The trend of Japanese whiteness

by Yusuke Shiga

For women in modern society, whitening the skin by cosmetic products is so prevalent, and this trend is becoming more significant in terms of racial discrimination today. The influence of colonialism on not only developing, but developed countries is incalculable in various aspects. Still today, one’s appearance, especially skin color, plays a tremendous role in one’s access to essential stuff, from necessities for life such as housing, food, and clothing, to social security and social welfare. By lightening the skin color, people can more easily get these kinds of advantages and live more comfortably in a society. This social structure promotes the preference of whiter skin, however the skillful advertising and marketing strategies of cosmetic firms also affects this social inclination to white skin. Evelyn Nakano Glenn (2009) argues that the giant multinational corporations have grown by meeting the needs of women in each nation, thus the market for cosmetic products has expanded. When you focus on the Japanese case, the complicated contents can be seen.

Recently, Japanese women have sought white skin, as they think that white skin is beautiful or healthy and they persist in trying to to have whiter skin. There are some arguments about the reasons for this tendency, and some claim that Japanese ideal image of women is almost Caucasian because of the advertisements of media and companies. They insist that in most cases, whites are chosen as the models of cosmetic companies, and regarded as beautiful women, and therefore Japanese women try to mimic Westerners. On the other hand, others claim that whitening one’s skin color is part of Japanese traditional culture, because even in the Nara period, people already had customs to whiten their skin tone by using “Oshiroi” (White powder). However, in my opinion, these arguments neglect some important points toward this question “Why do Japanese women seek white skin?”.

Of course, we cannot define the main cause of Japanese preferences for white skin, since there are lots of causes and all of them are associated with each other. Through the discussion of my class, many of the interesting, persuasive ideas are came up and I consider this issue deeply, then I came to the conclusion.

In my opinion, we Japanese all share the misleading idea “Japanese must have nearly same white skin tone naturally”. Therefore, we sometimes discriminate against “Jiguro people (people who naturally have blacker skin compared to other Japanese)” regardless of their birthplace, and draw the line between “naturally white Japanese” and “naturally black Japanese”. Furthermore, because of this premise, “skin whiteness” symbolizes one’s youth or health. Having white skin implies that you make an effort to keep your youth by caring for your skin condition.

In Japan, a proverb says “stand out from the crowd and you just invite trouble for yourself”. Not to be “others”, to keep one’s youth, and to become healthy, Japanese women are paranoid to have white skin, I guess.

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2 thoughts on “The trend of Japanese whiteness

  1. Pingback: Skin Lightening in South Africa | JAPANsociology

  2. Pingback: Marketing lighter skin in South Africa | JAPANsociology

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