people, it may seem odd that Japanese people prefer beauty that is considered not their own. To deny one’s own sense of “traditional” beauty for something artificial or foreign may be interpreted negatively by others. However, I believe that it is not always bad for one to accept an oppressed concept of beauty, especially if the society is willing to accept the idea. The concept of beauty is forever changing. The spontaneous behavior of people in society to act in such way is natural. To add, in a society like Japan, to be beautiful means many things. This cheap imitation of beauty may be interpreted negatively by some people, but for many Japanese people living in the Japanese context, this cheap imitation of beauty is an essential part of life in society.
Who decides what Japanese people should look like?
Should Japanese people be free to define for themselves what Japanese beauty is?
Kawashima, T. (2002). “Seeing Faces, Making Races: Challenging Visual Tropes of Racial Difference.” Meridians, Vol. 3 – 1 (pp. 161-190).